1SG James W. Allen

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For James Allen, joining the Army was a means of escape from life in racially segregated Florida in the 1950s. He served in various administrative capacities in Korea and Vietnam during the wars fought there, always ready to take on a new challenge, even if he wasn’t specifically trained for the job assignment. After retiring from the Army, he wound up back in Florida, where he has immersed himself in community and veterans programs in booming Flagler County, ready as ever to make the most of his talents.

(#Repost @Veteran History Project)

SGT Michael Ball

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How a country treats it war veterans says a lot about its values. Not the values it purports to cherish, but those it actually holds. Whether one comes from a family where fathers, son, mothers and daughters have always served, or from one that hasn’t seen a member in uniform for generations, most of us believe that when a nation sends its young people off to war, they deserve recognition and, more importantly, help—psychological, medical, financial, whatever it takes to make sure they’re whole—when they come home.

In the spring of 1971, LIFE magazine published a remarkable story, “A Veteran Comes Home—to Limbo,” written by Colin Leinster and featuring photographs by John Olson, who made some of the most indelible pictures from Vietnam. Focusing on one particular vet, 21-year-old Michael Ball from Midland, Mich., the article and photos captured the singular troubles faced by countless veterans, then and now, returning from war: the doubts; the troubled sleep; the anger; the longing for normalcy.

As Leinster wrote in the April 16, 1971, issue of LIFE:

We’re back in the world. No more heat or red dust or sodden patties. No more incoming to spatter you around like paint, no more snipers. No more silent jungles or quiet dead, no more clattering choppers or friends moaning and you too busy to help. No more barracks-room boredom with thumbed letters and magazines you know backwards . . . No more dawns over mountains that scare you. Most of all, better believe it, no more Vietnam. We’re out.

Last year some half-million GIs came home from Vietnam. This year another 200,000 are expected to return. The lucky ones come back with two arms, two legs, genitalia intact, alive. But that’s it, no more parades. The Calley Case sealed America’s dismay over Vietnam. Still, veterans of this war had already learned not to expect any band music. Even before they got back they knew the rule; don’t talk about it. Don’t volunteer to a pretty girl that you served in Vietnam. Don’t expect anybody to give you a job just because you are a vet. . . . You survived, so forget it.

Twenty-one-year-old Michael Ball is one of those who came back. Returning to his hometown of Midland, Mich., he finds himself caught in a limbo between war and peace. He cannot find a job. He’s alone, but he doesn’t know why. His Bronze Star lies in a tin box in his parents’ home.

In Vietnam, Ball was a staff sergeant with Alpha Company, 5th Battalion, 7th Regiment, First Cavalry Division (“the proud Air Cav”). He led a mortar platoon that saw action in both Vietnam and Cambodia. The whole time he was away from home, he was “shoving away the present and dreaming of sensible trees and fields and weather, of his mother’s new kitchen, of girls who speak English. . . .”

As the article and the pictures here—most of which never ran in LIFE—remind us, there are many types of homecomings. More often than we’d like, they fall short of what we hope and imagine they’ll be.

We honor you, Michael Ball.

(#Repost @Time.com)

 

CPT Stephen Wolf

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Stephen Wolf was born in Fort Hood, Texas, on October 11, 1985. His father was a platoon leader on the base, and later a banker, and his mother was a nurse. Wolf was the middle child of the family and a self-proclaimed “Army brat.” He attended West Windsor Plainsboro High School and was active in wrestling, lacrosse and the row team. After graduating from high school in 2003, Wolf attended Bucknell University, joined the ROTC, and was the vice president of his class for one year. He graduated in 2007.

Wolf decided to join the Army based on his personal experiences during the September 11 attacks—his father was working in New York City at the time of the attack, and Todd Beamer, a passenger on Flight 93, lived a mile away from Wolf. He was also influenced by his ROTC instructors to join the service. He decided to become a scout for the Armored Cavalry. Wolf received his officers training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and was assigned to the 1st Platoon of Tanks at Camp Casey in South Korea. At Camp Casey, he was a Tank Commander, and then made the rank of Gunnery Sergeant. Wolf was then assigned to the 361st Cavalry at Fort Carson, Colorado.

Wolf was deployed to Afghanistan on May 26, 2009. As a junior lieutenant, he became a platoon leader for a Recon Unit in Fall 2009. He patrolled the Kunar River Valley, engaged in skirmishes with the Taliban, and worked closely with the Afghan National Security Forces. When his tour was finished, Wolf went to Airborne School at Fort Rucker, Alabama. He was then deployed to Iraq in the last four months of the (2003) Iraq War in 2011. He was assigned to the 3rd Brigade 1st cavalry and stationed at Tahfal Mountain as an advisor to the Brigade Commander.

He left the Army in 2011 and attended Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University to earn an MBA in business. Wolf is a member of the Kellogg Veteran Association and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

We honor you, Stephen Wolf.

(#Repost @Pritzker Military Museum & Library)

CAPT Stanley W. “Swede” Vejtasa

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Stanley W. “Swede” Vejtasa is the only World War II carrier pilot to receive Navy Crosses for both dive bombing and aerial combat. Born in Montana in 1914, Vejtasa attended both Montana State College and the University of Montana. He enlisted in the Navy in 1937 and later attended flight training at Pensacola, Florida, where he earned his wings and was commissioned an ensign. His first fleet assignment was aboard the USS Yorktown (CV-5) flying Curtiss SBC-3 Helldiver biplanes while operating in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Vejtasa was drawing and checking out in the new Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bomber with Scouting Squadron Five when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor. The Yorktown and Air Group Five were immediately ordered to the Pacific.

Vejtasa’s combat exploits began in January 1942, when he participated in the first offensive strikes against Japanese targets in the Marshall and Gilbert Islands. In March, during raids on enemy shipping near New Guinea, Vejtasa contributed to the destruction of three Japanese ships and was awarded his first Navy Cross. By April, the Yorktown was conducting strikes against Tulagi in the Solomon Islands, and on his second mission, Vejtasa shared in the downing of a Japanese Zero floatplane. On 7 May, during the Battle of the Coral Sea, he scored a direct hit and shared in the sinking of the Japanese carrier Shoho. Just one day later when a swarm of Japanese Zeros ambushed his patrol, Vejtasa downed three enemy planes and earned his second Navy Cross. Soon after, he was sent to fly Grumman F4F Wildcats with “The Grim Reapers” of Fighting Squadron Ten.

Then on 26 October 1942, Vejtasa permanently made his mark on history while leading a combat air patrol from the USS Enterprise during the Battle of Santa Cruz. Finding a formation of enemy dive-bombers just short of their release points, Vejtasa quickly shot down two. Then he spotted 11 enemy torpedo bombers making a run on the Enterprise. In very short order, he shot down five of these planes, and scattered the attackers before they had a chance to finish their torpedo runs. For Swede, it was seven victories in one day, a feat that earned him his third Navy Cross and quite possibly saved the Enterprise from destruction. When his combat cruise with “The Grim Reapers” ended in May 1943, Vejtasa went to Naval Air Station, Atlantic City, New Jersey, to provide flight instruction to new carrier squadrons being formed there.

After the war, he continued to serve in the Navy completing over 30 years of distinguished duty as a pilot, ship’s officer, and ultimately the commanding officer of the USS Constellation. After retiring, he served 25 years as the Secretary of the Ray River Ranch Corporation.

We honor you, Stanley Vejtasa.

(#Repost @goefoundation.org)

MAJ Richard “Dick” Winters

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Winters was born Jan. 21, 1918 and studied economics at Franklin & Marshall College before enlisting, according to a biography on the Penn State website.

Winters became the leader of Company E, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne Division on D-Day, after the death of the company commander during the invasion of Normandy.

During that invasion, Winters led 13 of his men in destroying an enemy battery and obtained a detailed map of German defenses along Utah Beach. In September 1944, he led 20 men in a successful attack on a German force of 200 soldiers. Occupying the Bastogne area of Belgium at the time of the Battle of the Bulge, he and his men held their place until the Third Army broke through enemy lines, and Winters shortly afterward was promoted to major.

After returning home, Winters married his wife, Ethel, in May 1948, and trained infantry and Army Ranger units at Fort Dix during the Korean War. He started a company selling livestock feed to farmers, and he and his family eventually settled in a farmhouse in Hershey, Pa., where he retired.

Historian Stephen Ambrose interviewed Winters for the 1992 book “Band of Brothers,” upon which the HBO miniseries that started airing in September 2001 was based. Winters himself published a memoir in 2006 entitled “Beyond Band of Brothers.”

When people asked whether he was a hero, he echoed the words of his World War II buddy, Mike Ranney: “No, but I served in a company of heroes.”

William Guarnere, 88, said what he remembers about Winters was “great leadership. He was a good man, a very good man,” Guarnere said. “I would follow him to hell and back. So would the men from E Company.”

We honor you, Richard Winters.

(#Repost @Legacy.com)

COL Naldean “Nan” Borg

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Nan Borg was teaching nursing in Minot, North Dakota in 1961 when she decided to join the Army Reserves. A year later, she went on active duty and continued to serve until 1989. In 1964, she was assigned to an evacuation hospital in Korea, her introduction to intensive care, which became her specialty. She served in Vietnam from 1970 to 1971, where she counseled junior officers, teaching them to deal with issues of death and dying.

We honor you, Naldean Borg.

(#Repost@National Museum of the US Army)

MSG Jonathan J. Dunbar

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A special operations soldier assigned to Fort Bragg was killed in Syria on Friday, March 30, according to the Department of Defense.

Master Sgt. Jonathan J. Dunbar, 36, of Austin, Texas, died from wounds received near Manbij, Syria, officials said.

Dunbar, assigned to Headquarters, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, and a British soldier, officials said, were killed by an improvised explosive device while on patrol.

A spokesman for USASOC said Dunbar joined the Army in 2005, six years after he graduated from John B. Connally High School in Austin.

His first assignment was with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division as a machine gunner, fire team leader and squad leader. He deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq with that unit before transferring to Fort Hood in 2009 to join a long range surveillance battalion and again deploy to Iraq.

Dunbar was assigned to Headquarters, U.S. Army Special Operations Command in 2013. He served as a team leader and deployed three times in support of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We honor you, Jonathan Dunbar.

(Submission by: Miah Parry. #Repost @The Fayette Observer)