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Login Thursday, July 27, 2017

Years of Army Experience (Col Paul Laird)

151, 8/20/2004

Years of Army Experience

By COL Paul G. LAIRD

Introduction by the author. "My purpose in writing this is to give my deepest thanks to those unselfish members who give their time and skills to keep us abreast of our many members present and past.  It has given me immense joy.  A part of me dies when one of our group dies or is in great pain.  I send my very best to each of you who remain.  I would like to share a few of the interesting experiences, in the first person, that I faced during my years of service."

I grew up during WWI in an area where patriotism was a common thing - a coal and steel area south of Pittsburgh, PA.  It was thrilling to hear the Veterans' stories (my first passion was for Army service), and I soon entered the Army Reserve Citizens Military Training Corps for Field Artillery training with the 6th FA Horse drawn French 75 howitzers.  My second passion was the steam train.  I fell in love with the trains passing our street on the river.

Commissioned as a 2nd LT in the FA reserve Corps in 1939, I was early to active duty, this time with a 155 Long Tom Regiment.  As our regiment was slowly staging for overseas I was sent to Brooks Field, Texas to obtain my combat A/O wings.  While in flight training my unit filled up to strength and went to England.  I was returned to the III Corps Area for reassignment and then drafted to the Fort Jackson Disbursing Office where I soon found my career nitch and I have never looked back

I went by rail to White Horse, Yukon Territory then to their Sub Port of Embarkation, Prince Rupert, B. C. – a paradise and a staging area for the Far East.

Later in the Office Chief of Finance I assisted in the early use of punch card checks and the introduction of addressograph plates for a new pay system.  I also assisted in Department of Army, Comptroller of Army with the new management system; the 13 primary programs.  Our situation room became the Department of Army Korean War Room where I served as briefer.

I was the troop ship commander for 27 days for the trip to Trieste with one rape and one suicide en route.  Upon arrival I discovered that I was to leave for western Italy to run a dependent evacuation center for 3 months.  Upon return to Trieste I became Comptroller AMG to handle the final stages of the Marshall Plan Fund.  Later when Trieste was returned to Italy I went to Hq. EUCOM.

When I reported to the Chief of Staff he remarked, "I hope you have a head on your shoulders, I haven't seen one yet who did from your branch."  As a junior member of a Defense Comptroller Team studying NATO country capabilities it soon became clear that they only used me for taking care of liquor and baggage.  I balked and complained until I was relieved and sent down to the Finance Office to get me "hands dirty".  I did get my hands dirty but finally learned a new Army accounting system with the wonderful and knowledgeable guidance of Earl ALBERS, Jim SHROYER and many others. 

I learned by doing, however that is only partly true.  The bigger truth is that I learned from my colleagues, junior and senior military and civilians, young and old.  I remember a truly exceptional FC Officer, Forrest McKEON, who carried the always famous Rome Finance Office on his capable shoulders to new heights of respect and service.  He did it all with meager staff and innovation.  He was a real joy to know.

Ever in my mind is the splendid performance of Frank SCHOEN who traveled as my eyes and ears to wherever we were supporting Vietnam troop units without a bit of fear.

Oh yes, one more strange encounter.  I was the Eighth Logistics Command briefer.  On one occasion as I was briefing a 3 Star Logistics General he broke in and said, "Don't give me this shit, I'm a 3 Star General and know more about logistics than anyone, you especially."

While with AMC at T-7 I was project officer for the PEMAR system.  It had problems and the only Commodity Command achieving a viable system was the Missile Command.  GAO praised that command and said that all else was a flop.

I retired early thinking that I had the inside track for the budget position of the Food Agriculture Organization in Rome.  I had to be retired and in Rome to be considered.  I was there but the FAO Comptroller refused to interview me.  After floundering around for a year or so I finally went to Iran with the Computer Sciences Corporation to work on a financial management system that never had a chance after the coup. 

My wife Paola and I returned to Italy after she lost most of her pancreas from an infected water virus.  She now has Alzheimer's Disease, a deadly companion to her diabetes. 

I am an unlikely person to live in Italy.  I don't like sea sports, I don't ski and I don't like Italian cultural events.  But Italy has been most kind in giving our military retirees health care and support.  Italy is a generous nation.  It is a lively democracy with more than 40 political parties, 330 senators plus 30 senators for life.  There are almost 600 in the chamber.  Discussions are always lively and they even come to blows at times.  My living here even aroused a jibe back in my Pennsylvania hometown.  To wit: "Isn't America good enough for you?"

In recent years I was a passenger in a car on the Autostrada when the driver fell asleep.  It took them 2 hours to cut me out of the car and I spent two months in the hospital.  I suffered an aneurysm from the seat belt, broken back, broken hip and ribs.  I am barely able to walk, buttons are awful and folding a newspaper is a problem.  What can I expect at 86 years.  My mind is still clear and memories are vivid.  I wouldn't change a day of my life.

Thanks to all of the FC friends for the joy of being one of you.