Spring 2014 Veterans' Interviews
Citadel graduate students in Dr. Lauren Rule Maxwell’s Spring 2014 Advanced Composition class conducted oral history interviews with a diverse group of area veterans regarding their military experiences. In addition to conducting interviews, the students incorporated the veterans’ stories into a range of writing exercises, including abstracts and feature articles, which appear with the interviews online. In organizing the project, The Citadel English Department and the Krause Center for Leadership & Ethics once again teamed up with Fred Lesinski, Chief of Voluntary Service at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston.
Click on the hyperlinked headings below to see video recordings, which also will be archived in the Library of Congress Veterans History Project. By capturing these histories, it is our hope that the interviews will do justice to the veterans’ stories while paying homage to their legacy and the principled leadership they inspire.
Many people deserve thanks for helping make this project a reality. In particular, we’d like to thank Lawrence Galasso in Multimedia Services; Kara Klein in External Affairs; Tiffany Silverman from Citadel Fine Arts and her Photography students; and the administration, faculty, and staff of The Daniel Library.
Benjamin Almquist served in the United States Marine Corps from 2006 to 2010. Coming from a military family, he decided at a young age that he would follow in his father's footsteps and join the military to serve and protect his country. He did so in Iraq’s al-Anbar Province as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. One of his other important assignments was on Coalition Task Force 151. The task force focused on counter-piracy security off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden. Mr. Almquist’s main job was to detain pirates that hijacked vessels in those areas in an effort to keep the waters safe. Another assignment that broadened his military career was a weeklong survival-training course with French Marines in Africa. With these and other experiences in the United States Marine Corps, Mr. Almquist was able to achieve his childhood dream of becoming a Marine.
Robert C. Aten is a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie. He is also an Iraqi War veteran who served three tours in Iraq in 2006, 2007, and 2009. After spending eight years of active service in the Air Force, he has decided to pursue a career path that his service inspired. Aten worked primarily with the 1st Combat Camera Squadron; in it he filmed everything from the devastation in Japan during Operation Tomodachi to medical procedures in the ER in Balad, Iraq. Aten has logged more than 1,000 hours in that ER, so it seems fitting that he will begin his training to become a Physician’s Assistant after he graduates from The Citadel's Veteran Undergraduate Program. This May, he hopes to travel the world all over again, this time working for the HOPE Worldwide foundation.
Retired Vice Admiral Albert J Baciocco, Jr. is a career sailor and submariner. He retired with three stars and a prolific history of service and success. Admiral Baciocco is a graduate of the Naval Academy with extensive sea and shore duty; he trained as a submariner and was certified in submarine school. This experience led to high-ranking leadership positions: He directed the Navy Nuclear Submarine program during the Cold War. He was also chosen to lead the Department of the Navy Research and Development Technology Enterprises. Admiral Baciocco has been awarded several medals and citations from the American government as well as from foreign governments. Once he retired, he did not stop serving, though. As a retiree, he has led a long and successful “second career”: Specifically, of local interest, he was Chairman of the Cold War Submarine Memorial Foundation, which was responsible for establishing the Cold War Submarine Memorial at Patriot’s Point. Admiral Baciocco and his wife call the Lowcountry home; they reside in the Old Village of Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.
A graduate of The Citadel, Michael Barrett served two military tours overseas. The first came in 2008 when he was sent to Afghanistan to train the Afghan army. Once he arrived in Afghanistan, however, his mission changed, and he was told that he would be training the Afghan police force. In the interview, Barrett recounts the difficulties he experienced as he completed his mission. Both cultural differences and governmental challenges created obstacles for the soldiers sent to train the Afghan police. While Barrett concludes that his efforts in Afghanistan did effect positive change, he also acknowledges that substantive change requires years to enact. In addition to serving in Afghanistan, Barrett also participated in peacekeeping operations in Kosovo. Today, Barrett resides in Charleston, South Carolina, and is in the process of setting up his own law firm.
