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Interview with Daniel Acker [Undated]

Falen M. Woods:

Where were you drafted?

Daniel Acker:

I wasn't drafted, I enlisted in Evansville in September of 1968.

Falen M. Woods:

Okay. Where did you live at that time?

Daniel Acker:

I lived at my parents' home on Virginia Street on the west side.

Falen M. Woods:

Why did you join?

Daniel Acker:

Well, since I was a very young boy, I wanted to be in the military. I guess since I was about five years old. I, at a very early age, when World War II just ended, the men who had come back from world war II were my heroes. I read all kinds of books, Guadalcanal Diary, Iwo Jima, I read everything about the military and World War II that I could get my hands on as a very young boy. And I've known probably since I was about five years old that I wanted to be a soldier. And I guess it was my destiny. I've known it from a very early age.

Falen M. Woods:

Why did you pick the branch you joined?

Daniel Acker:

Well, I originally wanted to join the Navy. And in a speech class, in my senior year in high school, I gave a speech on how I wanted to join the Navy. And I had gone to the Navy recruiting office to gather material. I wanted to go to sea as a sailor. And the war was coming on in Vietnam. I was about to be drafted. I was 1A. I got my draft card, and I was scheduled to go to Louisville, Kentucky for my physical examination. And my brother had been stationed in Alaska. He was in the army at that time. And he was too young to go to Vietnam. So when he became of age, he volunteered to go to Vietnam and came home on leave. And I -- at the time he came home, I just got my draft card, I knew I was about to be drafted. I'd already been told about a physical, and he said, "you know, man, you better join. If you join, you can have some kind of choice as to what kind of occupational specialty you want to get into. Otherwise, if you're drafted, they'll make you an infantryman, and you'll be in the thick of it with no choice at all." So instead of being drafted with no choice at all, I enlisted seeking a choice and while -- and there was some occupational specialties open in heavy equipment at that time. The occupational specialty was numerically called a 62 Bravo, heavy equipment operator, and, you know, bulldozers, you know, I'm a guy, bucket loaders and things like that, you know. That sounded exciting, and I knew that it would -- it would help me possibly with a skill as a heavy equipment operator when I eventually got out of the military at that time. And so that's how I became a combat engineer.

Falen M. Woods:

Okay. Tell me about your boot camp and your training.

Daniel Acker:

Well, I went into basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky in the fall of 1968. Needless to say, I was a young 19-year-old kid, who -- it was quite an experience to say the least. It was a real shock, when I first got off the bus at basic training, had my head shaved, and there was the drill sergeant standing there, he was just a statue of physical fitness, and he -- he just scared the heck out of you. And -- but as time went on, you know, you bond with the men that you're with. You all realize that you have to depend on one another to get through the training, and that's where the teamwork and camaraderie begins, and friendships. It was a wonderful experience. It was tough. Sometimes I didn't think I was going to make it, but I did it. It was a good confidence builder for a young man. And it was -- there was a lot of pride in that accomplishment. During that training, we had basic rifle marksmanship. And at that time we were using the old M14 rifle, and I -- one of my things I've been most proud of, as boy I hunted and fished a lot. I was good with a rifle. And at that time, you were given 96 targets to fire at in qualification in order to graduate, and I hit 72 of 96 targets, at various ranges, and was the top shooter in the battalion of about 500 men. And that was a real accomplishment. One of the things I'm most proud of.

Falen M. Woods:

Do you remember any of your instructors?

Daniel Acker:

No. They were just mean. Drill sergeants, they're tough people.

Falen M. Woods:

Did you click with, like, any certain people that got you through it?

Daniel Acker:

Well, there was -- there was a man that I became friends with, and was Bobby Head. He was from Lexington right up the road from Fort Knox. And he -- him and I spent a lot of time studying together for exams, and helping one another through difficulties, and -- but there were a lot of other guys there, too, that I wasn't necessarily close with, but we were, you know, we were companions, we knew each other. We were spending six weeks together and you had to gel very quickly. So Bobby sticks out as a guy that -- that I remember as a good friend and companion through those times.

Falen M. Woods:

Okay. Which war or wars did you serve in?

