A Brief Memoir
David A. Rosenquist
I had never thought about documenting my military service prior to reading the “Voices of Vets” article in the 12/2016 Wapsipinicon. Not knowing if my story would be of any interest, I contacted Cecille Gerber, the Tiskilwa Historical Society’s Museum Director, to find out. After briefly describing my work in 1973 with American prisoners of war following their release from captivity in North Vietnam, Cecille encouraged me to record my experiences and to submit the results for inclusion in the “Voices of Vets” archive. As soon as I started, it became apparent I would need to begin with an account of how the POWs and I came to be in the same place at the same time forty-four years ago, because, as you will see in the narrative that follows, the route leading me to that destination was convoluted in the extreme and had it not been for a series of improbable, mostly serendipitous events, our paths would never have crossed and there would have been no prisoner-of-war memoir to write. If you will bear with me, I promise we will get to the POWs in due course, but borrowing from radio broadcaster Paul Harvey’s famous tagline, I first need to lay out some background so that “...you know the rest of the story.”
From mid-1970 to late 1973, I was assigned to the Mental Health Clinic, USAF Regional Hospital, Westover Air Force Base situated in the verdant Connecticut River Valley of Western Massachusetts...think timeworn grist mills with water wheels turned by rushing streams originating in the nearby Berkshires and 18th century white clapboard churches, their iconic steeples keeping watch over immaculate village greens and weeping willow-shaded duck ponds, the latter being the preferred recreational venue for squabbling iridescent mallards and imperious snow-white swans in summer and for red-nosed bundled-up ice skaters in winter. This is Norman Rockwell country, both in appearance and in fact, for Stockbridge, the town of the famed illustrator’s home and studio, the place where he spent the last twenty-five years of his life, was but a leisurely Sunday afternoon excursion from Westover. One day while driving into Stockbridge, Pat and I passed an elderly couple riding bicycles along the edge of the road, and though it was only the briefest of glimpses, I was pretty certain the man was none other than the town’s most famous resident. A short time later, we stopped in at a drug store lunch counter for a bite to eat and I told our matronly waitress about the cycling couple we’d seen on our way into town. I said I felt certain the man had to have been Norman Rockwell. “No doubt it was,” she responded matter-of-factly, “Norman and Molly ride that same route just about every morning this time of year when the weather’s fit.” How wonderfully interesting it would be, I mused on our way home later that day, to reside in a historic New England village where a world-renowned artist...“America’s Artist”...lived and worked, painting those nationally revered front covers for The Saturday Evening Post and scores of calendars for the Boy Scouts of America, using his friends and neighbors as models for the people in those paintings, and where everyone in town, matronly lunch counter waitresses included, knew him simply as, “Norman."
Although I was officially classified as a psychiatric technician at Westover, I was permitted to work there as a psychologist, having finished a Master’s Degree a couple of weeks prior to reporting for active duty. It was, in fact, the Air Force’s “Delayed Enlistment Program” that afforded me the additional three months I needed to complete the degree requirements. The Draft Board in Princeton, Illinois had already classified me 1-A (“available for military service”) and my draft lottery number from the December 1, 1969 drawing was only 154; nothing below 250 was expected to be safe from induction that year, though as it turned out, 195 was the highest number drafted. Had I been born two days (actually 28 hours) later, my lottery number would have been 311 and I would never have entered the military at all...either by draft or enlistment. With that 154 number, however, the Army and Marines both had a keen interest in me and their only option was immediate active duty, no delays permitted.
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VOICES OF VETERANS
To honor the service and courage of men and women from our community who served in the military, Tiskilwa Historical Society is continuing a program begun in 2015 to preserve their memories for future generations.
We are compiling an archive with a military-duty photo and a caption with a brief account of the vet’s service, plus a story or two from his or her time in the service. The format may be a written or an audio-taped description of his/her time in active duty.
What kind of stories? Dealer’s choice: dramatic, straight-forward, humorous, heroic or a combination of all these elements – you decide. One approach might be to copy or read excerpts directly from letters written to the folks at home. The subject may be yourself or someone you know, past or present. It may also be written by or about someone currently serving on active duty.
How do I submit this information? Click the link below to print a form and return it to the Museum on Main or the Tiskilwa Public Library, or mail to 110 E. Main Street, P.O. Box 87, Tiskilwa, IL 61368
What will happen to my submission? Our VOICES OF VETERANS committee will suggest details for displaying photos and archiving materials. However, many jobs, both large and small, will play an important part this effort. When we begin to assemble displays in the former American Legion Hall in 2018, we will be calling on community members to lend a hand. Could you help?
Can I get some help with writing this? Sure! Check with any member of the Board of Directors or contact us through our website e-address.
Is there a submission deadline? No deadline. This is a continuing project.
CLICK HERE for a submission form