Cathy Cooper was born in Moncks Corner, South Carolina. She attended Berkeley High School and was a dedicated piano player for much of her life. After a year and a half in college, she decided to enlist in the United States Army in 1988. Little did she know that she would she would be serving as a Quarter Master Sergeant for the next 22 years. During her service, Ms. Cooper was deployed to Korea, Panama, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. She was stationed in Fort Stewart, Fort Hood, Fort Lee, and Fort Bliss. She remembers fondly that, under her administration in Korea, only one pair of pants was missing at the end of deployment. This was quite the feat, given that Ms. Cooper was in charge of the inventory of thousands of items. She retired after her second deployment in Iraq in 2010. Ms. Cooper now works at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in downtown Charleston; she commutes from Moncks Corner. She is currently taking classes to get her Masters in Business Administration. She has two sons, a 25-year-old in the National Guard and a 16-year-old enrolled at Camden Military Academy.
JohnAndrew C. Felix was born in St. Lucia and moved to the United States in 1978. When he finished his high school dual-enrollment program, he entered the Air Force. He spent three and a half years with the Air Force working with a small unit rebuilding and refurbishing air conditioning ducts. However, he could not get promoted within the Air Force because he was not yet an American citizen. He was transferred to the Army, which has an expedited citizenship process for non-U.S. citizens in the military. In fewer than six months, Felix had his citizenship and was promoted to Sergeant in the Army. He served in the Army for the next seven years. He spent the majority of his Army career in Germany, but he was also stationed in Ft. Drum. He was deployed to Iraq, Somalia, and Haiti. Somalia was the toughest deployment. It is the place where he saw his life flash before his eyes. During the conflict in Haiti he served as a translator for six months.
Felix spent his last ten years as a recruiter for the Army National Guard in Connecticut. He enjoyed being a recruiter because he felt like he was truly making a difference in young people’s lives. After ten years in the Army National Guard, Felix considered going back into aviation in the Army. However, the medical examination board diagnosed him with multiple sclerosis. Felix was medically retired after twenty honorable years in the service.
Corporal Andrew Kispert, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who served in Operation Enduring Freedom between 2007 and 2012, reflects on his five years of active service in this interview. Andrew explains that “all five years was the best part” of his service. He talks about his training with the Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team as well as his infantry and designated marksman training. When he first deployed, Andrew provided security at Guantanamo Bay and worked for a submarine. He also trained foreign nationals in Bahrain, Pakistan, and Jordan. He is most proud of his time in Afghanistan where he guarded a main thoroughfare and a large dam that powered Afghanistan while leading a team in his platoon. He talks fondly about the men he served with and the lessons he learned from his five years of service, lessons that guide him on his path today.
At the height of World War II, Mr. William Krucke fought in Germany, his parents’ homeland, as a scout and infantryman in the 10th Armored Division of the U.S. Army. When he returned from the war, he recorded his memories in narrative form. The interview focuses on these memories.
Since he grew up in a German-speaking household, Mr. Krucke was the platoon’s mode of verbal communication with the Germans they encountered, military and civilian alike. As a result, Mr. Krucke came eye to eye with “the enemy” more than the average soldier, forcing him to realize that those he was fighting against were not all that unlike himself. They were young men fighting for their country, just as he was.
Mr. Krucke’s memory of the minute details of his war experience is incredible. He remembers the meals he ate and the beer he drank. Some of his anecdotes are surprisingly light and downright hilarious, with Mr. Krucke chuckling as he remembers the laughter he and his fellow soldiers shared during their time overseas. Yet he also remembers the fate of every member of his platoon, both the men who survived and those who did not. This is the reason why Mr. Krucke wanted to participate in this interview—to immortalize the men who he remembers as heroes.
