by Barry J. Tobin
“A veteran is someone who, at one point, wrote a blank check made payable to The United States of America for an amount of up to and including his or her life.” -Unknown
McGuckin Hardware has partnered with Veterans Speak, a non-profit, community-based organization enlisting companies, neighbors and friends to explore how they can better respond to veterans in and around Boulder.
The Boulder, Colorado hardware store joined Veteran’s Speak when the organization’s president, Ed Miccio, met with Marketing Manager Louise Garrels and sparked her interest.
“There are 15,000 vets in Boulder,” Louise said. “The university has 800 vets, men and women. I saw our vets here at McGuckin’s wearing their hats every Veterans’ Day. Veterans Speak truly speaks to our goals to be community driven.”
Patty was a young M.A.S.H. nurse in Vietnam during the 1960s — the bad old days. She has dedicated her life to serving vets. As a nurse practitioner, she staffs an office at the Denver Veterans Administration Hospital.
Inside her office hanging on a wall is a picture of the Vietnam Nurse Memorial in Washington, DC. The bronze statue depicts a nurse cradling a fallen brother-in-arms. A pair of dog tags overlays the image with a slogan added: Not all girls in the 60s wore love beads.
Not all boys wore love beads either. The average age of a soldier in Vietnam was 19 years.
Jerry was a United States Navy SEAL. Assigned to a SEAL Team in Beirut, a land mine exploded. Members of Jerry’s SEAL Team were killed around him as hot metal from the blast tore into his legs and left foot.
He was evacuated to Germany, then flown stateside. After months of surgeries and rehabilitation, Jerry returned to the Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado, California, where SEALs Train.
“The SEALs require you to qualify again after you are wounded,” he explained. “I did everything, but the swimming with fins was…” He didn’t finish his thought.
“They gave me 14 weeks to qualify, but my left foot didn’t work well,” Jerry said, and a SEAL officer told him he was only at 50 percent.
“I wouldn’t want you watching my back,” the officer told Jerry, before offering him a desk job. He declined. “I wanted to be with the Teams, the guys, or I didn’t want to be in the Navy,” he said. He also refused disability.
“I don’t want to take anything from my government,” he said. “I love my government. I love my country.”
Luke Klausner, manager in the Garden Department, served in the United States Navy from 1993-1997. Stationed in Mayport, Florida, Luke served in the Persian Gulf, the North Atlantic and Haiti.
His ship, the USS Stark, rescued more than 2,500 Cuban refugees.
“One of the rescued guys was a champion fighter,” Luke said. “He kept everyone in line.”
It is the friendships Luke mostly remembers.
“Friends you make outside are not the same as Navy friends,” he said. “Navy friends depend on each other for their lives.”
Jim Jensen, U.S. Navy, is a Vietnam veteran and a chief petty officer, one of the highest enlisted ranks in the Navy. Jim served 1971-78, and active reserve from 1978-1992.
He served aboard two Navy destroyers: the USS Wiltsie and the USS McCain. In addition to Vietnam, Jim sailed to Adak, Alaska, Taiwan and Japan.
“It created a love for my country and my family,” he said, “I have a deep pride in my country and what she stands for.”
Barry Tobin, Sporting Goods, is a Vietnam veteran. He served on two Navy destroyers from 1966-69, the USS Charles P. Cecil and the USS Basilone.
Aboard ships, Barry circumnavigated the globe, traversed the Panama Canal, completed a tour in Vietnam and returned stateside via the Suez Canal. He visited five of seven continents including the Americas, Asia, Africa and Europe. He sailed the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans and the Black, Mediterranean and South China seas.
“I have seen every continent except Australia and the Antarctic,” he said, “What an education. I learned respect for people and other cultures, the values of friendships, teamwork and a deep love for my country.”
In 1972, Barry re-enlisted in the Navy Reserve Mobile Construction Battalions, called SEABEES. The construction battalions are also combat trained, with the motto: “We Build. We Fight.” Barry trained in defensive combat at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He served until 1984 as a construction electrician.
Barry Maupin, Tool Department, is a Navy Veteran. From 1970-72, he served aboard the aircraft carrier, USS Forrestal, a ship bigger than Free Union, Virginia— his hometown with a population of 150 people.
“We had 5,000 aboard,” he said, “I met a lot of good people. I learned trust in people and respect for what it takes to keep our country free.”
Gordon Hewell, Warehouse, retired from the United States Air Force in May 1973 after serving 20 years. He was stationed throughout the United States and worked in an administrative role.
“It made me grow up quick,” he said. “I went in right out of high school. It taught me responsibility and work ethic. It was a real wake-up call.”
While stationed in Panama, Gordon supported Operation Just Cause, The Invasion of Panama, which came in the wake of several clashes between U.S. and Panamanian Forces. During the invasion, Manuel Noriega, the de facto Panamanian leader, general and dictator was deposed and a new president sworn into office.
The U.N. estimated 500 deaths, including twenty-three U.S. servicemen. An estimated 325 were wounded.
