Soldier for his Country and for his Lordby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
What is your name, birth date and birthplace?
Albert Leo Romaneski, D/POB: June 21, 1927, Tacoma, Pierce County, Washington, USA
From what country did your ancestors immigrate to the USA? Do you know what drove that decision and what was that experience was like?
My grandparents with the exception of my father's father were born in the USA. My father's father was of Polish or, at least, eastern European origin and came to the US via Switzerland. His brother was a student with him in Geneva. The brother became involved in a scandal with a woman, and both brothers decided to come to America together. My father's mother was born in Wisconsin of German immigrant parents from Rosenhof, Mecklenburg. Her mother ran away from home to marry an employee on her father's estate. This young couple then escaped to America. My mother's Mother and father were from Ft. Wayne Township in Indiana. My maternal grandfather was descended from Immigrants from the Palatinate in the mid-1700's and from Scotch immigrants of the same period. His wife was of English and French origin, and I do not know when her family came to America.
What was it like for your parents during the Great Depression?
Before the depression, my father owned a business in Tacoma, Washington. The business failed during the early years of the Depression. We first moved to an apartment house, which owed my father money, and later we moved to a country farm that my parents originally intended as summer vacation place. It was located near the small village of Orting, Washington on the banks of the Puyallup River. We were able to survive there by raising chickens, geese, and pigs. We also had a cow and a garden. We had absolutely no money. One morning I observed my mother who was in tears. I asked why, and she replied that we had less than fifty cents. Neighbors helped each other a lot, and there was a great deal of bartering, e.g., trading corn for spinach and so on.
What do you remember most about your childhood?
It was rather austere, but I did not know the difference. In Orting, we had a wood stove, and I was responsible for keeping the wood box full. I received a bath every Saturday in a round tub in the kitchen. I had to milk the cow each morning at 6am and each evening at 6pm. The cow was hard to manage. I attended grades 1,2, and 3 in Orting Grammar School, and I rode the bus to school. I sometimes walked home with my Swiss classmate Baldy Balmer. Both of us liked to play in puddles. My mother spanked me every time I arrived home with wet feet. She used to ask me if my feet were wet. If I said yes, she would invite me to bend over her lap for my daily spanking. My teachers at school also spanked me, sometimes with a wooden ruler on the hand and sometime I with a wooden paddle on the rear. My father spanked me with a piece of leather called a razor strop. He was a violent, profane man, whom I both loved and feared.
In those Depression days, we lived close to the earth, which provided enough for us to survive. My father was dead set against "going on relief," which was a system of help from the county. He was a proud, stubborn man. Later, he bragged about his courage during the Depression: "well, at least we never were on relief!" I saw my first movie at age ten. It was called "Wiley of West Point," starring Wallace Berry. From that moment on, I had only one ambition, which was to become a soldier. My goal was strengthened by my grandfather's saying that noblest among the professions were preaching, teaching, and soldiering.
What were your teen years like?
As the Depression ebbed, we moved from the Orting farm to Olympia, Washington, then to Berkeley, California. We were constantly moving about to "see the country:" Oakland, Walnut Creek, Mountain Home, Fresno, North Sacramento, Sacramento, Carmichael, back to Sacramento, San Jose, back to Sacramento, then on to Portland, Oregon, where I attended the last three years of public school in Lincoln High School (a four year downtown HS). We moved several times within Portland, but the Superintendent of Schools granted me permission to stay at Lincoln. I was especially pleased to stay in the same school for a while because prior to Lincoln, I had been in eighteen schools. At Lincoln, I held several Student Body offices including Treasurer and President. I ran cross-country track, and I played football and baseball. I graduated at the top of the class academically and also received the Dad's Club Award for service to the school. For me, High School was a wonderful experience. My father was an early riser at 5am. He always awakened me at that time. We all left the house at 6am, and I arrived at Lincoln before the doors opened. My parents did not impose on me any rules about when to go to bed. Right after I graduated from High School, I volunteered for the draft because WWII was still going on.