Currently a student pursuing a double major in Political Science and Social Studies Education and a minor in Southern Studies at The Citadel, Specialist Ryan Leach served in the United States Army from 2002 to 2008, most notably as a member of the 545th Company, 1st Cavalry Division—the most highly decorated MP Company in American history. After two tours in Iraq—experiences that offered him exclusive perspectives on history-in-the-making as the Republic transitioned to democratic self-governance in the wake of Saddam Hussein’s 34-year totalitarian regime—Specialist Leach now looks to contribute through his civilian life as an educator of, and a role model for, our country’s next generation of soldiers and citizens.
Although Specialist Leach grew up in the Army as the son of a military-career mother, he nevertheless characterizes his own enlistment as a decisively formative—and transformative—experience. Through both his training and his deployment, he acquired not only the self-discipline and self-motivation that continue to drive his ambitious pursuit of excellence, but also a sense of responsibility to his fellow countrymen, whether it involve serving beside them on the front-lines or working alongside them in the classroom. In our interview, we discuss the process of transitioning into life as a soldier with all its quirks and idiosyncrasies, a process that not only teaches individuals the true limits of their physical and mental capabilities, but also prepares them to always expect the unexpected—skills invaluable on and beyond the battlefield.
David A. Mayeres was born on January 5,1961, to David A. Mayeres Sr. and his wife, Irene Mayeres, in Baltimore, Maryland. After completing high school, David had found a job working in a mill and foundry in Wheeling, West Virginia, making tanks for the U.S. Army. It was November of 1979 when David heard about the hostage situation in Iran. Moved by America’s response, David decided to follow in the footsteps of his father and uncle before him and joined the U.S. Navy at 19 years old.
David's first assignment was the U.S.S. Oldendorf, a Spruance Class Destroyer. He was assigned to the 1st Auxiliary Unit where he was responsible for several mechanic duties. During this time, he received training to be a part of the Rescue and Recovery Unit that served to locate downed craft behind Soviet lines.
His second assignment was aboard the U.S.S. Hector, where he enjoyed mentoring some of the new recruits in his division. He was later assigned to recruiting duty in Cleveland, Ohio. During his service, David won several awards that included Sailor of the Quarter, Sailor of the Year, and a Good Conduct medal. David was paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle accident while on recruiting duty. He was then retired from service and has since lived in Summerville, South Carolina, with his son, Ian Mayeres. He has made many friends who enjoy his sense of humor, which has helped him maintain a positive outlook over the years.
Stacy L. Pearsall joined the Air Force at 17 and immediately took to military life. After working in military intelligence, she fulfilled her dream of becoming a combat photographer, a competitive and challenging assignment that would take her to Iraq for two deployments, in 2003 and 2007. Married to another combat photographer, Pearsall is one of only two women ever named Military Photographer of the Year by the National Press Photographers Association, and she is the only woman to ever win the award twice. She rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant, and, after attending Syracuse University to further her photography studies, she became a photojournalist, the highest rank for a combat photographer in the Armed Forces. In addition to other honors, she received a Bronze Star for valor in combat after she helped rescue fellow soldiers and provided medical assistance during an ambush in Iraq.
Pearsall is the author of two books: Shooter: Combat from Behind the Camera and A Photojournalist’s Field Guide: In the Trenches with Combat Photographer Stacy Pearsall. Medically retired from the Air Force, she now spends her time teaching photography, speaking across the United States, and photographing former service members for the Veterans Portrait Project, which she started.
Miller Perrill is a Citadel Student and a South Carolina native hailing from Rock Hill. During his first year at The Citadel, a class speaker inspired him to join the Army National Guard. By the close of his third year at The Citadel, Perrill was deployed to Kosovo in Eastern Europe for a peacekeeping mission. During this time, Perrill and his company “kept the balance” by curbing violence between the hostile factions. Perrill served in all more than a year there, returning to South Carolina and his family to witness the birth of his second child. Perrill is now finishing his B.A. in English at The Citadel.