Albert Pettingill, Class of '63, Oral History Interview
October 3, 2013
Interviewed by Jennifer Payne
JENNIFER PAYNE: This is Jennifer Payne with the Norwich Voices Oral HistoryProject. Today's date is October 3, 2013 and I'm here with Al Pettingill.
ALBERT PETTINGILL: Pettingill.
JP: Pettingill. So sorry. Thank you for correcting me.
AP: No problem.
JP: Thank you for coming and thank you for being part of this. Could you tell me --
AP: You're very welcome, Jennifer. It's a privilege to be here.
JP: Oh. Could you tell me where you're from?
AP: I'm from Haverhill, Massachusetts. It's my hometown.
JP: Were you born there?
AP: I was born there, yes.
JP: And, you are the Class of --?
JP: And you are how old?
AP: I am 74 years old.
JP: Okay. Well, we start with some background stuff, but I do, I know there's astory about the rooks and the dining hall that we want to hear pretty soon. Did you have a nickname at Norwich?
AP: You know, I did. (Laughs) I did and there were several of my classmates thatcalled me "Bounce." And the reason they called me bounce is that even when I was marching, you could pick me out because I have a tendency to walk on my toes. And also run on the balls of my feet, as well. (Chuckles) It gives me that extra speed, I think. But, yes, they could pick me out when we were marching and, "There's Bounce." (Laughs) So, yes, it stuck with me for a while. Thank goodness, I have not heard that since I graduated from Norwich. (Laughs)
JP: (Laughs) Bounce. You were quite, you were quite active in many things at Norwich.
AP: It was, lots of opportunity. Yes. I mean, football was my number oneactivity outside of my studies and Norwich was a great place, Division III, to play football and to also study engineering. I was -- it was great. How I looked forward to the fall every year and my grades always dropped just a little bit in the fall during football season and then they picked up after that.
And then, as we got into our sophomore year, we got involved in a few morethings and elected to certain things and that was good. To serve on the Corps Honor Committee and then of course, in my senior year, being selected for Skull and Swords, that was very special. That was a very special honor.
JP: You were a sergeant at -- you were Sargent at Arms.
AP: Yes, I had -- I was the athletic NCO and so I was given the rank, in myjunior year, the rank of sergeant and then my senior year, I was the Athletic Officer, kind of a token title. And I was given two pips as a lieutenant.
JP: For the audience listening, pips are --
AP: You know, those little circular, silver buttons that indicated your rank,and then of course if you got into major and lieutenant colonel, you got these diamonds. I don't know if they still have them or not, but --
JP: I don't think so.
AP: You know, the cadet colonel wore three diamonds on his shoulder.
JP: What made you decide to choose Norwich? How did you get here?
AP: That's a good story. I was fortunate enough, I've been given tremendous,tremendous, provided for tremendous opportunity. When I was in high school, I actually was studying on the vocational side rather than the college side at Haverhill High. I was working towards becoming an electrician, just like my father.
I was fortunate enough to play on a state championship football team in 1955when we won the Class A state championship in Massachusetts. And through that, I was offered a scholarship to prep school, Avon Old Farms. Perhaps you've heard of them. Outside of -- in Avon, Connecticut, right outside of West Hartford. Tremendous hockey school. And they have probably sent a couple up here to Norwich.
And I was given two years there to, at Avon, and it was essentially a footballscholarship. And, that -- I needed two years of private prep school in order to be able to go onto college and study engineering, which was really, one of my dreams. My geometry teacher at Avon Old Farms who was a retired marine corps general, by the name of "Speed" Caldwell, and he was a former commandant of cadets at Norwich University.
JP: No kidding.
AP: And said to me, "Al, I've got just the school for you." (Laughs)
AP: And that's the God's honest truth. So, we -- the headmaster at that time, wecalled the provost, Mr. Don Pierpont, took three or four of us for a trip up to Vermont. And actually, we stopped by Dartmouth. Interviewed at Dartmouth and also went on to Norwich. One of the students that was on this trip, in addition to me, was Doug Marshall, one of my classmates. Class of '63. So, two of us of that group actually came to Norwich and I was -- I mean, I needed a scholarship to, in order to be able to attend college. And Norwich offered me an outstanding scholarship, academic scholarship. I did very well academically at the prep school. And, then Norwich also gave me my board and room through working in the mess hall. And eventually, I was -- eventually with the money I made in the summer and so forth, I was able to make it okay.
But, so why did I pick Norwich? Norwich made it possible, for me to go to college.
JP: What did you do in the mess hall? What was your job?
AP: You go through various levels of seniority when you're working the messhall. Your freshman year you put on the blue pants and the white vest and you wait on the tables. Provide -- clean up the tables, bring out the food, all those kinds of things. Your sophomore year you may still do that but then you may graduate to what some of the juniors do and they work in the back as the dishes come in sort of thing. This doesn't sound very romantic but that was a big step to go from being out working on the tables to working inside in the kitchen.