Where did you go to school? What was your education like?
My list of colleges is long, so I shall just name them in the order in which I attended them. Mills College, Amherst College, West Point, Reed College, Caltech, Columbia University, George Washington University, University of Stockholm, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. My education is in three areas: engineering, international affairs, and theology. Military Schools include: Airborne School, The Engineer Advanced Class, Command and General Staff College, Defense Intelligence School, US Army War College, National War College, Industrial College of the Armed Forces, Swedish Para Ranger School.
Do you have any comments on race relations? Were racial issues significant where you grew up?
While I lived in Berkeley, my grammar school burned. The students from my school were then distributed to other schools, and I ended up in a, until then, all black school. The principal wanted to skip me a grade from fourth to fifth grade, but my mother refused to permit the advance .She feared that I might suffer socially. In the black school, I faced fights after school most days. The black guys liked to pick fights, either with me or with my cousin who was in the same school. We often fought back to back against four or five black guys, who attacked us. My mother would grow angry if my clothes were torn or if they were stained with blood. I was really glad when we moved from Berkeley. Before Berkeley, I had little experience or contact with blacks. In Orting and in Olympia, there were no blacks to speak of. The few blacks that I saw aroused my curiosity. I remember asking my mother to take me by an office building so that I could see the elevator operator who was black. I was very curious about him. Eventually, in Berkeley, I became better acquainted with black kids in my fourth grade class, most of whom did not seem to want to be in school. In 1952, the President Truman ordered the Army to become integrated. Until then, the Army had had all black units, such as the 547th Engineer Battalion. The army soon became multi-racial in all its elements.
What do you think of America becoming the world's most powerful nation?
Well, there is a certain national hubris that accompanies being a super power. We should guard against being too proud, because the exercise of power is a huge responsibility requiring divine wisdom.
What do you remember about WW2?
As a veteran of WWII who never went overseas, WWII is still very vivid to me. Some High School students were sent to the Oregon coast with wooden rifles. We walked along the beaches to simulate soldiers with real arms as a deterrent to future attacks by Japanese subs. One had shelled the coast near Astoria, Oregon. Residents in the coastal towns exercised strict blackout discipline by covering their windows at night.
What did you think about the Nation of Israel being reestablished?
It is the partial fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. 1
How did the '53 Korean War affect you?
After serving as an enlisted man in the Infantry, I entered West Point in July 1946-the first post-WWII class. My class graduated on June 6, 1950. Seventeen days later the Korean War started, and on June 26th, the US committed ground troops to the conflict. Most of my Army classmates from West Point went immediately into battle. I, however, was sent to Europe, where I joined the famous 1st Infantry Division, which was the only Army division in Europe at that time. We began serious field training aimed at combat readiness. Our mission was to slow down the Soviets if they attacked Western Europe through the Fulda Gap to the Atlantic Ocean. One third of the 1st Division stayed in the field on alert at all times. Even Marilyn 2went to the rifle range to learn how to shoot. The job of my combat engineer platoon was to blow up two Rhein River bridges on which we pre-constructed explosive chambers. Technically, I am considered to be a Korean War veteran, although I never served in Korea.
What did you think when the USSR launched the Sputnik?
Like most Americans, I was surprised by their technical achievement.
How did the spread of communism impact your life?
I knew personally some of the Army officers accused by Senator Joseph McCarthy of being Reds. I thought that it was sad to see a witch hunt in the US. 3 The Cold War was a direct result of the spread of communism.
How did the Cold War affect you?
I am a Cold War Warrior. I was in uniform for most of the Cold War period. Most of my military schooling was aimed at the Red menace.
What did you think of the Cuban Missile Crises?
We were in DC during this crisis. I was attending the Defense Intelligence School. On of my friends was the Military Aide to the Secretary of Defense. During that peak crisis week in October 1962, I saw my friend at church, and he told me to pray that our families would survive the next week. Marilyn and I stocked food and water in our basement as a precautionary measure.
