Generations keep marching into war
He rarely talked about it, but August Walterscheid was the first: drafted into the U.S. Army to fight in Germany in World War I, a soldier in the 138th Infantry.
Though he knew few details, Leonard Walterscheid, 84, of Grand Junction, knew that his father had served. So, when he graduated high school in Texas in 1948, and went to work at his cousin’s Mobil station making $27.50 a week, he kept the military in the back of his mind.
In January 1949, he and a friend enlisted in the U.S. Army, and after getting out and being called back up, he spent most of 1951 fighting in the Korean War.
When his son, Tommy Walterscheid, 62, of Fruita, graduated high school in 1969, “me and three buddies weren’t ready to go to college, but we knew that we’d get drafted, so the idea was to join the Navy because the Navy wasn’t going to Vietnam,” Tommy recalled.
Except, the U.S. Navy was fighting in Vietnam, and he spent most of 1971 fighting the Vietnam War in a spy plane patrolling the coasts of Asia.
Then, in 1998, three months before he even graduated Fruita Monument High School, Tommy’s son, Timothy Walterscheid, 33, of Fruita, enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served with NATO missions in Kosovo and for 14 months in Iraq.
“He seems to want to make all the same mistakes I made,” Tommy joked.
But the footsteps of military service were trod deep in the Walterscheid family, and three generations of the Grand Valley family have not only served, but served in war.
So, beyond the kinship of family, they’re joined by the brotherhood of service and a shared understanding of what it’s like to go to war.
“No one ever chooses to go to war,” Leonard said, but every soldier knows it’s a possibility. They’ve all experienced the brutality.
Tommy recalls landing in Da Nang, Vietnam, disembarking from his plane at the airfield only to see body bags being loaded into another nearby plane. Leonard remembers running to the bunkers during shellings, which happened often. Timothy remembers being so tired after a patrol that it didn’t seem worth the effort to take cover when the air raid sirens went off — the Super Bowl was on and he just wanted to finish the game.
And just like that, for father, son and grandson, the stories turn. It was hard, and sometimes heartbreaking, but often it was fascinating and the people they met unforgettable. Each man has a world of stories.
Timothy will mention the 14-man contingent from Moldova, who showed up in Iraq — “I guess they were ordered there?” he wondered — with only the equipment on their backs, not even much in the way of tents, but a willingness to tag along on American patrols and detonate the explosives they found.
Tommy recalls a time flying over Laos, when one of the plane’s engines caught fire, and the crew hastily got their parachutes on and the hatch door open when the fire went out. It was exquisite relief.
Leonard recalls all the details of the 8-inch Hauser gun to which he was assigned, one of a 35-man team that backed the U.S. Marines at the front lines, firing over them into enemy territory. The shells: 208 pounds each. The recoil: 72 inches. The gun: 40,000 pounds, sometimes requiring the team to heft it out of 2 feet of mud. Leonard’s job was to keep the recoil oil at the exact right level.
There were the camel spiders in Iraq and the fecund humidity of Vietnam and the mud of Korea. There were fear and fellowship and honor of service. Timothy re-enlisted, even after seeing war up-close in Kosovo.
“There was the devastation, the mass graves,” Timothy recalls. “But we got to see when they started playing soccer again, when things started recovering. And that was pretty amazing.”
Three generations of Waltersheids, three different wars, three lifetimes of experience, but father, son and grandson share the feeling: It was an honor to serve.