Daniel Acker:

I was a Vietnam Era veteran. But my brother I spoke of earlier went to Vietnam. When I graduated from training, advanced individual training after basic some three months later in January of 1969, I -- after graduation 102 out of 220 of us wanted orders to go to Vietnam. And the drill sergeant was very solemn, and it was a scary time, because all of us knew as our names were called out, that you could have heard a pin drop. It was -- it was a moment in my life I'll never forget. And the drill sergeant was very private about it. He called us out of formation and dismissed the rest of the men, and then took us behind a large Quonset hut and put us in a circle, and stood in the middle of a circle, and said, "the men's names that I read off these set of orders will go to Vietnam." And, of course, Acker, A-C, top of the alphabet, my name was called. And there wasn't -- there was a lot of silence. All of us just kind of stood there for a moment trying to understand what he had just said. So at that time, we had all left and went back to the barracks. And I -- I can remember this First Sergeant Jacks, I'll never forget him. He called me down to the order room, and asked me if I had a brother in Vietnam, and I said, "yes." And he said, "well, why didn't, you know, tell someone, when you were processed in?" I said, you know, he's a First Sergeant, you're a private E1, just do it, and you just -- you don't say -- you don't disagree. You shake your head and say, "it's my fault." That's the end of that. So I -- he put a stop on my orders to go to Vietnam. I was a holdover at Fort Leonard Wood from January after training until March. A long time. And eventually I came down with orders to go to Korea with the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion. And in many ways I think it was no different than Vietnam. There was a covert war going on in Korea. I served on the DMZ, the demilitarized zone in no man's land on the 38th parallel. And there were engagements there. I was involved in two engagements at different guard posts. At the time the Vietnam War was going on. The north Koreans did a lot of dirty work in Korea, but the civilian community, the airwaves were so dominated with Vietnam, that a lot of what was happening in the demilitarized zone in Korea was not known about. We had four men killed coming out of the no man's land, ambushed and their bodies stripped of their clothing, we assume because they wanted to take the uniforms back as trophies. As I said, I was involved in two different engagements that I'm not going to talk about, but there was a private little war going on on the 38th parallel in 1969, 1968, 1966. Everybody should remember the Pueblo, which was taken off the coast of north Korea in territorial waters by the North Koreans, I believe, in 1967. They were held for a year, and were released just prior to my arrival in March of 1969. And I was there stationed in Korea from March 19th, 1969 to April 20th, 1970. It's a -- it's like Korea is a place that I did not care for. It was like being on the moon. There were no trees. The landscape was barren. It was just not a very nice place. And you felt isolated and very, very far away from home. But there was a reprieve in that is when you would go to the no man's land, because it was an unoccupied military area, and it was a danger zone off the fire zone. There were trees, and plants, and running water, little streams. It was -- it was two different worlds. When you would come out of the DMZ into North -- south Korea proper, it was desolate. There was nothing there. Again, it was like being in the -- it was a moon landscape, but the dichotomy from that 38th parallel, that small strip of land was stretched across north Korea was so full of life, but yet it was a place of death. It was -- it was -- it was surreal in a way. I mean there were trees, and there were rabbits, there was trees. I mean, someone would have to experience the South Korean Peninsula to know what I was talking about, especially north of Seoul. It was a barren wasteland in many ways, and if you go up north, which at the same time it was dangerous and you could lose your life, it was also a place of flowers and trees, and what it was -- it was -- it was full of life. And so it was -- it was kind of a surreal -- surreal environment. And I think after those four men were killed at Texas gate, that changed all of us. We suddenly grew up, so to speak. We're 19 years old, and we suddenly see our own mortality, and that was something that I was -- that I had to deal with. So, yeah, Korea was not a good experience.

Falen M. Woods:

Were you ever held as a prisoner?

Daniel Acker:

No; no, luckily no. It was -- at that time -- in 1953 a truce was signed between North and South Korea. There was never an armistice treaty, a formal treaty signed, so there was kind of a Mexican standoff. The war never really ended, because there was no treaty. So it was kind of a lull, and still is today. There has never been a formal treaty signed between North and South Korea, and that situation has lasted since 1953, which at various times like I stated during the Vietnam Era, the north Koreans will take license, if there's another conflict going on in the world, to suddenly go into the demilitarized zone and maybe kill a few American soldiers, or cause havoc, and, yeah, it's -- it's -- yeah, they were known to do that.

Falen M. Woods:

Were you awarded any medal?

Daniel Acker:

I was awarded -- I was awarded for serving in Korea. I was awarded my unit patch to be transferred from my left shoulder to my right shoulder as my combat patch. And I was awarded the Korean Expeditionary medal for my service in Korea. Are you asking about other medals, too?

Falen M. Woods:

Yes.

Daniel Acker:

I have a meritorious service medal. I had the Army Commendation Medal 5th award. I have the -- let me see here. I have the army achievement medal, Good Conduct Medal 6th award. As I said, the Korean Expeditionary Medal. The NCO ribbon, numeral 3, numeral 3 meaning the number of leadership schools that I attended and academies while in the military. The ribbon -- the NCO ribbon was an award in itself, and every subsequent leadership school that you went to, you added a numeral. And so I had four awards for military leadership schools, First Sergeant Academy, NCO Academy, combination NCO force, advanced noncommissioned officer D.O. school. And I think that's -- there's some others in there but those are the -- (Interview interrupted.)