What did you do during the War in Vietnam?
My Vietnam service involved two tours in that beautiful Southeast Asian country. The first tour was 1957 -58, and my job was road construction. There were only 452 Americans in Vietnam during this era. I lived in a Montagnard village called Va Din in the Central Highlands north of Kontum. My project was to build a road from Kontum to Dak To, a distance of about 30 kilometers with 2 bridges, using the man power from the 3rd Military Region prison with help from the 2nd Engineer Group of the Vietnamese Army (ARVN). My son Peter was only a few weeks old when I left for this assignment. Marilyn stayed in Portland during this separation. With the help of her grandmother, Minnie Anderson, she completed her college education at Lewis and Clark College, while I was in Vietnam. My second tour in Vietnam occurred in 1968-69. I volunteered for this tour, although we had just returned from five years in Europe. My job was to command an engineer combat battalion operating in close support of the 1st Infantry Division in Lai Kai. The number of military Americans had increased to more than 550,000, which is about 1200 times the number in 1957.
Which war(s) did you serve in?
I served in the Army from 1945 to 1975-thirty years. This period covered the end of WWII, the Korean War, and the War in Vietnam.
Were you drafted or did you enlist?
Since I already had a principal congressional appointment to West Point, I qualified for a deferment from the draft. Instead, I volunteered for the draft with the notion of learning the military craft from the ground up. Volunteering for the draft was permissible at that period of WWII.
Where were you living at the time?
Why did you join?
Patriotism. In addition, the goal of my life since seeing "Wiley of West Point" had always been to become a soldier.
Why did you pick the service branch you joined?
The Draft Board put me into the Army. Most draftees went into the Army, unless they specifically requested the Navy. Remember, there was no separate Air Force during WWII.4 As a draftee, I had no choice of branch within the Army. The Army put me in the infantry, the "Queen of Battle."
Do you recall your first days in service? What did it feel like? Tell me about your boot camp experience(s). How did you get through it?
The nearest Army Reception Center was located at Ft. Lewis, Washington; so I took the train from Portland to Ft. Lewis, where I was sworn into the Army. The Center gave me some ill-fitting clothes and several inoculations, which made my arms sore. My first day I went on a work detail to the Port of Tacoma to transload baggage and equipment for troops assigned to the Pacific Theater from Europe. I thought that my arms would falloff. I was dead tired when I returned to the Post. Immediately, I was sent to the Post bakery, where I worked until three the next morning. I then thought that I would not survive Army life, which began again with reveille at 5am. Later, the Army sent me by train to Camp Roberts, California for basic infantry training. Camp Roberts was a hot and dusty installation in the interior of the state. I was there with a couple of movie stars-John Halland Terhan Bey who was then dating Lana Turner5. John Hall, a movie strong man, once fainted on the parade ground. Terhan Bey used to trade autographed pictures of Lana Turner for his turn at kitchen police. My parents moved from Portland on the day that I reported for duty to Ft. Lewis. I did not hear from them for several weeks. I did not know where they were, and I did not know where to send my civilian clothes. One had to be in uniform if one was in the Army, so that civilian clothes were worthless.
Where exactly did you go?
After Camp Roberts, I went to FT. Devens, Massachusetts. It was a long five day train ride. Devens was like Paradise because the German prisoners of war at Ft. Devens did all the menial work, such as kitchen work (kp). From Ft. Devens, I went to Ft. Benning, Georgia, where I attended the first 13 weeks of Infantry Officer Candidate School. My Class was stationed in the Harmony Hill area of the Post. From Ft. Benning, I entered the Military Academy at West Point, New York, where I spent the next four years as a cadet.
Do you remember arriving and what it was like?
Yes. When I arrived in Columbus, Georgia, I went into the waiting room at the train station. Something did not seem quite right. A black man approached me to say that I was in the wrong place. I went out. Over the entrance was a sign "Colored Only." It was my first encounter with segregation. At that time blacks had to sit in the back of the bus, even in the Army buses on Post.
