Finding the Tribe That Always Has Your Back

I enlisted in the U.S. Army in August of 1967. I chose the Army because my father had spent 26 years in the Navy and I thought I should do something different.

I took my basic training at Fort Lewis, B-4-2. Our company only had two platoons, and the first platoon was mostly from Montana, while the second was mostly from North Dakota. It made for some interesting competition.

I graduated from basic and headed to Fort Leonard Wood. It was my first airplane flight, and it lasted most of the day as we stopped and dropped off other soldiers at their training bases. It was dark and in the middle of a snowstorm when our aircraft finally landed at Fort Leonard Wood. One of the first things I noticed walking into the barracks out of the snow, was how the rooms were heated by coal.

I had enlisted in the combat engineers because I had wanted to learn to blow things up. My recruiter, Sergeant First Class Craton had said, “we have a job for you it’s called the combat engineers,” but he left out the part that the combat engineers were like the Infantry but also carried a pick and shovel.

For my first orders, I was sent to Vietnam and assigned to the 20th Brigade, 168th Combat Engineers. When I arrived at the headquarters in Dĩ An, I was asked what company I wanted to go to. I chose C Company. I was told I would spend a few days as the base (Quan Loi) where they were stationed that was under constant mortar attacks.

During my year in Vietnam, I was awarded a Bronze Star with Valor and a Purple Heart before finally making it back to the States in one piece. I had been out of the Army for a while when another Vietnam veteran invited me to a steak fry at the local National Guard Armory. I ended up reenlisting in the Army National Guard and spent the next 22 years in the Guard and Army Reserve and retired as a SFC (E-7). Nothing eventful happened other I was recalled to active service in 1983 to be the Operations Sergeant, in the 43rd Engineers during the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment rotation to Germany for Exercise Reforger.

One of my pet peeves is someone griping about a problem and not doing anything about it other than griping. Serving in Vietnam meant doing the best you could with what you had—watching out for your buddies. It’s like Team Rubicon today, I guess that’s why I was drawn to this organization in the first place. Someone asked me why I was part of TR, and I thought about it for a while. I replied,  “because I prefer the company of other veterans who always have your back.”

I have brought service to my everyday life; I have served as an EMS responder/firefighter and on the Fire District Board (eventually becoming a board chairman), and I’ve served on the school board. Currently, I’m working with Disaster and Emergency Services and the Local Emergency Planning Committee in Missoula County Montana.

Independence Day used to be a day filled with political candidates talking to the gathered crowds about how they were going to make things better, this was done without bashing the other candidate. It was about ideas. Sadly, that doesn’t exist anymore. It was a get together for everyone, we didn’t have to agree, we all agreed on what a wonderful country we have. It seems the only thang that has remained constant is the fireworks, which now seem to upset dogs and certain military veterans. How I long for the old days.


Editor’s Note: Mahlon Manson was featured in our 4th of July 2020 story “Life, Liberty, and the Freedom to Serve.”