Chuck Olmstead interviews Patriot’s Landing resident Burton Bender, a first sergeant in the U.S. Army when he retired. He was born in 1933 and remembers buying war stamps. He graduated high school in 1952, then went to the University of Wisconsin and was state champ in swimming, before being drafted into the army.
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*The following is the output of transcribing from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it is incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.
Disk special answers for elders podcast honoring military veterans. His sponsored by carriage. For more information about carriage, the website is sear EA gecom. This is chuckle. I’Mstead with answers for elders and I’m here at Patriots landing in Dupont Washington, and our guest today on answers for elders veterans interviews is burt bender. He was sergeant, first sergeant in US Army when he retired and burt, welcome to answers for elders. Thank you. Yeah, well, we like to hear the stories of our veterans and want to hear your story. We were talking before we started recording that you were in Milwaukee. What was life like in Milwaukee in the late s early s? It was wonderful, ha ha. Well, what about it was wonderful. Well, I really enjoyed high school and I was deeply engrossed in sports and it was just just wonderful. Yeah, so what sports did you play in high school? I played football, I was a swimmer, I played volleyball, I played softball and track. I was busy from when school started until it ended. Yeah, yeah, so during those days, so you were born in thirty three. Thirty three, so you were eight years old when World War Two started. So you, I’m sure you remember, I do, yes, when that happened. Tell me about your experience when you found out we were going to war. Well, I was just a little kid. That didn’t really mean anything. Might my uncle was a was a local air raid warden, and I can still see him with his he had a little rucksack or a little bag and anymore that world war one helmet and he had. We would have drills, black out drills, and Uncle Bert had to make sure that everybody had their lights out. Interesting. Yeah, well, if I think a lot of people who didn’t go through that war, you know, don’t realize that there were actual black out drills. There was concern about both from Germany and from Japan, that there would be air raids and sudden attacks and that they’re literally were blackout drills that took place. Weren’t there? I remember buying war stamps and I remember the advertising, some of the advertising they had. Anyway, in our town, I lived in the town of Milwaukee, Hmm, which is now known as the city of Glendale, but we had a disciplinary barracks there. I think that’s what they call it and that’s what they we had prisoners. They’re interesting. Yeah, now we’re those. Those were prisoners of war. Of so they were foreign that there’s a lot of Germans interestings. Milwaukee is all German, Uh Huh. And they used them to for for farming. They worked on farms and things and because I when I started, when I was a little I used to bunch radishes and we weed onions and things like that and I can remember one or two of those guys that did the heavy work. But they come and work on the little truck farms in a daytime and then they went back to their barracks at nighttime. You know, that’s something that I guess I never realized that they’re there were prisoner of war, prisoners of war that were state side. I guess I never really put that together that they that that happened. I remember my dad saying it that after the war was over a lot of them stayed there. MMM, because they wanted to sure, sure, well, I don’t recall any seeing any. Yeah, well, Germany was was a US at that time after the war, so I’m sure they didn’t want to go back. If they didn’t have family there. But so, so after the war, you would have graduated in high school then fifty two, one thousand nine hundred and fifty two, so right at the beginning of Korean War. Well, yeah, I was eligible for the I was all old enough, I should say, but I was still in school. Oh, I was deferred. So you were in college at the time. I went to the University of Wisconsin. I was there on a scholarship. Uh Huh, and sports scholarship. Where you? Yeah, well, they gave me a choice. They said, do you want to be play football or do you want to swim? And I really didn’t know. I thought maybe football would would because I had a great time in football in high school. I was probably the biggest guy in the conference. And but when I got to Madison and I saw them big iow a farm boys and I thought no, I think I’ll swim, ha ha ha, and I did. I swam for that. So