WASHINGTON — When Robert Mowl graduated from high school in 1965, he knew he was going to join the Army. But the Cincinnati resident may not have known the Army would become his career and home for the next 21 years.
|Robert Mowl prepares to feed soldiers during his Army service in Vietnam in the late 1960s. |
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“It was the best thing that ever happened to me, except for getting married to my wife,” he said. “I’ve been all over the world. If I had to do it over again, I’d spend another 20 years in the Army. That was my home.” Mowl retired from the Army as a sergeant first class on June 1, 1986.
In April 1966, Mowl shipped off to Vietnam for the first time. He spent 13 months there as a wireman in an artillery battery, waiting for news from home. Mail call was the most- tense and important part of the day when it came to soldiers’ morale, he recalled.
“If I didn’t get a letter I was down, but the next day I would get two or three letters and it would pick me back up again,” Mowl said. “The mail meant a lot to the guys out there.” He learned to recognize the sound of a mail helicopter, he added, knowing that mail from home was potentially on its way to him.
After serving two years of stateside duty, Mowl was called back to Vietnam, this time as a cook in an artillery battery in the 1st Cavalry Division. From August 1969 to August 1970, he made sure the troops in his field unit received two hot meals daily.
He learned to cook with whatever supplies he could get, in any conditions. If a mess tent was set up, he said, it would be shot at by North Vietnamese soldiers. “Whatever came out on that Chinook when we got to a landing zone, we cooked up for them,” Mowl said. “If we got 100 pounds of ground beef, they got a lot of chili mac, but we got them hot meals no matter what.”
The unit moved often, he said, and got hit a few times by fire from ground troops. Easter morning of 1970 stands out to Mowl. That day, he said, North Vietnamese troops overran his unit, destroying three artillery guns and killing 13 artillerymen.
Mowl caught a piece of shrapnel in his leg during the fight. He was able to pull it out, and for that he counts himself incredibly lucky.
“I didn’t want a Purple Heart, because I figured there were guys that deserved it more than me, but they made me take it,” he said. “I’ve got it. I don’t display it too often, but I’m proud of it. I’d do it all over again.”
Mowl said he’s proud to have served as long as he did –- his service took him across the United States, to Korea and to Germany after the war in Vietnam ended. But his companions in combat never left him, he said.
“We came to Vietnam as strangers, we left Vietnam as brothers,” he said. “I made a lot of friends over there. The friendships made a lot of difference over there.”
Mowl said that if servicemembers today can keep the military ethos when they leave the service, they’ll have no problem working in the civilian world. The things people learn in uniform are irreplaceable, he explained, and employers generally recognize the value of having a former soldier around.
“Use your skills when you get on the outside,” he said. “Remember the discipline. A lot of things are going on. If you keep that discipline in you when you’re on the outside, you’ll be a better man.”
Those who haven’t served, he added, should keep in mind the sacrifices people are making daily, fighting in places most will never know to protect things that are taken for granted.
“Support your troops. Support all military,” Mowl said. “If it wasn’t for them, you wouldn’t be here. It’s the same as the World War II vets –- if it weren’t for them, we’d be speaking German now.”
(“Veterans’ Reflections” is a collection of stories of men and women who served their country in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and the present-day conflicts. They will be posted throughout November in honor of Veterans Day.)
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)