And then, your senior year you could continue with your uniform. Your greenuniform. Your dress uniform and then you wore a white jacket, a little white jacket so that you kind of look like a butler. (Laughs) And you were a supervisor for a particular section of the mess hall. Now this was -- you were top gun. (Laughs) You had some of the freshmen that were working on the tables and they would report to you. If you saw -- and in that role, you also placed milk on the -- that was one of your jobs was to place milk on each of the tables that were your responsibility.
AP: You know, no. They were actual bottles of milk, as I recall, that we wouldput on the table. And then they had pitchers of course, on the table. At least I think that's the way -- (laughs). I've kind of forgotten now.
But that was really, that was a big deal to be a -- to wear your daily uniformand then this little white jacket and everybody knew that you were the supervisor and you were responsible for that section of the mess hall, kind of thing. And if anybody was having any difficulty or any complaints, you were there.
So, that was it. They had three levels of working in the mess hall, depending onthe class year you were in.
JP: And this paid for part of your tuition?
AP: Well, it paid for the board. It paid for the board which was equivalent as Irecall, close to equivalent, close to $500.00. Which was significant.
JP: So, your major was electronic engineering?
AP: Electrical engineering, yes.
JP: Who was your roommate?
AP: I had -- my freshman year, a gentleman by the name of Tom Leary (sp?)[0:10:31]. And, that was my freshman year. And then another year I had Michael Gaw (sp?) [0:10:38]. And then for a couple of years, it was David Lundquist. And he and I actually bumped -- Lundquist, Dave Lundquist and I actually bumped into one another when we were both assigned to the 4th division in Vietnam. We were assigned to the same battalion at that time, for about a six-month overlap period that we had. So, those are my three roommates.
JP: Wow. I know you have a mess hall story, but we can do this however you want.This is your story. You can --
AP: Oh, when you --
JP: -- tell it how you want.
AP: Oh, probably when we talk about rooks.
AP: Rooks, in general. (Chuckles)
JP: Okay! Because we've covered -- you also were a track star, correct?
AP: I --
JP: One through four?
AP: No, I know that's in the yearbook, but no, I, no. As a football player --when I was -- there were occasions when I went down to compete in track, to run the 100-yard dash, or something. But I was not a consistent participant. Sometimes the track coach would say, "Hey, why don't you come down?" But, no, they have one through four, but no, I did not participate all four years. And when I did participate, it was kind of hit and miss kind of thing.
AP: Football is really one thing that I participated in.
JP: And your position?
JP: Halfback. Wow. So, I can go through the list or I can just -- we can talkabout whatever you -- I'd like to hear about your, what your rook experience was like.
AP: It was, what can I say. I was -- when I arrived at Norwich I knew what I wasgetting in for. My father was a World War II veteran. Navy chief. Chief of the boat. Submarine. In World War II. Twenty-one years in the navy. And so, I had a little bit of military experience in my background. My father used to take me on naval bases. And he told me what it was going to be like. And, I think during that rook period -- playing football was -- I think that helped a lot. Getting away from everything going down and not being harassed. Just going down and practicing. Burn off some of that adrenaline and that was good.
I think for the most part I really enjoyed those three months, but there weretimes when it got a little rough. I think one of the hardest things -- I remember I used to complain about this to my roommate all the time. Here we are, studying engineering and no place to put our books. We were not allowed book cases. Everything was kind of on the floor and the most important thing was to keep the bed tight and keep the shoes shined and make sure the uniform and everything is in ship shape.
But, as far as having things in the room to organize and help as you're gettingthrough your first three months of studies? That wasn't allowed. (Laughs)
AP: That wasn't allowed. And every night when you came back from the mess hall,that was when it used to take place. And as I started to tell you, Jennifer, earlier, there were five of us, three hockey players and two football players, myself and Billy Getts (sp?) [0:14:57] was the only other football player. You were allowed to work in the mess hall during our -- during the three months of rook indoctrination. And, so we would not march back from the mess hall back to the dormitory and that's when all the activity really took place in the dorm. It was after they left the dinner meal.
We would get back to our dormitory after that period. And I was staying inAlumni Hall my freshman year. The old Alumni Hall. And, there were two corporals, a Cpl. Sweeney and a Cpl. Shrunk (sp?) [0:15:45]. Cpl. Shrunk, he passed away not too long ago. And they'd be waiting for me.
I was also in mountain and cold weather training my freshman year. And, I hadall the equipment. The parkas, the woolen shirts, the whole bit. And several nights I would get back to Alumni Hall after working in the mess hall and they'd be waiting for me. And they'd make me put on just about every piece of normal cold weather clothing I had. All those woolen shirts and parkas and the whole bit and then take me out into the hall and make me do pushups until (chuckles) I would drop. But I never dropped. I would never give them that satisfaction! That's the harassment I had to put up with because I was working in the mess hall.
Now the other four that were working there, I assume they were going through thesame thing, but I really can't relate to their experience. If I see them again I will have to ask them about that.