what was your what did you I was a Freestyler, uh Huh. And what was your distance? Well, if they’re in high school, I was a sprinter. Or Yeah, yeah, I did the fifty in the hundred freestyle. Yeah, so you are fast. You’re pretty fast. I managed to be the state champion off from for four years. Interesting. And what was your best time? On a hundred, do you remember? And a hundred? I don’t, but in the fifty it was twenty four two. I remember that. Wow, now I couldn’t even make the girls team, but that time. No, no, it’s amazing. Yeah, it’s amazing to see something, especially some of these illicit Olympic distance swimmers, some of the I don’t know how some of Mer physically do that. Yeah, wow, I mean when you see Phelps, you know he’s not a youngster anymore now, because I remember that if when you hit twenty one, twenty two years old, you were done. Interesting. Yeah, now they’re swimming into their their mid S, you know, and still being, you know, world class swimmers. Yeah, yeah, well, he’s different training now and everything. You know, we didn’t have a any we just lived at home, eight at home. We didn’t have any special diets or anything, and I remember my coach Stout telling me don’t lift any weights, don’t do that, because that’ll tighten your muscles up and it well, that’s the first thing they do now, exactly. So, yeah, anyway, the training, the equipment, meant the the the food. Everything is designed for for maximum performance, isn’t it? Yeah, yeah, so, but you did you swim all four years? Then at you dub at University of Wisconsin. I only went for for one one year. Interesting, and then I was drafted. And then after I was drafted I just stayed in the army. Interesting, I saw in my calling they saw your college. Yeah, so that would have been fifty three, fifty four, one thousand nine hundred and fifty. Fifty two and fifty three. I was at at Wisconsin right and then after I went in the army and in the last part of December of fifty three and so Korean War was just wrapping up at that time. Yep, yeah. So, so what happened? Where did you go for your basic and my basic training was at Fort Leonardwood Missouri, which is an engineering advanced training was taken for engineers. was there at Fort Leonard Wood. And after we were all through and they started, all the guys I went through training with, they all went to Korea. I went. My orders read true reest Italy. Oh my well, I’d been in the National Guard before that, Uh Huh, and I had a little bit of experience, very little experience, in the intelligence part of the army. So they were going to send me to Trieste, Italy. That’s not a bad assignment. Well, I got on the boat and when we were going across, I got orders that they were going to close trees and I was going to be reassigned to Berlin, Germany. Uh Huh, which is probably the best thing ever happened. Really what? It was a choice assignment it I don’t, I can’t. We all we did. We just shines things and had parades and we look good. It was all, I wash. Interesting. Yeah, I was. I was there the whole time. I I was discharged in February. Well, I any in in Berlin, I got married and we had a child and then I came back in March or February, I don’t remember, and I was discharged and my wife was still in German ny the baby, Uh Huh, and because the baby was too young to travel, I see. And then it was about six weeks later, maybe that, that she and the baby came, came to Milwaukee. Yeah, and I was out until November. Things were tough in one thousand nine hundred and fifty seven and I my dad had a scrap yard bender iron and metal and we hauled scrap and medals and things and my dad, of course, was the boss and I got laid off. Wow, yeah, that you couldn’t sell anything interesting. Yeah, so I went and I went and did a little roofing, which was the hardest work I’ve ever done, and we had some problems there and I threw his shovel on the in the Milwaukee River. I saw I’m going back in the army. That’s what I did. So they decided that you could come back. The army said, okay, yeah, well, I was in the National Guard at the time, I see, and all I had had to do it they I was I was an east six at that time, but I couldn’t go in the army as any sex. It’s a kind of a long story, but I had a thought the National Guard was full, so I had to go into the reserve. Well, the the reserve was full too. Well, my old high school’s fought. A girlfriend’s father happened to know that commanding general at the of the the reserve unit there and I couldn’t do any I couldn’t see anybody. That wouldn’t you know, there’s you’re wasting our time. But one day rble called me up and said going down here and see General M Berry. So I did. I went down and