South Toledo resident Norm Hamilton says he arrived in Germany for his first U.S. Army tour of duty the day after they built the Berlin Wall.
That was 1959, Hamilton said, and adds that he was discharged from active duty in October, 1962, while the Cuban Missile Crisis was going on.
That didn’t keep Hamilton from returning to the Army Reserves 11 years later and making a career out of his service.
“I went in just for the heck of it,” Hamilton said. “It was ’73, and they had trouble getting people in because it was right at the end of Vietnam.”
He has been married to wife Sharon 46 years, whom he met before re-entering the reserves. He admits she had her reservations when he first returned.
“The first summer camp I went to she didn’t like it,” Hamilton said. “The second year she wanted to know when I was going.”
Today, he is retired with 23 years of service — 20 in the reserves, and earns retirement pay and benefits from full health care coverage from Tri-Care insurance.
He says much of his reserve pay was “play money,” and although retired today, he still works at Tangle Wood Golf Course in Dowling as a starter.
Hamilton began reporting to reserve duty at the University of Toledo. His military speciality, working as a truck driver, provided him training for his regular job. Hamilton also drove a semi-truck for Art Iron 20 years, and when they closed the doors drove for Omni Source in Toledo 22 years.
He learned other skills while in the reserves, too, including some experience in food service.
“To get promoted to the next rank, I was in a different slot I was in when they took me out of that and put me in as food service mess sergeant,” Hamilton said. “I stayed in that quite a few years, and I learned the supply sergeant’s job, too.”
Hamilton enjoyed his military service, but adds that he may have missed out on an opportunity by missing college.
“Actually, if I went to college I would have benefitted probably more, because I would have learned the management part of truck driving,” Hamilton said.
“When I first went in (to the reserves), it was really relaxed. You did your job during the week, the weekend was free, you go off post and do anything you wanted,” he continued. “Then about halfway through it started changing, and it became more full-time active duty-like.”
Of course, there is one major fear for anyone wishing to make a military career an option — serving in combat duty. For Hamilton, who retired in 1993, he barely escaped.
“Desert storm was going on in 1990-91, but we weren’t activated,” Hamilton said. “We were close. After I retired they did — they got called up and they lost one or two people. Everybody I knew there is already retired or gone.”
Active duty was a challenge, too, and he admits having the “jitters” when arriving at basic training. He had a little preparation because his older brother Harold, who passed away in 1985, enlisted in the Navy during World War II, and other brother, George, was drafted. His brother-in-law got out of the draft because of a medical discharge.
“You didn’t know really what to expect,” Hamilton said. “I had an idea of the military because my brother taught me when they give you directions on how to set up your foot locker for inspection, he says, ‘You leave it that way. You get two of everything — two razors, two blades and all that stuff. You just leave that alone and use the other stuff.’ That helped a lot. That’s what you’re going to get.”
Like nearly all soldiers, he got the opportunity to see much of the world, including heading to Munich for OctoberFest and a trip with an associate to Great Britain.
“I was able to get to England for a month with a guy that I was stationed with,” Hamilton said. “His dad, mother, and brother were born in England, but the (soldier) was born in the states. His dad lived in the New York area, and he was coming back over to England and they were having a family reunion. He said. ‘Do you want to go with me?’ He says, ‘It’ll cost you just to split the gas and oil in the car and the boat trip and whatever you want to spend,’ because they were going to stay with his brother. So I got to see a lot of England that way.”
Hamilton left active duty as a Spc. 4, and when he returned to the reserves he was so badly needed as a truck driver, they automatically promoted him to Spc. 5 upon his return. He retired a Sergeant First Class (E-5).
Even though he volunteered, he doesn’t have reservations in speaking about the draft.
“I think they ought to come back with the draft and let these kids find out what it’s like,” Hamilton said. “Everybody should try it.”