But, yes, that was kind of special. I would get my own special indoctrination atthat time.
JP: Oh my gosh.
AP: But the rook experience was great. I can remember in the freshman yearfalling out when the temperature started to fall. When it was -- and it can get cold, as you know, up here. And we'd be out there early in the morning and it was still dark. I've forgotten exactly what time it was that they would make us fall out, but we'd have our M1 rifles with us and we'd have our gloves on and it was really fun trying to come to inspection arms with the M1 in the cold with your gloves on. (Laughs)
But those are great memories! (Laughs) They're very special. I don't know ifthey, I don't think they have the M1 anymore up here.
AP: Yes, but some mornings in the wintertime when the temperature got down 15below zero. It got cold.
JP: Wow. Gosh. There's so much I want to cover. So much -- it seems like yourleadership was evident early on. Skull and Swords. Corps Honor Committee. Class Honor Committee. What advice would you give a rook now?
AP: Well, what advice would I give? At Norwich, right from the start of yourrook indoctrination, Norwich is trying to teach a young man, a young student, self-discipline. To be able to overcome adversity. When you go through -- and unfortunately, not all students here at Norwich go through that. (Chuckles) You have the civilian side and the military side, but in the 1960s we were all going through it. And that -- being a relatively small school, the camaraderie, the camaraderie -- and I think almost every, almost every Norwich graduate you talk to, it's like living in a small town. The camaraderie you have with your classmates while you're here. It's almost like everybody knows everybody. And, so you a become involved. You are living through it together. You're developing the self-discipline. You're developing these social skills with your classmates and as you get into your sophomore and junior years, not just with your classmates as with your other -- you know a lot of students in the other class years as well. I think this helps the relationship with your classmates, with your peers. I think it helps to -- it certainly contributes to the development of your leadership skills as well. And it all comes down to attitude, too. Not everybody reacts to the Norwich experience, type experience the same way.
I don't what else I could say. It's a wonderful -- for me it was a wonderful experience.
JP: I noticed that you brought a paper with you and you brought a couple ofpapers, would you tell us what you have?
AP: No, I just -- my memory -- this is just helping my memory. This is just myDD 214 which goes over what military -- the dates for my military -- because you had indicated that, be sure that I have the dates of various assignments. That sort of thing. So, that's why I brought it.
JP: Oh, okay. What was the -- we can get to the service part in a second. Whatwas the hardest part about being at Norwich?
AP: The hardest part? Studying electrical engineering. (Laughs) It's -- I --working in the mess hall, studying engineering, playing football, I didn't have a lot of time. I would say that my time here, that I was very, very conservative.
In the fall, I always tried to do something. After a football game, we'd try andrelax. Whether it was go into Montpelier with some of the guys.
They eliminated fraternities my freshman year and so we had the class clubs.And, you know, those class clubs really never took off because everybody was so unhappy about the fraternities being eliminated. So, the class clubs weren't a great social experience during my four years. But, on a Sunday, I studied.
Most Sundays -- I used to like to walk to the Catholic Church in Northfield on aSunday morning. You had the chapel here but I used to like to walk to that church, which was, I don't know, it must be a mile and a half anyway. And then come back and I would generally try to get ahead. This was typically in the fall, during the football season. During the football season, my grades always dropped off a little bit. And it was tremendous pressure because I always felt that I had to maintain a 3.0 average to keep my scholarship. And, so working under that pressure, fortunately, even when I did not maintain the 3.0 average, pressure was never applied. I always appreciated that.
That was the routine for me in the fall. It was very, very disciplined. As faras partying and really socializing, when I went home at Christmas vacation, bingo. That was the time to really let it go. (Chuckles) But, my time here, I was straight out, I mean it was -- I was one of those guys, I always had to work hard for it. It never came easy. Never came easy.
JP: Did you have a favorite teacher?
AP: You know, I saw that question. When I read that on the list, I gave it somethought. I had a couple that I really liked. But one -- I had some great teachers in the electrical engineering department, but one teacher that kind of stands out in my memory was my physics teacher. And, of course I had him for three semesters and that was Professor McIntyre (sp?) [0:25:34]. And, of course, I became a physics teacher (laughs) when I retired. But he was just so easy going. Very clear but he was just so laid back. So laid back. And, again, physics class, my electrical engineering classes, we never had more than 15 students in class, which was really nice.
JP: That's nice.
AP: And you're probably going to ask me next, what was my worst class. Notteacher, but the worst class. And that was freshman chemistry. And the reason is that we had 50 or 60 students sitting in like an auditorium kind of thing and I absolutely hated that. I did not like that. So, that's one the real positives about Norwich. And I assume it's the same way. Somewhere around 15 students in a class, or less and that was just fantastic. Fantastic.
And when I was teaching high school, and I know we're going to get into that, ifI had less than 20 students, I loved it. It was great. If I had more than 20, which I did on occasion, even 20 is a lot, but you lose something in the classroom when the classes get a little larger, get larger than 20, I think.