seeing him and he said Yeah, we can get you, and so I went back in as a Sergeant D Five, Uh Huh, and went right to Fort Carson and then I brought my wife there and everything. We had nice. We lived in a house off boat, off base, and there I met a sergeant that was in my unit in Berlin. Uh Huh. He was a boxer, xboxer. I said you got any work around there? Maybe you can. He said Yeah, I’ll get you a job. So we got me a job as sergeant in charge of the swimming pool. Ha Ha. How is this a dream or what? But a coincidence. One of my life guards was forest Greg, who was a green bay packer. Yeah, and it was nice to know him. And Anyway, I didn’t last there very long. I went. I went to Korea. They shipped me out to Korea. So interesting. The thing about it they they I was moving on base into brand new quarters. So they we were packing when I got the orders. Well, they just kept on packing. She went back to Milwaukee and I went to Korea. Interesting. Yeah, so did you? Of course, I’m trying to do the math in my in my mind. So Vietnam was happening close to that time, right. Yeah, that was yeah, there was only advisors there. HMM. I went to I I was here at for I’ve spent three and a half years and Germany. Then I came back, came back to Fort Louis for Loos and I was here about a year and a half. And now I was on orders for for Vietnam and I got I got there in I think it was around Christmas time of sixty five. So I was there the whole sixty six and the war was gearing up pretty fast at that. Oh, yeah, I mean I was. I was assigned to the First Infantry Division, Uh Huh, and they were fully involved. We was busy. Yeah, and then after I left Vietnam I had volunteered for Germany. So I went from Vietnam straight to hear, picked up the family and went to Germany. I’m sure your wife was pretty happy. Oh Yeah, she’s German, right. I married her in Berlin. HMM. And Yeah, we were there until sixteen nine, I think. Yeah, when I went back to Vietnam. So you did how many tours too, two tours in Vietnam. Now, I was an infantryman for twenty years. Interesting. I got all the choice assignments. Yeah, I was an infert and I was good at it. Well, yeah, Oh, yes, yeah, except when I when I got out of the army, getting a job was impossible. If you think there is an age discriminate nights and now there I got news for you. Interesting, but we we are. What year was that when you left the service? Then? Seventy four, seventy, August of seventy four. Interesting, and the military by then, because of Vietnam and and Nick’s, Richard Nixon and the culture that was going on, people didn’t look too kindly on the cult the cultures. That was totally different, wasn’t it? In seventy even in the army it was different. MMM, it my I was, I was I had my twenty in and I was going to stay forever, I guess. And then they said, okay, we’re going to send you back to Germany, which would have been fine, but I had just bought a house and I had four kids in high school. So I said no, I didn’t. Not gonna pull everybody on the eyeside. I’ll retire. HMM, so I read. So after so, after the army, what happens next for you? You look for a job there. There wasn’t any swimming pool management. No, not a bit. Yeah, but I I drove a Fort Louis taxi and I had to get out of that. I told I said I want to quit while I’m still an honest man. Uh Huh. And I did work in the tide flats for I don’t know, maybe three, four months, something like that. I worked in a place that fabricated put the getgether desks and cabinets and you know they’re made out of that pressed wood stuff and you cut it and then you then that. Then they everybody hat laid off. So what am I gonna do? So I think you know Mr North. HMM. Bill was. He was he had some trucks and he said would you like to learn to drive a truck? So I need a job and I’d been around big vehicles since I was a little kid. Even my dead scrap yard he had a couple big trucks and and anyway, Bill taught me to drive in the parking lot of Shaney stadium. Never got out of low gear. Just when in the lower ranges. Yeah, and he put me on with another guy and we made a few trips and then you said you’re ready to go get by yourself. I did it for twenty six years. Wow. Yeah, mostly regional stuff, low coal. Or did you go eleven western states? HMM. We hauled a lot of produce back and then later on we we hauled a lot of Nellie stuff and I must have liked it, otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed there that that that long. But yeah, then I told him, I said don’t I’m going to be sixty five and a couple of months. I want I’m more quick. So I said okay, I made my last run. I came back and then I drove the truck down to the for sale lot. It retired to it