Daniel Acker:

Want me to start over?

Falen M. Woods:

Okay.

Daniel Acker:

Oh, when I was in Korea, mail was the usual way of keeping in touch, and when I was overseas, and then when I was back in the states, and I was able to take my family with me to my next duty station, of course we were together, but when I was -- often go away to school, or I would go to training, and in the field. The term field is a military term in that you go -- go out in the woods and just play army. And you train -- you train for war that will -- that you hope will never happen. And at that time -- so I would go -- if I was in the field, it might be weeks, it might be months before I -- I'm able to see or speak to my family. That's happened a few times. So, you know, you take the good with the bad.

Falen M. Woods:

What was the food like?

Daniel Acker:

It wasn't -- it wasn't -- military food, that's kind of hard to describe. I think the word that comes to mind is very bland. Of course, you're feeding hundreds of thousands of troops. You don't season food of course, you have to serve it, they can season it themselves. The quality of the food was mostly canned, you know, and you keep large quantities of food like that, normally it's -- it's mostly nonperishable. Usually they serve you good fresh meat. You'd have steak and chicken -- but as I -- in the military -- in my early years in the military, the food was just pretty lousy, but as the army started to modernize, and the food got better. When the volunteer army was instituted in early 1970s, and the draft was -- was just about gone, and the military was trying to make that transition. In order to attract men, the food got better, living standards got better. You had your own private room with desk and chair. And it's, you know, to some people that may sound, you know, but to a guy in the army, who slept in large dormitories existence prior to 1970 or '71, to have your own room, and your own wall locker with your own lamp and a desk and rug on the floor, was -- that was a big jump. So the volunteer army helped improve everything from chow to the living quarters. And after the draft was over, they had to attract -- they had to attract young men and women. In order to do that, there had had to be some improvement. At that time during 1970s, the military, the department of the army, instituted what was called the noncommissioned officers educational system. And that -- that was also part of this new volunteer army. They wanted a smarter and leaner force. The -- the days of the 50 or 55-year-old soldier, Korean veteran, was over. The army was in a huge transition to improve the soldier's -- soldier's ability. They wanted, as I said, a smarter, leaner soldier. So they instituted what they called noncommissioned officers educational system, but it was commonly known as the up or out program. You either went to school, got the military education based on your occupational specialty, you went to college, you get out, you graduate, had a high school diploma, or you went and got the high school diploma then went on to college. I had the diploma, the high school diploma, and I went on to college in addition to my military education. And it was just a great experience.

Falen M. Woods:

Did you travel anywhere while you were in the service?

Daniel Acker:

Yes, extensively. To Europe twice, just about all over the eastern part of the United States. Yeah, I have a -- quite a travel log over those 20 years and 21 days.

Falen M. Woods:

Did you ever keep a personal diary?

Daniel Acker:

In my head. I -- I majored in history in college. And I was always blessed, I think, because I said as early as a boy, I began to read, read everything I could get my hands on. And there was this fascination of remembering all these events, you know, dates, battles and the invasions, and the names of the leaders and generals involved. And it's just my memory evolved over time where I could have a permanent record in my head upon instant reflection of most things from very early on in my childhood. So I guess I trained my memory. I like to write, I've -- I've -- I write a lot. And especially in the last couple of years I've probably written a thousands pages if not more. And -- but, no, I don't know. When I was growing up, a boy, he -- he had a baseball bat and a glove, and a football, and, you know, a diary was something that your sister kept.

Falen M. Woods:

Yeah.

Daniel Acker:

You know, so I don't know. Yeah, I have a -- I have a memory. I have a diary, so to speak.

Falen M. Woods:

Do you recall the day that your service ended?

Daniel Acker:

Yes, I do. October 1st, 1988. I was -- there was a ceremony for myself and several other service members who were retirement -- retirement -- retirement ceremony. And the battalion was formed up, the colors were there, and the battalion commander presented myself and a few others with our honorable discharges, and shook our hand, and thanked us for our service, and I became a civilian.

Falen M. Woods:

Did you work or go back to school?