JP: What did you do after graduation?
AP: What did I do after graduation?
AP: Well, I was commissioned upon graduation. And I was scheduled to enter thearmy in January 1964. So, I had six months to do something. And I was recruited by two companies that I was really interested in. But I had to do something. I was only planning on going in the army for two years. That was going to be it and I'm out of here. (Laughs) After four years of Norwich, two years in the army is going to be enough.
So, anyway, I took a position with Naval Ordnance Laboratory in Silver Spring,Maryland. And I was living with four other guys in College Park, Maryland. It was just a blast. I mean, this was something I would -- but I wanted to see what it was like to work in a government laboratory. And I didn't like it at all. I was -- it didn't take me very long to realize this was not going to be my life's work. Stuck in the little cubicle with one other person. Not able to talk to the people next door because they all have security clearances, they're doing security work, the whole bit. So, I had also been offered a position with New England Electric System out of Boston, because I had worked with them summers and they helped also to pay for my college career, college education. I worked with them.
Had a good job with them each summer that I was at Norwich. And, so they hadoffered me a position as well. So, that September, after I had spent the three months down at Naval Ordnance Laboratory, that September I called them. And they said come in for an interview. And so, they hired me and put me in a management training program. And I worked with them until January 'til I went into the army.
And, so now the army career. We started and, my first assignment in the army wasat the electronic command in Philadelphia. It was a procurement agency and that didn't last very long and then I got orders for Vietnam.
And the army had sent me to Ft. Monmouth to a radio officers school. A strategiccommunications officer. Worldwide type communication network. And, I was assigned to Vietnam when they only had -- that was in '64, spring of '64, and they only had advisors and communications people in Vietnam at that time. And I was in charge of what they call high frequency radio site, receiver site, just outside of Saigon. It was right off the runway at Tan Son Nhat Airport, which is the main airport in Saigon. And, we were responsible for the communication links from Saigon into Thailand, into Guam, into the Philippines. I mean, these were the kind of communications links we used ionosphere for reflecting, for long distance communications. That was before satellites. (Laughs) Okay?
AP: So, I did that in my first tour.
AP: Then we -- did you want me to go on?
JP: Yep. Please.
AP: The rest of --
JP: Whatever you want to tell us.
AP: The military career. So, upon returning, I eventually ended up in the 5thMechanized Division. I was assigned to the 5th Mechanized Division out at Ft. Carson, Colorado. During this, I had gotten married in October, actually the 2nd of October, 1965, and my wife and I took our honeymoon in Stowe, Vermont.
JP: You just had an anniversary, yesterday?
AP: Yes, we had an anniversary yesterday and we are staying at a campground inStowe, Vermont, for this weekend of our 50th reunion for the Class of '63. So, this is very special. And, October 2, 1965, it snowed in Stowe, Vermont. You can check that! That's the truth! It snowed.
But, yes, we're back and we're also celebrating our 48th anniversary this -- yesterday.
JP: That's her.
AP: Yes, that's Sally.
JP: That's Sally. She's a looker. Right there.
AP: Yes, so anyway, we got married at that time, I mean, October 2, 1965, andthen eventually we went out to the 5th Mechanized Division at Ft. Carson, Colorado. And, we spent a year out there. A wonderful year in Colorado Springs. That was really a nice assignment.
But, at that time, the Vietnam War was starting to pick up. We no longer justhad advisors and communications people, but we had troops going over there. And, I think at that time, I think the 4th division was over there. Yes, it was.
And the 5th MAC was -- they were being considered for deployment at that time.But I received orders after a year out there to report to the 4th division in Pleiku. And that was in '67 and I was initially assigned to the 124th Signal Battalion supporting the division. And I spent six months with the signal battalion and then I mentioned to the battalion commander that I would like to go down to one of the infantry battalions as a comm -- they have one communications officer in every infantry battalion. And so, after six months, I was assigned to the 1st battalion, 22nd infantry of the 4th division.
AP: And in that position, as the communications officer, the battalion commanderasked me if I would take over what they call the Echo Company, which is the fire base company, with the recon platoon and the mortars and you're responsible for the fire base. So, this was a special opportunity for a signal officer. And I said I certainly would do that.
So, I was dual-hatted as the communications officer and the Echo Companycommander with the fire base responsibility.
AP: And one of our jobs was to -- and I was also kind of the assistant to theoperations officer for the battalion, who was a major at that time. I was a captain at this time. And he and I used to go out and recon for fire bases. You take the chopper and go out and try to pick where we would go next based on the intelligence reports that were coming in. And I did that for six months.
AP: Working with the battalion. And our battalion was not attached to anybrigade. We were kind of independent and wherever -- we were in the central highlands of Vietnam, wherever it appeared as though there was going to be a trouble spot and that had to be reinforced. And these were usually special forces camps. Very often it was special forces camps that were threatened and they would move our battalion in there to reinforce them. And we would stay in a place anywhere from three or four days to a week. And then we would go someplace else.
