Respect to all veterans on Veterans Day!
“I, Jeffrey L Minch, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”
I took the above oath in 1969 when I matriculated at the Virginia Military Institute at the height of the Vietnam War. I took it again when I was commissioned a Regular Army Second Lieutenant in the Combat Engineers four years later.
The Army was much larger in those war years than it is today, probably 6-8X, and was divided between those who were Combat Engineers and those pathetic souls who envied the Combat Engineers.
Combat Engineers had to fight like infantry (many division commanders thought their Combat Engineer battalion was their best infantry battalion) whilst also building and blowing up bridges (floating and fixed — you cannot imagine how damn many bridges are necessary to warfare), roads, airfields, buildings, dams, minefields, and fortifications.
I took out a lot of live minefields on three different Continents — the Devil’s own work and very dangerous — and I really came to hate them.
I came by my interest in the military honestly as my father was a World War II veteran, received a battlefield commission in Italy, and was a career soldier. Whenever I required a bit of advice or an example of what a soldier was supposed to be, I didn’t have far to go.
My mother was a soldier and World War II veteran. She was a tough, redheaded cookie.
She and my father were married after a short post-World War II courtship and remained married until she passed away. They met at Camp Kilmer when my father, freshly home from the war, passed down a chow line served by German POWs and he made the POWs give him extra chow.
I went to VMI, a hard place to be, but a great place to be from. My father had served with VMI officers in World War II and said they were a cut above the West Pointers.
VMI broke me, rebuilt me, fired me in a hot furnace, and turned me out a young officer ready to become a soldier. Gifted and dedicated men — veterans themselves — oversaw my development in a fierce regimen that has been largely unchanged since 11 November 1839 <<< see that date?
My platoon sergeant, a hard man who did not like Second Lieutenants, made me into a platoon leader and when I was ready to his standards, he lent me his platoon one day saying to me, “It’s your platoon now, lieutenant. What are your orders?”
Any young officer who has ever served and been a platoon leader knows what that moment is like.
I earned the right to be a company commander — if one has to choose between being a company commander of Combat Engineers and being a Chinese feudal war lord, think carefully because they are both great gigs — and commanded as many as 600 men.
Way over strength unit with hundreds of men awaiting their discharge after the war plus 100 cutthroats awaiting their final appeal to the Court of Military Appeals after being convicted of heinous crimes enroute to 20-30 years at Fort Leavenworth.
In my career, I made some decisions that cost men their lives, and I will be haunted by them for the rest of my life. They were not necessarily bad decisions or faulty, but in that racket men die sometimes even when you make a “good” decision. I made a lot of good decisions that saved men’s lives.
As a junior officer, I was shepherding a convoy along a road oveseas and we took a piss break. As I stood there participating in the activity, I noticed a regular pattern of depressions in the ground and immediately recognized we were in a minefield.
In those days I could whistle loud enough to summon a cab in NYC from two blocks away in the snow and I did.
I told everybody not to move and for the next couple of hours we painstakingly probed for mines — found plenty of them — taped clear lanes out of the minefield, and got everyone out with no mishaps. Before we left, I marked the minefield, sent a map up to division, which said, “Oh, yeah, we knew about that minefield.”
My unit later went back and took all the mines out. I hate mines.
It was the honor of my life when mothers entrusted their sons to my care and I took it seriously.
When the balance is drawn, I received far more in my personal development than I ever gave. Do not thank me for my service. I thank you for the opportunity to serve.
We will be a free people only as long as patriots step forward and take that oath. It is worth noting that the oath has no expiration date, so if things get dicey, I am available.
George Orwell is reported to have said:
“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
Once upon a time, many years ago in my youth, I was one of those men and I had the privilege to serve with and lead others cut from the same bolt of cloth. Salute!
God bless all my fellow Veterans. Remember why we served. God bless America.