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|An up close and personal interview with U.S. Coast Guard Veteran and Togetherweserved.com Member:|
CAPT John Wallace US Coast Guard (Ret) (1957-1989)
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
While a High School Student seeking an appointment to an Academy, my Congressman suggested I try the Coast Guard Academy as it did not require a congressional appointment.
I looked into the Coast Guard and found it to be an excellent service, a desirable career and and good opportunity. I applied and took the exams and was appointed in 1957 for admission.
BRIEFLY, WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
As all CG Academy Grads in 1961, I went to sea on a white ship. I did the deck option, then the engineering option, but choose Aviation as that had been my goal from academy days. Unfortunately I had a a rifle blow back into my eyes while shooting on the All Coast Guard Rifle Team and could not then pass the physical for flight school. As an alternative in 1964, I choose to attend Grad School in Civil Engineering at the University of Illinois. The majority of my career than was directed along this Civil Engineering Path until I became a Captain.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
During my first tour as a Civil Engineer in the Third Coast Guard District in New York City in 1968, I volunteered to go to Vietnam. In 1969 I was selected and ordered to COMSEASEC for a 3 year tour which involved duties in Thailand as well as in Vietnam, as senior Civil Engineer for the Section Office. During this 3 plus years, I served in the combat areas of Southeast Asia as a Lieutenant Commander.
WHICH, OF THE VESSELS OR DUTY STATIONS YOU WERE ASSIGNED TO, DO YOU HAVE THE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY?
My most memorable tour of duty was my three year assignment in 1977 to the Coast Guard Activities Europe Staff as Senior Civil Engineering Officer as a Coasy Guard Commander. ACTEUR was assigned to the US Embassy in London and from there the Coast Guard forces handled the administration, engineering, control, budgeting, and maintence for the Loran and Omega Navigation System units located in Europe, Africa, South America, Canada and the Indian Ocean. Though this was a hugh responsibility, it allowed the tower teams and engineers to travel extensively in several major areas of the world as well as work with and assist host nations in providing most of the world with accurate and reliable aids to navigation. Living in the London area of England was a wonderful experience for both the staff and our families.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
While a Captain serving in CGHQ Washington, DC in the Office of Research Development, I was assigned to be the Joint Services Project Officer for the evaluation of the practical and possible use of Lighter than Air Vehicles ( Blimps/Dirigibles) for the Coast Guard, Army, Air Force, and Navy Missions. I was sent to England to be trained in blimps and got my company wings there. Although the project was completed successfully, the Coast Guard did not adopt the program. It was one of the most enjoyable, interesting, and satisfying periods of my career.
OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
During my 32 year career, I received 49 Military Awards, Decorations, Citations, Service Medals, and Stars from the US Coast Guard, the US Navy, the US Marine Corps, the US Army, and the Governments of Thailand, Vietnam, and Argentina. Of these the ones that stand out as being significant were the award of the US Coast Guard Distinguished Marksman Badge, The Royal Thailand Supreme Command Masters Badge (First Class), the Combat Action Ribbon, and the Republic of Argentina Armada Medal of Merit. I received many awards for my years in combat areas of Viet Nam and adjacent countries, but none were for valor.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
My mentor, Captain Richard Jacobs, who was my commander during my tour in Hawaii and a senior Civil Engineering Officer in the Coast Guard, was without a doubt the most influential person who both motivated me and counseled my during major portions of my career. Not only was he a personal friend, but a respected and talented professional. To this day he and his family are among my best friends.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE THAT WAS FUNNY AT THE TIME AND STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
During my many years in southeast asia, probably as a mental defense mechanism, I tended to see most critical incidents as being "funny". In fact I kept a log of the time spent there on my missions, thinking that when I was back home after it was over that I would be able to write a novel of all the funny and often hilarious events that took place. When I returned after 3 years to the USA, and reviewed my notes in a much different setting, I realized that the incidents I experienced were not really so funny.....in fact many were now serious and not funny at all.
Early in my career, I was First Lieutenant aboard the USCGC OWASCO, a 255 Patrol Vessel, stationed at the time in Cuba, for refresher training and harbor patrol during the Cuban Missle Crisis. While in port, the ship needed white paint for the hull; not an easy item to get in Cuba in the middle of a grey Navy Fleet. I located some in Navy stores, but in order to get it, I had to trade a Cinemascope Movie Lens for a Refrigerator off the US Navy Aircraft Carrier Essex, then trade that to the US Marines on the defense line around Guantanamo, for coffee for the Supply CPO Mess to get the white paint needed by my skipper for the ship's paint job; now that was funny!!! And it was a long night!!!
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT JOB?
I retired as a Captain in 1989 while serving in Norfolk, Virginia. I had two college age children and needed a second career. I floated my resume and was successful in serving as County Administrator for two Virginia County Governments (Pittsylvania and Amelia) over the next 10 years. My experience in the Coast Guard for 32 years coupled with my education as a Civil Engineer served me well in this career pattern. I served in this capacity until 2009 when I retired a second time from Virginia Local Governmental. I am currently fully retired and living in Walterboro, South Carolina.
In my retirement, particularly due to my involved military career and my Scottish Heritage background, I have been very involved with my worldwide family, Clan Wallace, and Scottish associations where ever I have lived. I have served on the Board of Directors of Clan Wallace Worldwide for over 12 years and have received many awards for my contributions to the extended Scottish Community. I have also been honored many times for my benevolent services to other countries, in the form of knighthoods and honors.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
I am a 40 Year Member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States and currently the Senior Vice Commander of Walterboro, SC Post 12102. I have been a member of the American Legion for about 21 years and an currently a serving member of Walterboro, SC Post 93. I am a member of the Coast Guard Combat Veterans Association and have been since 9-1987. I have been a member of the Coast Guard SEA Veterans since December 1987. Because of my assignment to a NATO Billet during my European Tour in 1977-1980.
I am eligible and have been a member of the Canada's Royal Canadian Legion since 1996. I currently serve as Secretary for the Colleton County, South Carolina, Veterans Council serving one of the largest Countys in the State. Being a member and active in these Veteran Military Organizations gives me great feelings of camaraderie and friendship with veterans from all services and locations. I am proud to continue to serve the US Veterans Organizations who do so much for our country.
HOW HAS MILITARY SERVICE INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?
Throughout my 72 years, I have spent most of them associated with the military, starting as a 4 year Army ROTC member in high school, then as a Cadet Student at the Coast Guard Academy, and then in a 28 year active military career in the Coast Guard, with 3 combat tours and 2 commands, and now since 1989 as a a retiree in several military related organizations, I cannot help but be influenced by this association. I have found this military experience and background to be of great value in my life and has prepared me for many eventualities. I am a stronger, more versatile, more well rounded, and more talented as a result of this military background.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THOSE THAT ARE STILL SERVING?
For those of you who are now serving, I say "good for you". Stand fast and strong and do the best you can to succeed. The benefits both financially and worldly will be worth your endurance in the service. Do not be fooled by your civilian counterparts into believing that their life is better or more productive than yours. Nothing is better than serving your country. In the long run, you will be better off!!!
While you are working hard to serve your best and to improve your lot, always remember to have some fun and enjoy life....you get old too quickly in this life so keep smiling and laughing, for that is the best medicine!!!
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU MAINTAIN A BOND WITH YOUR SERVICE AND THOSE YOU SERVED WITH?
Togetherweserved is a nice uncomplicated way to keep current about our service and its people. It funnels information to us all while allowing us to seek out shipmates and old friends. This bond we have is good and important and this organization feeds this bond!!!
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