We were -- I actually got caught up in the Tet Offensive when the NVA, notVietnamese Army actually, hit just about every major city in South Vietnam. And our battalion was flown into the, I should say choppered into the city of Kon Tum which was a little bit north of Pleiku and the NVA had essentially taken over the city and they were attacking -- there was one communication sight there that was in trouble.
And we actually went into what they call the province chief's house. They hadthe province chief's house was under siege. I guess it was two or three days that the fighting inside the city took place. And our battalion did not take any KIAs and I think there were some injured but there weren't --. While we were fighting in the cities, while they were fighting in the cities we did not take many casualties.
But then, the North Vietnamese when out back up into the hills and our battalion--. Well, we had another battalion. I think it was a battalion from the 173rd that was there as well. And, they pursued them up into the hills and that's when they took the casualties. And I think that was so very, very typical of what happened in many encounters during the Vietnam War. That when the fighting actually took place, where the U.S. was on its own terrain, you know, had the advantage of the terrain, casualties were much lighter. But when U.S. forces pursued the NVA into terrain that was more advantageous to them, that's when it went. Seems like such a long time ago. (Laughs) Trying to relate the story.
But anyway, in December while I was assigned to this battalion, in December Itook my rest and recuperation in Hawaii with my wife, Sally. And we spent a wonderful, wonderful week. It was very difficult leaving her and then going back to the battalion. (Laughs)
I had, I don't know if I want to go into this, but I had two weeks left to go incountry. Two weeks to go. You know, back then, unlike these -- our soldiers, men and women that are deployed, were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, multiple tours, for us it was a little bit different. We had 12 months and we knew in 12 months we were out of there. Now if you were going to, if you're career, you most likely would go back in two or three years, unless you volunteered to go back sooner. But we -- 12 months, you're out of there.
So, I had two weeks to go and the battalion was deployed up -- what they call atri-border area where Laos, Cambodia and South Vietnam come together and I got malaria. With two weeks to go in country. And the next thing I knew, I ended up in Valley Forge Army Hospital in Pennsylvania. And I still had my fatigues and my steel pot. (Laughs) I still have that steel pot! Everything that I had -- that's all. I was just shipped out of country and that was that. Fortunately, I recovered okay, which was good. No after effects. I mean, here I am at 74 and still going strong! (Laughs)
But, yes, that was pretty serious. But all of my records, everything were just-- which I've tried to retrieve, --
JP: Lost. In the fire.
JP: In the National Archives.
AP: Yes. In fact, I've written about that. It's -- I -- a bronze starrecommendation had been written on me and I have gone to the -- I have not gotten it. So, my wife keeps telling me, "You need to keep trying. You need to try to do something on that." And, I will. I will. It never really bothered me. But as I get a little older, it would be nice (laughs) to do that.
JP: You served your country. Sure. There's a gal here. I'll put you in touchwith her, she might be able to help. At the school.
AP: Well, thank you. So, you knew about the archives.
JP: Oh, yea.
AP: I actually -- my wife sent a letter to them and they came back and saideverything has been destroyed.
JP: We do have the photos that you sent me that are you -- this must be you, inthat last --
AP: Yes, that's at one of the fire bases.
JP: I'm glad somebody took a picture. It's --
AP: I don't know who did. (Laughs) I don't know who did. I wish I had taken morepictures, but I didn't. My dad has, when he was in the navy, he had 21 years in the navy, he has, I have three albums of World War II photos that he took. I mean, he was just -- I mean, I wish I had followed in his footsteps and took pictures but I did not. What are you gonna do?
In fact, his pictures are so good, that I was thinking about donating them tothe Smithsonian, because I know they're looking for --
JP: That's a --
AP: -- generational photos of that great generation.
JP: That's a wonderful idea.
JP: That's a great idea. Gosh. So, after you left Vietnam and after you got overmalaria, what did you do?
AP: What did I do? (Laughs)
JP: What did you do?
AP: Let's see. When we came back, I went to the -- oh my goodness -- can we shutthis down?
(break in audio)
JP: There we go. And we're back.
AP: I have to -- after Vietnam, I'm recovering from the malaria. Went to -- Iwas sent to the signal officers advanced course at Ft. Monmouth, New Jersey. And that was almost a year-long course. And then from there, I received orders for the Defense Communications Agency in Washington, D.C. And, I stayed at Defense Communications Agency for, I guess, a little over a year. And, I had -- I was working for a lieutenant colonel at that time that eventually became a three-star general in the Army Signal Corps. His name was Emmett Paige. Gen. Emmett Paige.
AP: And he got me aside one day and said, "Al, you know," he says, "you need toapply for your regular army commission and you need to apply for graduate school." He says, "Because, when this Vietnam thing is over," he says, "I've seen it happen before, reserve officers are going to be let go." And he was absolutely right, because it did happen after Vietnam.
So, I did. I applied for both. And the RA came through and graduate school camethrough and the army sent me for two years. And this is just tremendous. Sent me to the school of my choice where I can get accepted.
