Veterans’ Reflections: Maintaining the Military Ethos

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.
Cour­tesy pho­to
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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) 

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