Did you see combat?
Yes. In Vietnam later.
Were there many casualties In your unit?
As a battalion commander, I wanted to encourage my troops by sharing with them five specific goals:
In May of 1969 near the end of my second tour in Vietnam, I began to believe that no one in my combat battalion would be killed. Many had been wounded because we saw action almost every day. However, I would be disappointed. A soldier named Don Taylor went for a swim in a creek leaving his weapon on the bank. A Viet Cong agent took Taylor's rifle and shot him through the head. Other soldiers came running but did not shoot because the VC agent was running away surrounded by children. That same day a sergeant threw down his service 45 that he had loaded when he heard the fatal shot killing Taylor. The weapon went off and shot another soldier at very close range in the butt. It was a serious wound in a tender spot but at least the second casualty that day was not a fatality.
Tell me about a couple of your most memorable experiences.
On two occasions, I was involved in helicopter crashes. The first occurred when someone shot the tail rotor of my light observation helo. The second occurred due to running out of gas. Both landings were hard, but there were no fatalities. The best part of my second tour was a few days in Hawaii to see Marilyn.
Were you awarded any medals or citations?
Yes, quite a few. I will just give you the list: WWII Victory Medal6, Army of Occupation Medal (Germany)7, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Parachute Badge8, Swedish Par-Ranger Badge, Republic of Vietnam Commendation Medal with 60 Device, Swedish Commander of the Royal Order of the Sword9, Joint Services Commendation Medal10,, National Defense Service Medal with One Oak Leaf Cluster, Overseas Bars, Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces Honor Medal First Class, Republic of Vietnam Civic Action Honor Medal First Class, General Staff ID Badge, Air Medal11, Army Commendation Medal12, Civic Action Medal First Class with Oak leaf Cluster, Meritorious Unit Citation with Three Oak leaf Clusters, Bronze Star Medal13, Legion of Merit with Two Oak Leaf Clusters, 14 Soldiers Medal15, Meritorious Service Medal16, Joint Staff Badge, Defense Service Medal, VC of G with Palm.
How did you get them?
Some medals are awarded for service and some are awarded for performance. I regard the Soldiers Medal as the unique award of which I am most proud. It came to me as a result of actions in controlling explosions in the 1st Infantry Division ammo dump fire at Lai Kai. Lives were at risk all over the place. The Division Commander wanted to present the Silver Star17 to me on the spot, until I reminded him that the explosions were in the result of an enemy attack not actually during the attack itself. I strongly believe that awards should not be diluted.
How did you stay in touch with your family?
Letters and tapes and 8mm movie film.
What was the food like?
The food in Va Din was dismal, usually rice with small bits of goat covered with flies. Th food in Lai Kai was incredibly excellent, because the US logistical system had become full operational. In Kontum, the Vietnamese Province Chief once invited me to a formal dinner. Because I was the guest of honor, he served me raw monkey brains. The monkey's head was chopped open right in front of us. Then a servant scooped out the brains and served them with panache. I have also eaten monkey in the Congo. I shall refrain from telling you what part - it was worse than brains.
Did you have plenty of supplies?
No. Engineering supplies and equipment were always in somewhat short supply. We h d to scrounge for items essential to our mission. I once wrote to the Caterpillar Company to send me dozer part, because I could not find the part in the Army supply system.
Did you feel pressure or stress?
Command is a lonely business. I always was concerned about killing civilians, especially women and children. We owned the area during the daylight. The NVA and the VC were active at night. Sometimes the very same Vietnamese who worked for us during the day attacked us at night. I grieved especially over finding the body of a carpenter foreman on our protective perimeter wire the morning after a firefight. He had an AK 47 in his hand. His daughter also worked for us, but I had to let her go after we killed her father.
How did people entertain themselves?
My first goal was to work everyone so hard that he would have little free time. There was a battalion club with slot machines and beverages for the rare moments of leisure.
Were there entertainers?