And I want to go back home to Massachusetts. I was accepted at Northeastern andstudied electrical engineering. And they gave me two years to do it, with full pay. Which was just absolutely fabulous. They still have the program today, but they're just not sending as many as they were back then. But, that was a tremendous opportunity for me.
AP: And then, that kind of -- so I finished that program in '73. And then I wasassigned -- you know what's interesting (chuckles) -- you look at these dates, and my wife reminds me of this all the time. And she always tells this story to others. We didn't stay at one location for longer than two years. We were constantly moving, constantly moving.
And, when I get to my assignment in Germany, we'll talk about that in a littlewhile, Germany was supposed to have been a three-year assignment, but for a couple of reasons, we only spent 18 months at one location and then finished the 18 months in another location. It was never more than two years.
So, after graduate school, I was assigned to the signal school at Ft. Monmouth,New Jersey. And, I was the chief of what they call the microwave division. And, then, after that, while I was at Ft. Monmouth, I was selected to attend Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, which was a one-year assignment.
And so, we finished at Leavenworth in '76. Army loves to send you to school. (Laughs)
JP: If you're good. (Chuckles)
AP: The army loves to send you to school. So, in '76, finished that and then wasassigned to Germany for three years. And I was assigned to the -- initially to the U.S. Army Communication -- Installation Engineering Agency. And my job, I was the chief engineer for upgrading the heliports throughout Germany. There were 10 of them that we were upgrading. The towers, the communications, the ground approach radar, and I absolutely loved that job, because I was out in the field all the time. Working with the contractors. My installation teams. The whole bit. And it was just --
And, I had -- I guess I had six engineers that were civilian engineers that wereworking with me as part of my engineering team. And that was just a great experience. We just loved that work. That's one of the reasons I like the army, period, is that I was never one that liked to be sitting behind a desk. In today's environment, sitting behind a desk and a computer, that would just drive me nuts. But, that was great work.
And, then, again, I could have stayed with that agency for the full three years,but I was told, "Hey, Al, you want to -- you going to stay and make a career of this man's army, you need to get down with one of the battalions." And so, I was assigned to the signal battalion. 52nd Signal Battalion and in Vahingen, Germany at European Command Headquarters. That was our job -- was to provide communications for the European Command Headquarters and I was assigned as the executive officer.
And, I said, "Hey, you need to do that if you're going to be selected forbattalion command."
AP: And that's another story. But, so we did that. And then we finished myEuropean tour, my German tour, Germany tour. After three years, I got orders to program management school at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia. And that was, I think, a nine-month course.
And from there, I was assigned to DCSOPS, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operationsin the Pentagon. So, I got the Pentagon experience. And while I was at the Pentagon, while I was at the Pentagon, I had -- I came out on the battalion command list and made a life-changing decision about that (chuckles) -- at that point.
As I've told peop -- If it had been line battalion and was anyplace in the worldI would have accepted it. I definitely would have accepted it, but I was being assigned to Ft. Gordon, Georgia in a training battalion. And those positions had just recently been converted to battalion command slots. But I essentially would be doing the same thing I was doing at Ft. Monmouth, as the chief of the microwave division, only they've added to that the housekeeping chores of handling the troops as well that are going to school.
So, when they combined the two functions, the technical part with leading thetroops that are in training, they made those battalion command slots. So, I made the decision that I was going to retire in my next assignment. Once I hit 20 years, I was going to retire. And so, I did not accept that battalion command position. And, I had the program management training and so I opted to take a job with the program office at Hanscom Air Force Base which was back home. And so, I spent my last, what my last three years in the army at Hanscom Air Force Base and then I retired.
And, I often think, and my wife reminds me, a lot of things may have beendifferent had you taken that battalion command. You may have stayed for 30 years. (Laughs) And all of that. But you know what I tell her though? I say, "You know, the experience of -- whether or not I would have taught high school after I retired from the army, I don't know. But the experience of transitioning into education is something that is very, very special to me. But I do regret not having the army train me. I had a good career. It was a privilege to have been selected for battalion command." And I always kind of kick myself for not -- but some other things have taken place and so I -- you know, you just keep moving on. (Laughs)
But that, that was kind of hard.
JP: How did you get into teaching?
AP: Well, you know, I always felt that I would like to teach and I would like tocoach football and the state -- at this time I was living in the state of New Hampshire, when I retired. And the state of New Hampshire had a program for mathematicians and engineers and, I don't know, Alternative 5 Program, I think that was the name of it. And they would give you two years. If you could find somebody to sponsor you, a superintendent of schools to sponsor you, you would have two years to get your educational certificate.
And, I had to take some courses at the University of New Hampshire. I wasbrought on -- sponsored by the Timberlane School District, a regional school of -- in Plaistow, New Hampshire. And, the first year I was teaching there I had two physics classes at two different levels, chemistry class and earth science. I think they were trying to sink my ship my first year! (Laughs)
JP: My word.