did. Yeah, so a lot. How long have you been out here? It’s a patriots landing. Well, I’ve only been here since about June. I see. Yeah, you like it. Oh, yes, really, yeah, that’s why. Well, I will look it’s everything looks nice and the people are Nice. got a great mess hall and no, I like I was down to point defiance village for about two and a half years. Uh Huh. And then I left there to come to come here. Yeah, well, this is nice. Yeah, well, we’ve met. I’ve been coming here for over a year now and that a lot of great people here, a lot of great stories and wonderful stories like yours. Well, we have time, sure we do. After I after I retired and had trouble with jobs and everything. Well, I did the trucking thing and then I said I’m going to retire now and I had a I gotta pick up in the in the fifth wheel trailer. Fifth will trailer was easy for me. I’ve been dragging one for twenty six years. So I start. I became what you call a work camper and I went from all over United States. I’ve been, I’ve worked. I was a carney and Iowa. I worked a winter in death valley. I been to Florida. I went I was down the Florida for about twelve winters and a couple of summers. Whoa you prefer the winters? Yes, but I had I had a great job there. That just I drove up char charter bus or a tourist bus, shuttle bus or whatever they needed, and it was a great it’s great job. Oh, I had so much fun. I did that for twelve years after you retired. Yeah, I went there in my brother and I. We were he lives in La and I was down there visiting him and we were it was before Christmas. I don’t know how much before, but we we were just sitting there one night. Probably drank a little more beard and we should have. And I was telling them how nice the New Year’s Eve is at key west and he and he said, well, let’s go. So we we spent Christmas at a truck stop, Uh Huh, and we made it to key West for for New Year’s even. One thousand nine hundred and ninety nine. Oh Wow, that’s when the big turnover right whites UK. Yeah, the world was going to come to an and right. So, if it’s going to come to an end, let it be here. And so he was called back on emergency about January, second or third, something like that. So he flew back and I said, well, I’m not going to leave. I just got here. And it didn’t take me very long, or maybe a week or less, to figure out that if you don’t have a job, you’re going to starve to death. So I looked around for a job and I got a job and if I don’t know if anybody’s ever been to key west, but right down there Malory Square is a little little shack called the juice bar and I work there the rest of the winter. What a time I had. It was just wonderful. So I said what? Well, I’m arder, I have a feeling that wherever you are the time is wonderful. I get that feeling that you well, you like gotta Make It as good as you can. Yeah, well, I have a feeling you make it better, but the next year I want I came back. She said, the boss said, yeah, come on back your work again, because this seasonal. That right. And I went back and all the people I had worked with were gone and I all the other people were working there did not speak my language. So I thought I can’t work herring and be any fun. So I got a job where I feel ever heard of the count train, which is a little train thing that goes around, gives you a tour around the island? Anyway, I work for them driving a bus, and that was the best job I ever had in my life. Interesting. Well, I’m sure you more for a word to go into work. Yeah, well, you didn’t need more time off. Interesting, yeah, well, I’m sure you met a lot of very interesting people. Oh boy, yeah, for sure. Well, so then you decided that after a while, that you needed to officially retire. Well, I was having trouble with my knees. It was getting hard for me to climb in and on that bus. Uh Huh. So I said, well, I’ll go back and have my knee taken care of and they said, well, come on back. I worked and to till I was eighty years old. That’s the that’s what when I left there. Interesting. Yeah, and I go back to work tomorrow. If I could, anybody’d hire me. Well, I think you’d make it a good experience if you did, Bird. So well, thank you for telling you story. I appreciate it. We’ve been talking to Bert Bender, retired first sergeant US Army, and a lot of other things throughout your career and your life, and I want to thank you for joining me today on interest for real pleasure was all my this has been a special honoring Veterans Presentation of answers for elders, brought to you by carriage. For more information about carriage, the website is sere agecom.
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Originally published December 01, 2018