Yes, I brought a troupe of entertainers to the battalion area on several occasions when here were lulls in the fighting. The USO in Saigon sponsored these traveling entertainers.
What did you do when on leave?
I went to Hawaii for four days to see Marilyn. I also visited Sidney, Australia.
Where did you travel while in the service?
Fourteen of my thirty years in the Army were overseas: Germany, Vietnam, Congo, Sweden, and Panama.
Did you make any close friendships while in the service? Did you continue with those relationships and for how long?
My West Point Class of 1950 is very close. We try to hold a reunion annually. My classmates are friends for life.
Do you recall the day your service ended? Where were you?
Yes. I was Chief of the Western Hemisphere Division of J-5, Plans, in the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon. I really hated to leave the Army.
What did you do in the days and weeks afterward? Did you work or go back to school?
After I left the Pentagon, I became president of an engineering design firm with about 300 employees, Sippican Consultants International, in Cambridge, Massachusetts-near Harvard Square. We designed tall buildings as a specialty. We were also experts in designing sewage and water treatment plants.
Did your military experience influence your thinking about war or about the military in general?
It is always worthwhile and noble to protect those who for some reason or other are unable or unwilling to protect themselves. It is a great privilege to serve in the Armed Forces of the US.
How did your service and experiences affect your life?
It was a very rich part of my life. Unlike other professions, the military requires you to leave when you become middle-aged. It is a truly sad reality. Soldiering is a young person's profession. I would gladly have served longer in uniform.
Can you tell me a bit about your family?
Marilyn and I have three children, each of whom has three children. One is in the Army, but he is about to leave after 33 years of service. Our children and their spouses are all Christians; however not all of the grand children are as yet Christ-followers. We pray daily for each member of the family.
What religious convictions do they hold and how have these effected the path of your life?
We are for the most part born again, hard core followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. I praise God that He has touched us and called us to become part of His forever family. He even touched my pagan father and my pagan mother before their deaths. I would never have thought that they would ever accept the Lord Jesus, but they did through God's power and grace. How can I praise Him enough?
Do you recall any particularly humorous or unusual event?
Shortly after Marilyn and I married and moved to Germany, we bought a wonderful boxer dog named Schnapps. We loved our dog even though he was big and smelly. As our family grew, Schnapps took up too much space in the backseat of the family car, so we put him in the trunk on long trips. So that he could breath, we cut a large round hole in the trunk. Schnapps could stick his head out anytime that he wished. It was so funny to see the facial expressions of other people in cars when they saw our dog raise his head out of the hole.
How have the changes in American culture and family since the 1960s impacted your own family?
There are swings in all cultures. I notice what I label a deterioration of standards, but maybe I am old- fashioned. Relativism poses a real danger to traditional values.
Has what you think about America changed over time? If so how?
America is a great nation, which has matured immensely just during my life. When I think of racial segregation as I saw it in Columbus, Georgia, as a great evil, I am especially thankful that that evil no longer exists as it once did .
What do you think is one of the most severe problems facing our country or world today? How did that come to be?
I am a one-issue person politically. I vote for whoever stands most against abortion, which I consider to be a heinous national crime. I always favor the most pro-life candidate.
What was your reaction to man walking on the moon?
It was a wonderful scientific achievement.
What did you think of Roosevelt? Kennedy?
I vaguely remember President Herbert Hoover, but I grew up primarily in the years of Franklin Roosevelt. He was president during the entire time that I was in public school. I thought that he would rule forever. John F. Kennedy possessed great charm. I had the opportunity to meet him during Mobutu's18 visit to the Rose Room. He very kindly wrote out a note of appreciation to me and also to my mother.
How has the invention of television affected you?
The entire US population has become more visual, including me.
How has Computer technology chanced the way you live?
There is a super abundance of available information. I tend to suffer from overload.
What changes have been made in transportation during your lifetime?
The earliest family car that I can remember was a Whippet, which started by cranking it. Now some cars start when one pushes a button on the key ring. WOW!
