Norfolk Southern Celebrates Our Veterans and Their Families - 2006
It was just another hot dry summer day in Vietnam. We were dug in along the river providing perimeter security for Marble Mountain Hospital and Marine helicopter facility. A dozen of us were milling around the grassy clearing and cooling off in the river, when we came under fire. As everyone scattered looking for cover, one Marine was hit. He was evacuated to the hospital which was about a mile to the rear.
The next day when our squad hiked to get resupplied, we stopped by the hospital to visit and learned John Wayne was making rounds with the doctors. We hung around for about 15 minutes when, sure enough in strode the Duke himself.
For years, celebrities have entertained the troops at home and abroad. I saw Anne Margaret and Johnny Rivers in DaNang. Martha Ray even came to the DMZ when no one else would. John Wayne didn’t perform a song and dance routine or do stand up comedy. But when he walked through those hospital doors there were no reporters, no cameras, no publicity; just the Duke with two attending doctors. He spoke and joked with each individual patient, shaking hands with those who could or giving a reassuring pat on shoulders of those who couldn’t.
I don’t recall what was said that day. It doesn’t matter. All that mattered was that he was there, and that he cared.��
Two of my sons were in Iraq for 13 months in 2002 and 2003. Al was a former Marine who joined the Pennsylvania National Guard soon after Sept. 11, 2001 when it became apparent troops would be sent to the Middle East.
His younger brother, Ralph, was already in the Guard, and was attached to the 1st Cavalry Air Mobile Division doing checkpoint and military police duty in and around Baghdad just after the initial offensive. Ralph’s Humvee was just behind another that hit an improvised explosive device. When it exploded, it flipped the vehicle which landed on its roof in a drainage ditch. Two of his fellow soldiers from his unit drowned in that ditch.�����������
Both told stories of close calls with snipers and firing blind into the desert in response to taking fire. For the most part, the enemy stayed hidden and never attacked in force.
Al was attached to a public relations unit far north of Baghdad, and moved around a lot. He was on guard duty when a small pickup truck charged the camp, and would not stop after warning shots were fired. He and others around him opened up with .50 caliber machine gun fire aiming at the truck’s motor. Many rounds penetrated the firewall, and the outcome was fatal for the attacker.
Al was the gung-ho one, but after his tour was over he didn’t like to talk much about it. It seems that the deeper he went into the country he didn’t know who to trust, as the people weren’t as pro-American as those living in Baghdad.
Both agree on one thing. The air was filled with the smell of the burning of waste 24 hours a day and seven days a week. It took several months after they were home to get the stench out of there nostrils.
I was in Iraq in 2005. It's one of the main decision makers for leaving the armed forces and starting a career with Norfolk Southern. I'm really just writing to thank NS for honoring its veterans and their families and recognizing the sacrifices they make.
I was on a primary security detachment for 18th Airborne Corps. where we successfully completed more than 200 individual convoys.
I volunteered for my tour in Iraq wanting to be proud of where and what I was doing. A week or two later, my wife and I found out we had another son on the way. I still went, because I had already trained with my team and if they were going so was I. So I deployed to Iraq Feb. 1. My son was born Jan. 27, so I only had about a week to be with him.
My story is about the sacrifices a family makes. As we prepared to deploy, my wife, after just having a baby, was there along with the rest of my family. Reality set in when I saw the plane. It was pouring rain, like the sky was crying for our families as they made all of our families leave the ramp. As I fell into formation, I looked back at my brother - the one I could look up to the most - pulling with all his strength to take my heartbroken wife away from the door. “How could I do this?” I thought, but it was too late. I had brothers going, so I stood firm on my decision.
We marched through the rain to the plane filling with soldiers including husbands, sons, fathers, wives and mothers. As I sat in my seat, I felt something and turned to look out my window. There was my wife, no umbrella, just hurt. She stood there behind the 15-ft barbed wire fence for probably an hour in the rain until we took off. My pain was for my family, not for the scars I would come back within me. I won all kinds of medals and we have stories of all sorts to tell.