Daniel Acker:

I -- I got out of the military. I went to work. I moved to Nashville with my family. And I worked. I went to work in Sunbeam Bakery on Murfeesborough Road as a working foreman on the third shift loading bread trucks early in the morning so people would have their fresh bread and toast, and jelly and jam with their breakfast that next morning. I made application to go to the University of Tennessee to finish my degree. I wanted to finish my degree in history. I had 48 credit hours. I was so close to my Liberal Arts degree and wanted to go on and shoot for a four-year degree and finish that, and get a four year degree, finish my -- get my Bachelor's in History, and then possibly go on to do my degree in education and teach history, possibly at the high school level. And -- but, you know, the 20 years that I was in the military, it's a very competitive place, the military. And after the -- in the early 1970s, I was a young man, very aggressive, very ambitious. I wanted to be a success. I wanted to be a good soldier. I wanted to be a leader. And very competitive place, very exhausting. It just takes a lot out of you over the number of years that I did this. I was an overachiever, type A personality. And when I retired from the military, I was exhausted frankly. And I achieved everything in my life that anybody could ever think of achieving. I'd been around the world a couple of times. I've been to some wonderful places, met some wonderful people. The military is a place where you are mentally and physically attacked to the Nth degree. I knew who I was. I knew what my capabilities were, and my limitations were. I was competent in who I was. And I don't know. I just -- I felt that pursuing finishing my degree in history was another -- another goal that -- that I was not ready for, either mentally or physically. Mostly mentally. I was -- I spent a large number of my military career in school, both, you know, civilian, as well. I was just frankly worn out. And -- but I -- I still had my history books. I still write, and I still keep involved. I would suggest that all young people vote because of the men and women who are now serving, and my service, and the service of the men who came before me, and women. We defended the Constitution, and we defended the rights for people to -- right for people to vote, to live in a democracy, and far too many of our citizens don't vote. And it kind of bothers me that -- that we defended and served our country, and so many of our fellow countrymen should honor us better than that. And they should go out and cast that vote that we helped defend. And so I'm involved. There's still fire in the belly.

Falen M. Woods:

Have you joined any Veterans' organizations?

Daniel Acker:

Yeah, I belong to VFW, post 1114, and been a member since I came back to Evansville, my wife and family and I back in '97. And we go down and enjoy the camaraderie and friendship with the guys and gals. It's a neat place. Yeah, I guess all -- I guess you could say that when I was in in 1982, I was in competition to -- well, competition with myself to become a member of the Sergeant Morales Club. At that time we were stationed in -- in Germany in Stuttgart. And there was General Blanchard in 1972, the European commander, had served as a young second lieutenant with a noncommissioned officer, a Sergeant Morales. And he was so impressed by this young noncommissioned officer, that when he became a general, he instituted a regulation ____ the United States Army Regulation 600-2, which governs the club which he instituted called the Sergeant Morales club based on this young noncommissioned officer that he served with, and was so impressed with him as an individual, his leadership skills, the way he took care of his men, you know, the way he trained his men, that he ascribed every noncommissioned officer to achieve the status of Sergeant Morales. And so you had to compete against yourself, of course. You had to prove that you wanted to be a member of the Sergeant Morales Club, that you had to live up to certain -- certain ideals, the ideals of Sergeant Morales, and being a topnotch noncommissioned officer, one who cared for his men, trained his men and was just an all-around leader. And I was chosen by the company commander to go before three different boards, if you will, screening boards, chaired by commander sergeant majors, and you would go in, and you would salute, and you would sit at attention and they would question you. They would look at your leader's notebooks. They would just ask everything about you. Sometimes you would spend 30 minutes at each board. And you had to go to three, and I went to three. And there was a Level one, Level two, and Level three. And I was able to achieve Level three at corps headquarters in December of 19 -- in October of 1981, and was -- which was a very proud moment. So that's another military organization that I'm a life member of, and it's a very select fraternity of noncommissioned officers. And that's -- that's besides basic rifle marksmanship, as I said earlier. You know, you're decorated by a four star general, General Kroesen, at that time who was a commander. You go to United States Army headquarters, and it's a very impressive place, and you're treated as a very special noncommissioned officer. And it's quite an honor to be a member of the Sergeant Morales Club. So, yeah, that's -- that's another military organization I belong to.

Falen M. Woods:

Okay. Is there anything I missed that you would like to tell us about?

Daniel Acker:

Well, I can go on forever.

Falen M. Woods:

Go ahead.

Daniel Acker:

As most people can tell already, I love the military. Well, I was a drill sergeant for three years since 1977 to 1980, which was another -- well, these rewarding experiences keep adding up as I keep spilling them out, don't they? That's three years as a drill sergeant. I took young men and made soldiers out of them. I did the same thing to them that was done to me in training. I stood in the barber shop and watched the hair fall off their heads as new recruits as the drill sergeant watched me. It was deja vu most of the time. But I enjoyed teaching. I -- it was -- it was very rewarding to take young men and take them through 12 weeks of rigorous day and night training through all kinds of weather and -- and watch them be shaped. (End of recording.)

 
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  October 26, 2011
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