AP: And then the second year, it was just physics and chemistry. And I stayedwith them for two years. And I did get my teaching certificate in the state of New Hampshire. And I was working summers with the program office at Hanscom Air Force Base that I had left. So, I had some good friends there and they said, "Hey, Al, why don't you come back with us full time?" And they essentially, almost tripled my salary from teaching. And of course my daughters were still young and I look at this and I said, "Well, now I got my certificate, I think maybe I will do that."
And, they shortly there -- I'm trying to make this a little faster for you! (Laughs)
JP: You're fine.
AP: But, I got into proposal writing, trying to win a couple of these governmentcontracts for this company. And we won a contract with the army out at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona, the information systems command. And it was going to be a five-year contract and they asked me, "Hey Al, you want to go out to Arizona?" And I said, "You know, that sounds good."
At that time, I had -- my older daughter was married. My younger daughter, shewas a junior in high school at Timberlane High School and I says (sic), "Jen, how you feel about coming out -- leaving in your junior year?" She said, "I love it! I love it! Let's go! Let's go!" So, we went to Arizona for five years.
And then, after that, ran the company's office out there. And that was good. Wewere -- I was the head of testing these communication systems worldwide. I had about 30 technicians that were working for me that were going all over the world doing various things. Testing new systems that were installed. Everything from satellite to your fields microwave radio systems, that kind of thing. But it was all fixed station, what they called "fixed station" kind of systems.
So, after five years, I returned back to the -- to Hanscom Air Force Base andthat's when I said, "You know, I'm getting close to 59 here and it's time -- I've worked over 30 years, department of defense related work. I enjoyed the teaching. I think I'd like to get back into teaching."
And, so I interviewed with Emmanuel College. And they had a special program forgetting certified in the state of Massachusetts and all of this. And they hooked me up with one of their graduates who was the department head at -- science department head in Bedford High School, which was only 10 minutes from my office at Hanscom Air Force Base. And, Massachusetts does not make it easy for people to become certified that have come out of engineering, or what have you. And they required me to have, I don't know, 150 hours -- that sounds about right, of practicum. Practice teaching.
And so, I, before there was -- even though I had a New Hampshire certificate.Okay? So, I said, "Okay." So, I, working with the science department head at Bedford High School, she set me up to teach one class a day. And I would go over during my lunch hour, from Hanscom, and I would spend about an hour and a half over there, working with this one class. And part of it, there were -- I was going to say there were two students. I had another section and there were just two students. And they were exceptional students. And she wanted me to -- and they were -- I think one was planning on going to one of the service academies. And she wanted me to tutor them. Which I did.
So, she worked out a program for me. It wasn't always the same class that I wasteaching, but she worked out a program for me so that Emmanuel College would be happy.
So, after a year, I got my certification in the state of Massachusetts. Then, aposition opened up at Pentucket Regional High School. Again, about a 10-minute drive from my home in Haverhill. And, I went in for an interview.
And within a week, I was hired as their new physics teacher. And I had turned 59and I said, "That's it. I'm out. I can get a little bit from my IRA now and 401k." And I ended up teachig physics and chemistry at Pentucket Regional High School for six years. I was the class advisor for the Class of 2006. And when they graduated, I said, "I'm graduating, too. I'm out. That's it."
And, I was eligible at that time -- I had no idea -- and this one lady whoworked through the teacher's union, she says, "You know, you should be eligible, at your age, for a ten-year Massachusetts teacher's retirement." I said, "You're kidding me. I've been doing this just for fun." (Laughs) And she says, "No." She says, "You can apply to buy time -- your military time." And I said, "How much?" And she says, "You can buy two years." Which I did. And, of course, you have to pay for that, into the retirement system. So, with the two years that I taught in New Hampshire and buying two years and then six years teaching at Pentucket Regional High School, I had ten years and decided to retire.
And that lasted six months. (Laughs) That lasted six months.
JP: Six whole months!
AP: Yes. I was having breakfast with my wife one December. I retired in June.This was December. I says, "Hey. Look at this. Central Catholic in Lawrence is looking for a physics teacher starting in January." And she looked at me and she said, "Is this something you really want to do?" I said, "Yes. I do." I said, "It's only for six months."
Well, they hired me the second year. So, I put in a year and a half there. And Idid that one other time, just two years ago now.
They had a six-month position opened up in January at -- in the town of Harvard.It's called the Bromfield School. I taught for six -- you know, for half a year. But now I', retired. (Laughs)
AP: Now I'm retired. But I do miss it. It's -- teaching was very, very hardwork. There's no doubt. It's long nights sometimes correcting papers. But, teaching chemistry and physics, I had good kids. I had -- and I've taught a couple of AP classes as well. And, sometimes some of the kids, they're with their pencils -- what are you going to tell me today? I mean, they're ready to go to work. This was a good teaching experience, even though the hard work, as my wife has said, as Sally has said to me so many times, for you it wasn't work. For you it wasn't work. You just -- you lived for every day. And I did. And with those kids.