With all that, my family is the hero, not me. Not to mention my other son, who was three, carried around a toy plane like the one I flew out in for months until one day he said “Mom can Daddy have some more food?” and pointed at the plane. That’s the scar I can't get rid of. You learn to swallow the war and drive on.
In November 2004, I received orders that I was activated for Operation Iraqi Freedom.�As I began to inventory all the must do items at home and work, I met Tommy Rollings, assistant building superintendent at Spring Street.�After a couple of conversations, I realize that I was attached to his unit.�We began to talk daily, checking up on each other and making sure necessary items were taken care of before we left home.�
January 2005 saw me leave NS and report to Fort Stewart, Ga., for training.�My orders stated I would be away from home and work for 545 days, so the first couple of days were extremely difficult.�I ran into SFC Rollings at Fort Stewart and we began to talk to uplift each other for the upcoming mission.�A week later, I was sent to the Quartermaster Officer Course at Fort Lee, Va., and the next time I saw Tommy Rollings was in Baghdad.�He was preparing to move to Forward Operating Base St. Michael and I was transferred to a transportation company.�Frequently over the next six months, I would run into SFC Rollings and we would greet each other, “How you doing railroader?”�
Once we moved south to An Nasariyah, we began to run into each other more often.�He would volunteer to help out on my resupply missions just to “get out the house” as he would say.�We spent a considerable amount of time on the road in Humvees. We even joked how Norfolk Southern needed to put a rail line through Iraq.��In hindsight, it was quite unusual for two NS employees to serve together in combat and to witness the Iraqi’s living conditions.
There is a motto connected with military service that says, “Some gave all, all gave some.”�After returning in May after the yearlong deployment in Iraq, this Veterans Day I will have a sentimental attachment to those service members who have served their country and those that have given their lives for the United States.�Those who have served can relate to the sacrifices of leaving family behind and facing the uncertainties of combat in a foreign land.�
At times, I find myself reflecting on my experience in Iraq.�I recall leading logistics and recovery convoys, being attacked with roadside bombs and automatic weapons through the Sunni Triangle of Death.�I remember the barrier missions to protect the polling precincts in some of the most violent neighborhoods; locations that bring to mind the streets in the movie Black Hawk Down.�I remember taking pictures of the Iraqi children and watching them fill with excitement as my soldiers handed out clothing and food.�Then there are the more somber times at the memorial ceremonies for our fallen soldiers. I realize these are the unique experiences of the military veteran. However, through the highs and lows, I am proud to have served my country.�Until you have seen combat, you don’t realize the security and peace we are afforded because of our veterans; Veterans who have served courageously to make this country safe.�
George R. Nuckolls, a third generation railroader, was a telegrapher on the Norfolk and Western Railway when he was drafted into military service during World War II. Owing to his telegraphy and typing skills, his active duty service during the war was primarily behind the lines, stationed in England until well after the D-Day invasion. A member of an Airborne Division, George was moved forward as the Allies advanced through France and Belgium into Germany, with telegraph and teletype messages providing the primary means of long-distance communication.
When he entered the European theatre, the U.S. had become primarily an occupation army, assisting in the rebuilding of�vital infrastructure, including the German railroads. He later related many stories of working with older railway workers, there not being many men his age in Germany, who had a lot in common with their American counterparts. In Europe, railroads were steel wheels moving on steel rails, just like at home.
One of his favorite stories, though, was not about railroading, but about skiing. While stationed in Kassel, Germany, George and several of his army buddies rode a bus up to a local ski resort. None of them had ever been on skis before, and the downhill trail started at the top of a large drop-off, the steep hill descending quickly down the side of a towering mountain in the Alps. As he told his tale of adventure, he would pull out an old black-and-white picture of himself, with skis strapped to his boots, standing at the edge of the precipice. When pressed to describe his downhill plunge, however, he would sheepishly admit that he, and all of his friends, too turns posing for pictures on the same set of skis, then immediately rode the gondola lift back to the bottom.
After Sgt. Nuckolls returned to the states, he resumed his employment with the N&W, rising from telegrapher to operator, then dispatcher and chief dispatcher of the Pocahontas Division in Bluefield. He maintained his military service, however, first in the Army Reserve, then in the National Guard. During his several call-ups to active duty he rose steadily in rank, achieving the rank of Brigadier General prior to his military retirement.
During remarks made a dinner celebrating his retirement from railway service, he stated,�“Since I began my railway service at the age of 19 and am retiring from the N&W with 47 years service, and having already retired from the service with 24 years of active duty, I must be 90 years old!” �
I served in Iraq the entire year of 2005.�While there, I took part in a route clearing mission throughout Baghdad and the surrounding area using specialized equipment from South Africa called a Buffalo and a Husky.�This is my own personal creation of “Eligio,” Patron Saint of Mechanics, who was made out of Hummer Parts and blown up Buffalo parts.
I am currently deployed in the Middle East with the U.S. Navy and have been here since August.�I am assigned to Mobile Security Squadron Two based in Portsmouth, Va. as a Master at Arms.�
Our job is to protect vessels that the Navy deems as high value assets such as submarines, specialized ships, and cargo ships carrying certain types of equipment.�We provide exterior security for the ships when they are entering and/or exiting ports as well as transiting through areas known to be hostile in this region. �
I have found my job here very interesting, because I get to see another side of the shipping industry not to mention a completely different environment and culture.�I get to see what happens to cargo similar to what I handled as a conductor in Charleston once it enters the port. I have gained a greater appreciation for the transportation industry as a seamless flow of goods from one side of the world to the other.�
My wife mails me the NS Newsbreak letter every month since I have been gone, and it has been an enjoyable taste of home.�The newsletter is a welcome getaway from life around here. I had not worked for the NS long before my deployment, but I am definitely ready to get back to the job I enjoyed.�
�I did come up with an idea for Veterans Day while I was standing one of my endless watches at sea. I noticed that most, if not all, NS locomotives do not have an American flag on them. I thought it would be nice touch of support for NS to start putting small or moderate sized American flags on or around the cab its locomotives.�There are many designs that I think would look really good on our locomotives.� We could even put some kind of patriotic or catchy phrase below the flag such as “NS Connects America,” NS, Connecting America,” or “We Connect America.” �
Thank you for taking the time to write about U.S. Veterans and those serving overseas.�I have included a picture myself (right, MA2 Patten) and Eric Hendricks (left, MA1 Hendricks) at Lambert’s Point preparing to board USNS Regulus for training prior to our deployment.
I come from a family with a lot of military experience.� In the past few years, I have shared a few of my experiences from my 21-year career in the Navy.� But I am not the only one in my family with military experience.� My father (and all of his three brothers) served during World War II.� My wife, Sonja, is a Marine Corps “brat”… both her father and her uncle were career Marine Corps officers. This year, I would like share a very unusual story about Sonja’s uncle, Col. Walter S. Osipoff.� This event holds a particular significance to me, since it started a chain of events that eventually led to my marriage.
In 1941, Walter Osipoff was a young Marine 2nd lieutenant.� A seasoned parachutist, he was in the air for a routine jump over San Diego, Cal., when things went terribly wrong.� His parachute snagged on the plane’s tail wheel leaving him dangling hopelessly in tow.� The story of his adventure was the subject of a 1975 Reader’s Digest article “Miracle in Mid-Air.” � The article was accompanied by an illustration of the event that was taken from a painting in the Marine Corps Museum.�
So what does a 1941 incident have to do with my marriage more than 30 years later?� Walter and his family were from Akron, Ohio.� As you can imagine, he was pretty beat up after the accident and his parents during many months of recovery.� They eventually decided that San Diego was a pretty good place to live and made the move permanent.� Walter’s sister, Lydia, decided to leave her advertising job in New York to join the family in California.� The officer’s club on the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) was a popular gathering place for singles.� It was there that Lydia met another young Marine Corps lieutenant, Joe Stribling.� This relationship soon led to marriage and eventually to a daughter, Sonja.� The family made a lot of moves during Joe’s career, but San Diego became the home base.�
Years later, the MCRD officer’s club was still popular as a place for singles to meet, dance, and have fun.� It was there on one such night that fate brought Sonja and I together.� The rest, as they say, is history.� Walter’s “miracle in mid-air” led to the blessings of over 26 years (and counting) of marriage between Sonja and I.� How different life might have been if Walter’s jump had gone routinely that day!
As we approach Veterans Day, I look back to a year ago when I was in Iraq serving as a sergeant first class in the Georgia Army National Guard’s 48th Brigade. My duties took me into upper northern and southern Baghdad where I was assigned to force patrol. This involved protecting the mess dining facilities set up in theaters where soldiers could have a safe place to come in out of the elements, have their meals and relax before going back out. There were Iraqi employees working inside the dining facility. We were required to search them upon arrival and departure to ensure no contraband was brought in and no information was compromised. There were many times when mortar rounds would come inside the facilities while soldiers were eating causing heightened security and sometimes evacuation of the facility depending on the severity of the situation.
Throughout this experience, I was drawn closer to reality on how precious life and freedom are taken for granted here in the United States. The conditions in which the Iraqi people live are horrible. There were children with no parents living in the desert caring for themselves and each other. We would see the children crossing the desert with no shoes. There were women and children begging for money or food. We would give them care packages. On some details, we would run across an Iraqi needing specific medical attention, and some of our soldiers would attempt to treat their wounds or sicknesses. If we in America could see how little they have in Iraq compared to how much we have, we would feel more blessed and appreciative for all the things that we have regardless of how small.
My greatest wish for Veterans Day is to give a warm and heartfelt thank you to Vietnam Veterans for a job well done. They paved the way for soldiers today and tomorrow. They were the ones who were not shown the appreciation our soldiers are given today.
I was honored and proud to be called to duty to serve my country. The kindness and appreciation shown to me, my family and the troops during our deployment and return was very kind and warm. I also would like to thank my family at Norfolk Southern for the love that was shown to my family while I was deployed. It’s good to know that your employer is behind you 100 percent and thinking of you.
No one likes the idea of the country being at war or the outcome of war. Some live, but there are some who do not make it back to tell their story. No soldier should ever be forgotten.
In June 2003, I was in the Kentucky National Guard and working as a signal maintainer in Wilmore, Ky. I was inspecting a crossing and the cell phone rang. I answered it and was notified that I was being activated to go to Afghanistan with a hospital unit from Louisville, Ky. My duty was keeping the heating and air conditioning and cooling units running for the hospital. This turned out being something that has made me look at a lot of things in life very differently. My father was in the Korean War and had told me stories of hunger and despair, but this really made me see the big picture.
I was proud of serving my country, but the price is high. I lost a year of time with my family and friends. We have so much to be thankful for. I am free to get up in the morning, walk across my yard to my car and drive to work without any fear. We take for granted being able to work a nice job, own a nice house with good schools and good health care. I could just go on. People can’t imagine how nice it is to see the green grass and flowers. The colors stand out so much when you come back to the U.S.
In Afghanistan, I talked with doctors and lawyers who earned in a week what we make in less than an hour. Of all the things I was around and saw in that year of my life, I realize that when it comes to family and friends we get so caught up in every day life that we miss the little things that are really important.
�Something else that really stood out while I was there was the sky at night while on guard duty. It was so full of stars, and I saw more falling stars than I will probably see the rest of my life.
I use to think that a holiday was just a good day off from work - especially on Veterans Day. Once you line up on a tarmac and see a coffin with an American flag draped over it being loaded on a plane going back to the U.S., you realize the sacrifices of many people. You are saddened because you know they had family and plans for life just as you, but they are gone.
This is part of an e-mail from my son, Capt. Adam Sawyer, 1-89 CAV Squadron, 2/10 Mountain Division C Troop, U.S. Army who is in/near the Baghdad area, Iraq:
"Been very busy - late nights, combat patrols, meetings, etc. It's 12:30 a.m. and I still have lots of work ahead of me.�I visited a small town today that has not had much coalition force presence. I had to make an assessment about the village�view toward us, their electricity, water, medical services, etc.�I talked to lots of people, including many children. They love to talk to American soldiers and ask for pens, soccer balls, etc.�So innocent and peaceful (although they are fairly poor and don't have much).�The children today asked me if I had any kids and I told them I had two. They then asked me if I had any pictures.�I took out my army wallet and showed them my pictures of Ryan and Alex - they giggled and said ‘very small’ in broken English.�So, there I was in a combat zone showing off Ryan and Alex to�a bunch of Iraqi children."
Leo Schotterer has worked for Norfolk Southern for 32 years. His dedication to Norfolk Southern is only second to his dedication to our country.
He is a decorated Vietnam veteran. In May 2006, he was inducted into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame.
Years ago, when my father came home from Germany and the Battle of the Bulge, he was a very different young man.�He had been trapped for days in a shell hole full of water during the barrage.�After overcoming the physical illnesses, he carried the sound of bombs in his head for years.�He would almost push us into the car at the first sound of thunder and drive us straight into the storm somehow trying to protect us from the hysterical fear that raged in his memories.�
It was the love and understanding and long tried patience of our mother who slowly eased his torment and brought him back to us. Just coming home wasn’t as easy as we who remained here thought it might be.�
All our young people stand tall and meet the challenges of war, not realizing that some of it sticks to them. For all who are waiting at home, remember to be patient and loving and understanding till the sounds and fears of war subside.
Leaving home at 17 to marry my tall, good-looking Marine (and my Prince Charming,) how would I know that a state side soldier would have some of the same trauma that Dad had.�Little did I know about folding his underwear six inches square, or polishing my shoes 40 layers thick until they shined and looked like a mirror, or making a bed till a quarter bounced with all the corners tucked just so. And why was I not taught to walk in step down the street?�
Once, when my son was starting to crawl, he got into the closet and knocked a huge ceramic bull shaped bank from a trip to Mexico over onto the highly polished boots that were only three years out of military service.�You would have thought a crime had been committed. Now that I have aged, I can reflect back and understand.�Then, with two babies, which many of young soldiers wives have today, patience or understanding like that of my mother was not to be had.
I now understand that he was just trying to keep the order in his life that constant everyday drilling had caused.�Responsibility away from the service was harder to accept because his youth had been interrupted.�My children and I needed to wait while the anger and resentment he felt for all he had missed made a daily mess he did not know how to fix.
When your soldier comes home, give him some slack.�Wives and family are really the most important thing in the soldier’s life.�They wouldn’t put their lives between danger and you if that wasn’t true.
I’ve been with Norfolk Southern for 11 years, all of which have been with the police department in Kansas City, Mo. In the summer of 2004, my Army Reserve unit was activated to assist in Operation Iraqi Freedom.�I landed in theater on Oct. 15, 2004, and returned to the U.S. on Sept. 30, 2005.�
�My unit, the 917th Corp Support Group, monitored commodities such as food, fuel and water.�My specialty is fuel.�My function was to monitor, allocate and request fuel for the northern region.�For 12 hours a day, seven days a week I thought about fuel, and even wore out several calculators figuring out usage.�Our usage averaged nearly 250,000 gallons per day.�
In the army, you wear your unit’s patch on your left sleeve.�Once you become a combat veteran, you wear the patch of the unit you supported on your right sleeve as your combat patch.�I wore the unit patch of the 11th Armored Calvary Regiment. I also received the Combat Action Badge for engaging enemy forces, but the right shoulder patch is the one I feel the proudest of.
What more fitting combat patch for a Norfolk Southern employee.�
My brother, Daniel Lee Lewis, served in the U.S. Coast Guard for four years and the Coast Guard Reserve for 23 years.� In 1975, he was serving as a Boatswain Mate 3rd Class on the USCG Cutter Salvia. The late singer John Denver was in Tampa visiting Jacque Cousteau's ship Calypso where it was dry docked next to the Salvia.
Denver was invited to visit the Salvia. My brother, Daniel, was below decks working and supervising his men, when it was announced that “singer” John Denver was aboard. Daniel thought they said "Seaman" John Denver and he came up to get him and put him to work. He was very surprised when he realized his mistake.
