Monday, April 24, 2017

Nukes, Mickey Mouse Condoms and Elvis!

By Obie Oakley

Recently I was invited to be the guest speaker at a Military Ball celebrating the Centennial Anniversary of my former Army unit, the 23rd Engineer Regiment. Held in Tacoma, WA with 475 current members and their spouses attending, this formal event capped off two days commemorating our heritage.
23d History 2017 Speaker Photo.jpg
Captain US ARMY Obie Oakley

One of my challenges was to deliver a speech holding the interest of an audience one-half my age. Here is some of my thinking.
I realize that this is hardly on a par with giving the commencement address at a major university, however, coupled with other events during the visit, I think it might be something of interest to the class.

What a pleasure it was to spend the day with our young warriors who, for my take, are better trained, smarter and more fit than my generation 58 years ago. Starting at 5:30 am I was on the ground watching their physical training competition finals in the ever-
present Northwest rain. After breakfast, including grits, they opened the motor pool and had crews on station to brief me on the capabilities of all the new equipment that was so strange to me. Where I could, I thanked each one of them for their service, most of them had at least one deployment.

As for my speech, as stated, one of my challenges was to bridge the span of time, pun intended after all it is an Engineer unit, and deliver a speech holding the attention of an audience at least forty years younger..
After the platitudes, I chose to give a brief 100-year history which I called, 101. It is our DNA, our heritage.

Following that, I related several training exercises which were significant. For example, there was my 2:00 am failed mission during an 8-day cold weather exercise and gave my “lessons learned”, including dealing with adversity. They were intrigued to learn of an accident involving an overcharged artillery round
that killed 17 soldiers, which still ranks as the worst in US military history.

Perhaps the most rewarding training we did each year was to bridge across the Main River in a single night and watch those 60 ton tanks come out of the mist and rumble across what we had constructed.
Without a doubt however, three personal experiences generated the most interest:

In 1960, the Soviets shot down one of our U-2 spy planes which resulted in worldwide tension. All our forces were on the highest level of alert. As the special weapons officer, I led a team that was dispatched to pick up a live nuclear device and proceed to the Fulda Tunnel and if necessary, destroy it. Our Infantry Company escort set up a perimeter and no one came or went for 3 days. It is my understanding that this was the only such deployment with a live device in the Army’s history.

The next occurred during a Saturday morning barracks inspection. As I looked into Pvt. Bannon’s locker, there on the shelf was something I could not identify. When I asked him about it, he cautioned, “Please don’t touch it Sir, that is my special condom with Mickey Mouse ears”! He needn’t worry, I wasn’t about to touch it. I think that was when this naïve 2nd Lt. lost some of his innocence.

The story that never seems to grow old is my encounter with Elvis Presley which occurred during a tank convoy movement up the Autobahn. There was a scout directing us into a refueling area and I mentioned to my driver, “I think that is Elvis”. He agreed. One
thing I noticed was that he was wearing a different cap than the one prescribed. Later as I was having dinner with his battalion commander, I mentioned my disappointment and commented that he must think he’s better than the rest of us. Lt. Col. Deams, assured me that Elvis was an excellent soldier, one of his best and the reason his hat was different was because the local girls followed him around and had stolen it. He made do the best he could.

All in all, it was an awesome experience and made me prouder than ever of those young men and women who defend our freedom.
In a follow-up note, the current commander said, “Thanks for coming. I think the Soldiers loved your remarks. Nukes, Mickey Mouse condoms and Elvis”! Hence the title.