May 06, 2024

DAGR Veterans: We Remember

Leading up to Memorial Day in the United States, your DAGR communications team reached out to some of our members who have served in the US Armed Forces. Linda Manney and Gina Billy share passages from their interviews in which these veterans talked about what Memorial Day means for them. The reflections are personal and moving. We’ll continue adding to this first collection throughout the month. If you, or someone you know, would like to be included, let us know.

With Vietnam, it wasn’t only getting killed. We had to face other things, like Agent Orange. I have friends here in Athens who have got cancer from that, and they have a total disability and aren’t able to work. It’s the aftermath – not like what you see in the two-bit movies.

This John Wayne Stuff in the movies, they don’t tell you the whole story. The US hadn’t lost a war until Vietnam. When we came back from Vietnam, we were the culprits. We were at the airport, and they spit on us. They would shoot their middle finger at us. They blamed us for losing.

I can remember one night on duty when a US patrol plane was circling over the base all night. The VC spotted them; they shot it down. The pilot was a good friend of mine, and I could hear him shouting via radio, “Peacock, peacock, we’re going down.” That was the last I heard of him. They found his body in a field the next day.

It's not just that – Christmas of 1966 my little unit had about 70 people in it and we had three attempted suicides. Three. You’re out there for all these months, you can go nuts. And a lot of people who survive like myself … Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I still hear my friend calling out, “We’re going down.” I hear this in my ears, I imagine it, then I try to tell myself get back to sleep.

Another scene from Vietnam: There was a small building in the aircraft operations area on Pleiku Air Base. I knew what was in it but I still wanted to enter it to see for myself and remind myself what war was all about. I opened the door, walked in, and silently gazed at the body bags filled with the casualties of war in racks, like bunk beds, one atop the other. If my memory serves me right, there were about 20 of them in there all waiting to be transported back to their final resting place in the country which sent them to a foreign country where they were slaughtered. I silently saluted the dead and departed.

No, I’m not doing anything on Memorial Day. There’s not enough of us left in Athens. We used to be about 200 – now it's maybe 60. We’re dying off. We’re not the youngsters we used to be – but we get together every other Wednesday just to be friendly with each other, trade info, for example about our medical/health insurance.

-- GB

Major Maguire’s career spans roles and continents. After his initial USAF training, degree completion, and then US Army induction and service in Europe, Major Maguire returned to the US, accompanied by his wife, whom he had met and married in Greece. His career turned to academia at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and then intelligence in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence (ODCSINT).

As he recounts the change, “I remember this period of my career as especially instructive, since I was able to interact with the local civilian community. At University of Tennessee, this assignment gave me a balance, so I could retool my mind. I could transition from the dirty boots of working in artillery command and staff positions to the civilian aspect of military operations.

“Although I taught students in formal university settings, I also assisted in their initial military training. In this capacity, I also had the opportunity at Knoxville College, one of the Historically Black Colleges (HBC) to inform students, administration and faculty about enrollment opportunities in Army ROTC.

“My advice to a young person interested in an Army career is that that, above all, the person should have an interest in serving their country, a characteristic that we would be looking for in young people.

“We require an annual influx of new soldiers to replace retirements and separations, but to be eligible to enlist, you have to pass entrance tests. In Basic Training, all aspects of recruit training are stringently evaluated, while marching, when interacting with squad members, and while qualifying on weapons. At Advanced Individual Training, the soldier receives intensive training in their new specialty. Afterwards the soldier travels to locations around the world, faces challenging and sometimes dangerous situations which they are trained to handle. In developing their personnel, the US Army invests heavily in formal education, physical fitness and military weapons training.

In the ensuing phase of his career, Major Maguire had to readjust once again. As he says, “USAREUR had required a laser focus on front line readiness along the Communist borders. In 1991, reassignment to the Pentagon required a broad focus on a wide range of military operations worldwide still resonant after the fall of the Soviet Union. I remember my years at the Pentagon as ’extremely eye-opening,’ interacting with major US agencies, including the FBI and the CIA, providing direction to defense attaché offices worldwide, and working with allies to share tactical military intelligence.

His thoughts on Memorial Day: “I see this holiday as a calm and solemn commemoration, a time to pay respects for departed veterans who lost their lives while serving their country. For the past four years, I have been the project manager for the Memorial Day Commemoration in Thessaloniki along with American Legion, AHEPA-Chapter 41, and my AUSA colleagues.  And this year we will repeat the honor.”

-- LM

For me, Memorial Day is a time to remember those who are fallen soldiers, and so there are a couple of people that are very near and dear to me who are those. The first is my grandfather. He was actually killed in the Vietnam War. He was 40 when he was killed, and my Dad was eight.

So, I never got to meet my grandpa. But he was an Air Force pilot, and I didn’t know much about him before I joined the military. We didn’t talk about it much. But after I made the decision to join, I could tell my Dad was pretty proud, because he thought it was a link between me and his Dad, so that was really important to me. Every Memorial Day, I just take the time to think about him and the stories I’ve heard about him.

And I did lose some dear friends in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, people that I’d served with. I’m not a religious person; I’m not big a big pray-er. But I do take some time on that day to sit with my feelings and just reflect on who they were on Earth and what they sacrificed. That’s really where my focus lies on Memorial Day.

I think that if you are one of the lucky ones who hasn’t lost somebody, you should celebrate it however you want. And even if you have, you know, I think, I fought for everybody’s right to live their life the way the way they want to live their life.

If you want to take the time to have fun with loved ones, you should do that. I also try to do that as well, myself. I don’t think that most of the people who died for our country want to see their countrymen and women grieving non-stop. They want you to have joy, they want you to live a full life.

-- GB

I enlisted in the USAF out of high school, the only person in my class at Pinewood to do so. After basic training and tech school, I spent the remaining four years of my service at the Pentagon in Washington. There are so many memories that it is difficult to isolate one. In all honesty, mine was a "lucky time" to be in the service, after Vietnam and between wars. Sure, Granada happened, but that was Army and all over in a relatively short period.

My thoughts, I have on ANZAC Day (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps Day, April 25) and on Memorial Day. From the 1914 poem by Laurence Binyon:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

I cannot read that out loud without my throat constricting and shedding tears.

-- GB