I am thankful to all that have served in the United States Armed Forces for protecting us and allowing us to have the wonderful country we have to live in today. Our dad was in the U.S. Navy and fought in World War II.
I just completed five years of service in the United States Navy.�I had the pleasure of serving on the U.S. east and west coasts, in the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico.�I completed work-ups (pre-deployment training/qualifications) and deployments on two aircraft carriers, the USS Constellation CV-64 and the USS Theodore Roosevelt CVN-71, supporting Operations Desert Watch, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi freedom.
During my time in the Navy, I served with people age 17 to 60, of all religions and many different ethnic groups. I also had the honor to serve side-by-side with the men and women of the United States Marine Corps.�My two male siblings currently serve in the Armed Forces; one in the Navy and one in the Marine Corps.�
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve home and abroad with some of the world’s most dedicated individuals.�Veterans Day is a celebrated holiday in my family so that we can offer our thanks to the men and women who have gone before us to ensure our freedom and the freedom of generations to come.
My main purpose in joining the U.S. Navy was for the GI Bill and money for college and to get away from home in Arkansas. I needed a change.�I remember how everyone looked at me when I told them I was going to enlist in the Navy. It was different, and it made me feel proud that I did enlist.�
I joined the Navy as a Seaman Recruit Oct. 16, 2000, and went to boot camp at Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, Ill. It was so cold there.�The snow was up to our knees sometimes, and we had to march everywhere we needed to go. If one person slipped on ice and fell, it was like a chain reaction.�
There was a series of tests we had to take to graduate from boot camp. I was a master at arms for my division. This helped me to get promoted to E-2 Seaman Apprentice out of boot camp.�
While in boot camp, we heard of the USS Cole bombing and we were so scared.�All I could do was pray and wish that I was not put in a situation like that.�I prayed every night hoping that no one else would have to go through that.�
Next I went to Naval Training Command Great Lakes and was in the top ten percent of my class, so I was promoted to E-3 Seaman. Getting promoted that fast was good and meant that I was already about 1 years ahead of the other Seaman Recruits.
�After all of that training, I was stationed onboard the USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7) in Norfolk.�This is was a new ship, so I earned the title of plank owner.�This means that I was onboard when it was commissioned. When it is decommissioned, I will get a piece of the ship. Plank owners get more privileges than other shipmates.�
When I first moved onboard the ship, we had to travel to a different state because there was more work to do to finish the construction. At the ship yard, I remember seeing the USS Cole and the size of the hole that was in the side. That was a sad moment just thinking about the people who died that were near that area. �
When 9/11 came about, I remember how everyone was trying to use their cell phones to call their family and the message that everyone was receiving was “all circuits are busy.” I was terrified. The only thing going through my mind was we were going to war. I tried to call my parents but I could not get through to them. Many people on leave were called back to the ship, and we started preparing for the worst. A couple of ships got called on for medical support but mine was not, we were on stand by.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, I did not know what to expect.�I had never been involved in a war, but I was going to do my best. I picked up the rank of Boatswain’s Mate Second Class BM2 (SW/AW).�I drove the ship, stood watch, refueled the ship and even painted it when needed. I saw so many so many dolphins and whales. I was overseas for 8 months and we sat off the coast of Africa near Liberia for 120 days straight.�We were able to see land but could not touch it.�This was when the Liberians were trying to overthrow their president so we were there with marines just in case we were needed.�It was extremely hot in some places, I mean so hot that the fountain water was hot.�When we went to different countries, we were limited to what we could do. They increased security because of terrorist attacks within the U.S.
When we made it back to the States there were so many people on the pier waiting for us. That was a wonderful sight. There were so many new fathers onboard that they chose names to see who would get to be the first person to leave the ship. After all of the new fathers left, then we went by rank. Everywhere we went on and off base, we saw signs that said Welcome Home USS Iwo Jima.
�This was a great experience for me, I have friendships that will last a lifetime, and I have memories that will never fade. If I had to do it all over again, I would. This is one experience that I would not trade for the world. I separated from the Navy on Oct, 15, 2004, and I am currently a full time student at Clayton State University where my major is Information Technology.