What travel experiences have you had?
Our joint travel has been mostly to Europe and South America. I went alone to West Africa, to Australia, and to Vietnam. A couple of years ago we did go together on a very informative two-week tour to China. Our home church also invited us to join their group for a tour of Israel - it was a wonderful experience. We were then directing the Ludwigsburg Hospitality House19, so we joined the church group in Zurich between flights. Marilyn and I also have had an opportunity to visit Egypt and Turkey.
Why do you think it is important to study history?
History helps us not to repeat the mistakes of the past. I have recently completed a course in Church History from the Apostles to the present. The course gave me such a deep appreciation of all the generations of believers who have lived faithful lives even in trying times. For me, this course was a very great encouragement.
Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview?
Yes. I appreciate your asking me to respond to your interview questions. I would like to comment briefly on my spiritual journey. Psalm 90 says that our normal life span is seventy years or perhaps eighty if we have the strength20. Becoming 77 years old in June, I think of myself as living in the red zone of life as ordained by God. I am hoping that Marilyn and I can continue in the House ministry at least a couple more times before we poop out. It was such a joy to sub for you during the heat of last summer in Cordenons21. Thank you for putting your trust in us.
In spite of my pagan parents, I became a Christian at age eighteen just before I entered the Army. My unlikely conversion was by God's power and grace. He used some high school friends to tell me about the lord Jesus. An extra bonus is to share life with Marilyn who is also a Christian. The double bonus of grace is to know that all our children and their spouses are Christians. I am praying for a 100% in the 3rd and 4th generation as well.
I have enjoyed -three careers. The first was a marvelous military experience. The second involved very stimulating engineering design work. The third (for the last twenty years) is as a full-time evangelist of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. I never realized all the blessings that God had in store for me during my life. I am on my knees every morning in praise to our God.
1Referring to the many prophecies found throughout the old testament regarding Israel being reestablished as a nation. Here are just a few examples: Ezekial 37:21 - Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land Isaiah. 27:12-13 - In that day the LORD will start His threshing from the flowing stream of the Euphrates to the brook of Egypt, and you will be gathered up one by one, O sons of Israel. It will come about also in that day that a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were perishing in the land of Assyria and who were scattered in the land of Egypt will come and worship the LORD in the holy mountain at Jerusalem. Jeremiah 31:31 - "Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah" return
3In the early 1950s Senator Joseph McCarthy accused hundreds of people of being communists. In 1950 he claimed that there were 205 known communists working in the State department. He continued making wild accusations for several years. Many people became afraid to stand up to him for fear he would accuse them of being Communists. return
5Lana Turner(1921 - 1995) was a big movie star. She appeared in many movies, including The Three Musketeers, Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde and many others. For more information see her official website: <www.cmgww.com /stars/turner/> return
9The Swedish orders have five degrees: Commander Grand Cross, Commander First Class, Commander, Officer First Class and Officer. The Order of the Sword was presented for bravery in the field and at sea or as a reward for long and distinguished service in the armed forces. return
12The Army Commendation Medal is awarded to any member of the U.S. Armed Forces who distinguishes himself or herself by heroism, meritorious achievement or meritorious service after 6 December 1941return
15The Soldier's Medal is awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity with the Army of the United States, distinguished himself or herself by heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy. The performance must have involved personal hazard or danger and the voluntary risk of life. return
19Hospitality Houses are a ministry of Cadence International. Their goal of Cadence missionaries is to provide a Christian "home away from home" for American military members and share the gospel through their lives. For more information on Cadence ministries see <www.cadence.org> return
Appendix of Medals as noted above (not to scale):
WWII Victory Medal
Army of Occupation Medal
Armed Forces Expeditinary
Republic of Vietnam
Order of the Sword
Republic of Vietnam
Republic of Vietnam
Civic Action Honor Medal
Army Commendation Medal
Legion of Merit
Meritorious Service Medal
Joint Staff Badge
Defense Service Medal
As an interview the following disclaimer does not apply: