Veteran's Day: Tribute to Military
Published 5:19 pm Friday, November 11, 2005
By By Janet Little Cooper
Veteran's Day was first observed in 1919 as Armistice Day. The day marked the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month when the guns of World War I ceased firing.
There were 4.7 million American participants in WWI and more than 116,000 service men died in the line of duty.
The ceremonies that began on the first anniversary of the end of the war, Nov. 11, 1919, officially paid tribute only to those who were a part of the American Expeditionary Forces of 1917.
It was not until June of 1954, that President Eisenhower signed a bill, which designated Armistice Day as Veterans Day. Since that time, Veterans Day has been a tribute to the veterans of all of our wars. It also has become a day of assessing the contributions of the living as well as recalling the deeds of the dead.
Literally millions of Americans have participated in the wars of our country and more than 90 percent of them have served during the 20th Century. This means that millions have also sacrificed their lives in the fight for our freedom.
Atmore is home to many veterans who have sacrificed life's comfort and even life itself for the sake of freedom.
These men and women are walking and working among us. They have seen war so that we wouldn't have to. It is our veterans who have paid the price of war, not us.
Veterans Day represents a peaked interest among our city since the deployment of the local 711th Signal Battalion of the National Guard to Iraq. Many residents may not know however, that the same battalion was deployed more than five decades ago for the Korean War.
While every veteran has a story to tell and deserves our respect, Atmore residents Clifford Frazier and Harold Martin have both served in the 711th battalion decades apart, each at a time of deployment for war, leaving each with different views on a spectrum of issues veterans are affected by.
Frazier key in 711th organization in '52
Clifford Frazier, 89, of Atmore, was deferred for the military draft in the 1940's because of a job he had with Alabama Dry Docks in Mobile. It was a shipbuilding company that did work for the U.S. Department of Defense. His job involved the building of oil tankers for shipment overseas.
In 1945, Cliff decided to enter the military after talking with a U.S. Navy Crew member. Frazier asked that his name be removed from the U.S. Selective Services deferment list. He also asked for immediate induction into military service.
On May 23, 1945, he was inducted into the U.S. Army and sent to Fort McClellan for basic training. He would also train for the invasion of Japan.
While in basic training, WWII ended when both the Germans and Japanese surrendered. Upon completion of his training, Frazier was sent to Japan to join the occupational forces there. Frazier arrived in Nagasaki Bay Japan in November of 1945, where he remained on board ship with over 5,000 soldiers for several weeks while awaiting assignment.
Frazier was assigned to the 1541st Engineer Company where he worked as a topographic surveyor after completing the required training. His job was to operate surveyor instruments and locate various points in the terrain, comparing the results with those of the Japanese. Frazier returned to Camp Shelby and was discharged on the Army's early out program on June 10, 1946.
"I was not in battle during WWII, thank goodness, but I did make sacrifices." Frazier said, "I left my wife and two children behind for a year while I served."
Following discharge from the Army, Frazier returned to Atmore and worked in retail department stores. It was then that he was approached by a man who worked across the street from him about organizing a national guard in Atmore.
"I can't remember his name, but he worked across the road in Watson's Hardware." Frazier said, "Governor Jim Folsom had asked him for help in organizing a national guard in Atmore. The governor told him that if he could get 15 men interested, he would have a National Guard Armory built in Atmore. "
Frazier helped enlist 13 former soldiers from the area. The guard was organized in 1952 and was assigned as the D Battery of the 711th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Gun Battalion.
Not long after its inception, the 711th was federalized and called into active duty in September of 1950 for the Korean War. The entire unit was sent to Camp Stewart, Ga., for recruit training on anti-aircraft guns. Frazier was assigned to radar position.
The unit was then sent to Fort Custer, Battle Creek, Michigan, where they were placed to guard the automobile factories in Detroit. While at Fort Custer, he was given temporary duty to attend the Ordinance School at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland. He also served as Heavy AAA Fire Control Director Repairman.
"We had to set up a perimeter around the Detroit Industrial area to guard against attack," Frazier said. "We were armed with 90 mm field artillery. I was at Fort Stewart and Fort Custer for two years.
This was the first time for the Atmore National Guard to be activated and deployed. No one knew that the same battalion would face deployment again some five decades later for the war in Iraq.