I remember the night before the invasion,” Gordon said. “I woke up to the sound of tanks and planes coming in. I heard them dropping bombs.”
He wondered what was going on, but was not told about the invasion until later that day.
Veterans are not always overseas. Some serve stateside performing public works.
Tom Steinbaugh, section manager of Plumbing and Builder’s Hardware, operated heavy equipment.
Serving in the United States Air Force, Tom began his enlistment at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver to attend radio intercept school, but the Air Force cancelled the class.
Serving in the Air National Guard and later the Army Reserve, Tom joined the heavy equipment crews, driving bulldozers, front-end loaders and graders.
“We worked on an animal shelter in Longmont, Boulder Creek at 30th Street and Chatfield,” he said. He served at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi and Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas.
Dave Hight, owner of McGuckin Hardware, is a Navy veteran. He served as a radioman from 1951-1952. His test scores were high enough that he could have gone to Annapolis Naval Academy.
“I didn’t go because I was married,” he said. Then came a life-changing event.
“I was in a parade and passed out,” Dave said. “They sent me to the hospital and found I had a bad back.”
He left the Navy and took over an office for Gordon Foods, a snack food business in Norfolk where he worked for one year until his wife Dee became pregnant and they came back to Denver to be near family.
“The military is discipline,” he said. “I learned how to take orders. When Dee tells me to go unhook the horses, I go unhook the horses.”
Greg Ballard, Warehouse, served in the United States Army as a member of the COHORT Plan from 1985-88.
“We were a camaraderie of buddies,” he said. “We stayed together for the whole three years.”
Stationed Fort Ord in California, Greg and his buddies were assigned to 7th Light Infantry serving in mortar teams, but saw no combat.
“I was lucky,” he said. “My unit never got involved [in battle].”
Like many veterans, Greg remembers his friends and the camaraderie.
Military service can be life changing in many ways.
Bob Tofte in Fasteners is a veteran who served for two years at Fitzsimmons Army Base in Denver. He dreamed of a combat role in the Army Airborne, but his dreams were shortened.
“They released me after one day because I had bad knees,” he said. “So I became a payroll specialist.”
A later visit to the medical department held another surprise.
“I met my wife there when she cleaned my teeth,” he said. “She was a licensed hygienist in Illinois and couldn’t practice in Colorado. But the army had its own rules and let her work as a hygienist there.”
Bob and Laurel have been married 41 years.
“I am more supportive of sacrifices made by our troops — all volunteers,” he said.
Bill Gendreau, manager in Builder’s Hardware, has many family members who are Navy veterans.
Elphege Gendreau, Bill’s grandfather, was a Navy captain and a medical officer who served in World Wars I and II. He served on the staff of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the commander in chief for the Pacific Fleet during World War II.
In the summer of 1943, Captain Gendreau boarded a rescue vessel and volunteered to assist evacuating wounded from an Island in the South Pacific. He was killed in a dive-bombing attack on July 21, 1943.
Admiral Nimitz recommended that a ship be built in Captain Gendreau’s memory. USS Gendreau, a destroyer escort, was launched in August 1943 and served until 1972.
Bill’s father, Elphege, Jr., was a Navy commander and served from 1940 until 1960. After service in the Navy, he was a professor of nautical engineering at the University of Colorado.
Bill’s maternal grandfather was a Navy Captain; another was a Brigadier General in the Marine Corps. Two of Bill’s nephews are Navy fighter pilots.
Courtney Imhoff, Human Resources Manager, has seen perspective of a different battle, one of sadness and the fear of not knowing about a loved one.
Courtney’s brother, Seth Kastle, served three years in combat-torn Iraq and Afghanistan.
At times, it was days or longer before Courtney and her family connected with Seth, separated by days of sadness and fear.
“I am a crier,” Courtney said, “I am such a crier.”
Then came telephone calls from Seth.
“I would cry when I heard his voice,” she said, “I remember saying, ‘Oh thank God you are still alive.’”
Courtney and her mom didn’t sit idle. They launched a stateside program and named it SOS, Save Our Soldiers. They sent boxes of comfort items to soldiers serving in harm’s way. Not only did they send the boxes, they paid the postage, too.
“We sent more than 100 boxes,” Courtney said. “It was a real care package.”
IN COUNTRY, DOWNRANGE, THE SANDBOX
Veterans sometimes have their slang terms for the battlefields. To Vietnam vets, they were In-Country. Navy vets today call the battlefields Downrange. Iraq vets refer to Iraq as The Sandbox. For many combat vets, combat is a baptism of fire under the rockets’ red glare.
Veterans serve for many reasons in many roles. Some serve in medical departments, others in administrative roles. Some are stateside and serve their communities. Many go DOWNRANGE, ready to help others who live in fear, those who stand alone and defenseless against tyrants, those deprived of liberty and human dignity.
Many make the supreme sacrifice.
Navy Chief Petty Officer Jim Jenkins wears a t-shirt with an inscription that resonates within many vets:
I wanted to serve.
I volunteered to serve.
I knew what I was doing
And, I’d do it again!