And when I think of the number of students that I've had an impact on, apositive impact --. I had the experience when I was at Pentucket of actually teaching a freshman class and then having those freshman in my physics class when they were seniors. And, I often think of the educators that stay in a system for 30 years. They have students and then they have the children of those students. What a marvelous experience that is.
The interface with the community is just -- you know, you can be an adjunctprofessor at a community college, but it's not the same as being a part, an integral part of a community as a high school teacher. That is a very, it's a very wonderful experience. It was very special. I enjoyed it.
So, when I think of not staying in the military for 30 years, I say, "Wow, whatdid you do instead of staying for 10 more years?" I feel good. I feel good about that.
JP: It shows. It shows.
AP: So that's it. (Laughs) Oh God! I hope I didn't ramble too much!
JP: Not at all. Is there anything -- oh, can I ask you two more questions?
JP: Okay. Do you have any relatives at Norwich?
JP: Okay. And --
AP: I have a -- I have a grandson that is now a sophomore at Timberlane RegionalHigh School. I wish I -- and he's a good basketball player. I wish I could work something out for him. (Chuckles) At some point.
JP: Well, maybe we'll see him.
AP: Yes. I wish we could.
JP: I would love to interview a grandson with a grandfather. That would be a coup.
What does "I Will Try" mean to you now?
AP: What does "I Will Try?" You know, that's a very, very special motto. I think-- you know, I'm going to tell this story. I mentioned it a couple of years ago. I took my final teaching job and it started in January. And it was at the Bromfield School in Harvard, Mass. I mean, this is a public school but it's like a private school. I mean, these parents -- very, very affluent community.
I was being interviewed by the superintendent of schools there. And he said,"You know," Oh! And the principal also said, "These kids don't need a role model. They've got plenty of role models in their life." (Laughs) And, he says, "They need somebody that has the technical skill to teach them what they need to know." And then he looked at me and he said, "Norwich University?" And he told me about a Norwich student that worked for him and what a great asset he was. And he's looking me right in the eye. And that's when I said to myself, "I Will Try!" (Laughs) I Will Try. And that's it. When you're thrown into an environment, a new environment, it's not going to be easy. It's just like -- and I don't know if I was thinking "I Will Try," but certainly it was inculcated in my thought process.
The first day that I stood on that platform at Timberlane Regional High School,and looked at those kids out there, all those little beady eyes looking at me and I had never done this before. (Laughs) I mean, what do you say? I am going to be good. I will try. I am -- I have got the platform. I'm going to be a -- I'm going to do my best and no way that I'm going to fail at doing this.
And, I mean, that applies to so much. When the army sent me to Northeastern toget my master's degree in electrical engineering, I looked at my wife and I said, "God! I hope I don't screw this opportunity up." (Laughs) Again, you have to preserver in every environment which you're placed. And if for some reason, and we all do have failures in certain situations, as long as you can tell yourself that I did my best. That's why -- and I don't know. It doesn't necessarily come from the Norwich motto, but that's what the Norwich motto means. That, whatever you're doing, do your best. Give it your all. And you can live with that. That's what it's all -- it's a great motto.
Have you seen the back of the hats of the Class of '63? Have you seen it?
JP: Believe me.
AP: Believe me, I tried. (Laughs)
JP: I love it! (Laughs)
AP: I think that's -- I don't know who came up with that idea. Probably Nate. Idon't know.
JP: No, it wasn't, but he told me the name of the guy and I forgot what it was.But it's very fun --
AP: I tried.
JP: I tried.
AP: That's great. I love it.
JP: Well, if there's anything else you'd like to say?
AP: You know, Jennifer, I can't think of anything at this particular time. Butthis has been a real privilege for me to be able to sit down and to chat with you. You know, I felt uncomfortable about this, as you know. I mean, there's so many of my classmates and so many others who have great stories. Mine is, a few unique things, not untypical of the great things that so many Norwich graduates have achieved. I appreciate the opportunity to also talk about my teaching experience, which to me was very special. And, coupled with the military experience, it went a long way.
When I'm talking to those students out there at the high school level, there's alot of respect for you for what you've done. The fact that you've had the military experience. I had more, "Tell us about your experience in the military. Tell us about Vietnam. Tell us about what it's like to be in the military."
I would encourage, I would encourage retired military to really find a way. Ifyou think you'd like it, go after it. Because it's special. It's not for everybody. There are some retired -- I knew some retired military at Hanscom Air Force Base that jumped into teaching in the state of New Hampshire and dropped out after the first year. Kids probably drove them nuts or something. So, it's not for everybody, but I think it's a wonderful transition to go from the military into education. It was for me.
JP: It's been an honor and a privilege, truly, for us to get your story. And thefact that you don't realize how wonderful it is, this is just proof positive of how special you are.
AP: Well, thank you.
JP: So, thank you.
AP: Thank you Jennifer. Thank you very much for this opportunity. Great!
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