When the Korean War ended, Frazier was discharged at Fort Custer on Feb. 17, 1952.
According to Frazier, anyone serving in the military should always expect the possibility of deployment for war.
"That is what you are trained for, regardless of what branch of service you are in," Frazier said. "We are there to protect our county."
Frazier's view on war and politics has been affected by his time of service. He believes that everyone is obligated to protect our country no matter which they are, but he does not agree with going in and taking over a country for no reason.
"War stinks," Frazier, said, "Any war does, especially a war that could be avoided by the higher-ups in political office. I am okay as far as the democrats are concerned. I went through a depression with the republicans and know what they do."
Despite Frazier's sacrifices made for war, he doesn't feel as if it has changed his life.
"It hasn't changed my life, simply because I've always loved my country," Frazier said, "She has always been good to me. I can't go by the colors of our flag today, without having a lump in my throat."
Martin in guards second deployment
At one point in Harold Martin's life, four of his family members served in the 711th Signal Battalion of the Atmore National Guard. Martin's dad was in the battalion, along with his older brother, younger brother and himself. Atmore resident, Martin is the only family member left in the 711th.
Martin has been in the guard for 38 years this month. He began his military career at Fort Gordon, Ga.
" I was there for six months and four days," Martin said, "I went to school to be a radio-relay operator. Then I worked for six years as a cook under my dad who was the Mess sergeant. I eventually trained for the wire section and have been there ever since."
Martin has participated in summer camps every year during his many years of service in the guard. He participated in training camps in Korea twice, but those experiences would not prepare him for the one tour of duty that would change his life – a year of active duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"It was a shock," Martin said, "I never thought they would need us. I thought that the regular army would do it."
Martin made all the necessary preparations at home that would enable his wife to manage matters for the slated year he would be gone.
"It never really hit home until we flew out of Ft. Stewart that Saturday night enroute to Kuwait," Martin said, "The war was real and we were going. I was leaving and knew that I may never come home because I was going to a place where you knew people were trying to kill you. With all of the roadside bombings going on, there was a good chance that I wouldn't come back home."
Martin's battalion spent six-weeks in the fairly secure terrain of Kuwait training and preparing vehicles. Part of the training included how the troops would convoy to the battlefields. Martin was told he would be the lead vehicle.
"I had to scout out the route for roadside bombs and land mines," Martin said, "I had to travel about 1,500 feet ahead of everybody else."
Martin recalls the long journey from Kuwait to Camp Babylon that took roughly eighteen hours.
"They were having a mortar attack when we got there," Martin said, "I remember thinking to myself, 'Harold, what have you gotten yourself into?' this was a real war – not just for play. I didn't know what to expect. That firefight was our first experience of war."
Once again Martin had to move on ahead of his peers. He was responsible for setting up communications at the battalion's next camp. Martin installed telephones and repaired them everyday, just as he does in Atmore for Frontier Communications.
Martin remembers one day in particular when his unit endured eighteen mortar attacks.
"We were in the supply tent when we heard the attacks start," Martin said, "We ran for the bunker. We counted eighteen attacks that day. When we went back to the supply tent, the chair I was sitting in had a hole in the back the size of a golf ball. Had I been sitting there I would be gone."
Another day of great significance to Martin was the day he led the convoy out of Iraq and crossed the border to Kuwait.
"That was the best feeling when we crossed the border into Kuwait and they told us to unload our weapons and take our vest off," Martin said, "We were safe and we were going home.
War weighs heavy on Martin's mind these days. He remains emotional about his experience in Iraq and feels that he always will.
"I think about it everyday." Martin said, "I keep thinking that I've got to go back. It feels like I am on leave and am waiting to go back."
While the memories of war are difficult for Martin, he would not trade his time of duty for anything and he would return if he had to. Martin will be retiring from the guard in three years. He encourages young people to consider a career in the military. Martin feels the military is a good career choice for anyone.
"War is real – people killing people." Martin said, "We can't pull out (Iraq) now. We have to stay and finish it. This war has changed how I view each day and the Lord. There was not a church around that didn't have us on a prayer list while we were gone. I pay attention to politics more now and in a more positive way than before. Had Bush lost last year, there is no telling what would have happened with the war. I think Bush is a good man. I didn't care about voting before, but you better believe I do now."