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Two generations of fighting men

Soldiers reflect on missions, from Viet Nam to Iraq
By MIKE BROWN • Reporter Editor

Veterans Day parade Grand Marshal Herbert Dupre (L) and special guest Lesley Rodgers. Veterans Day parade Grand Marshal Herbert Dupre (L) and special guest Lesley Rodgers. 'Little piles of white rocks'

gave targets to enemy Every time Herbert Dupre saw the little piles of white rocks, he scattered them to the four winds.

It's not that Dupre was a vandal, far from it. Sgt. Dupre was on duty in the Da Nang, Vietnam, Ammo Dump and the piles of rocks were "targets" left behind by Viet Cong infiltrators.

Dupre will be grand marshal at 10 a.m. Saturday when Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6525 holds its annual Veterans Day Parade in downtown Rockdale.

He's a 21-year veteran, serving first in the Air Force, then in the Marines.

Vietnam

Dupre served 13 months in Vietnam, all of one tour and part of an other. All of it was in the busy Da Nang Ammo Dump.

"We were going 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he said. "It was our job to get the ammo out to the troops in the field."

While Dupre wasn't involved in any combat action, it was always a threat.

In fact, the Da Nang Ammo Dump was blown up on April 27, 1969 — not during Dupre's tour of duty — triggering a "fireworks spectacular" that went off for most of a day.

Reporter photos/Ken Esten Cooke and Mike Brown Reporter photos/Ken Esten Cooke and Mike Brown A VC rocket, guided no doubt by one of those piles of little white rocks, struck the facility.

Shots, rain One of Dupre's most vivid memories of Vietnam was the of the infamous plague Reporter photos/Ken Esten Cooke and Mike Brown shots.

"It's the tropics and there was a chance of plague and they used to give us the shots every six months," he said.

"Big old needles and a lot of serum, one cc. for every 20 pounds you weighed," he recalled. "You'd get it in the rear end and it was so much they had to shoot you twice to get enough of a dose. They'd get you on both sides.

"During the rainy season, it came down all the time," he said. "You had to be careful because you could take one wrong step and be up to your waist in mud."

Dupre also remembers Vietnam's "wildlife."

"We set traps for rats and I swear one night we caught one that was this long," he said, holding his hands almost a foot and a half apart."

Herbert Dupre, stationed in Japan during his years in the Air Force. He will serve as Grand Marshal in Saturday's Veterans Day parade. Herbert Dupre, stationed in Japan during his years in the Air Force. He will serve as Grand Marshal in Saturday's Veterans Day parade. Air Force

A native of Abilene, Dupre enlisted in the U. S. Air Force in January, 1950. He was in the USAF for four years, then became a Marine.

His USAF service spanned the Korean War, but Dupre stayed stateside. He would be in Korea later in his career, along with Japan and many places in the Far East.

Drill instructor

His career was spent in the many Marines' maintenance departments, working on aircraft, weapons and much more.

Dupre was a drill instructor (DI) in San Diego for three years.

"I had three platoons to train," he said. "Years later I would run into some of those guys I trained."

A back injury forced him back stateside from the Far East later in his Marine career.

"I retired in February, 1971, with the rank of Master Sergeant," Dupre said.

Then he came to Rockdale.

"My wife, the former Agnes Strelsky, was from Rockdale, so we came back here and settled," Dupre said. "We've been here ever since." Changes seen from Desert Storm

Above, Ugandan soldiers breathe a little easier as Mine Resistant Ambush Vehicles (MRAPs) head back to a secured military area in a photo taken by Rodgers during his last tour of Iraq which concluded last year. Above, Ugandan soldiers breathe a little easier as Mine Resistant Ambush Vehicles (MRAPs) head back to a secured military area in a photo taken by Rodgers during his last tour of Iraq which concluded last year. to Iraqi Freedom It was that "grey area" that happens sometimes in military action. Sgt. Lesley Rodgers of Lexington had "sort of" been ordered not to return his battered humvee to base, even though it had been hit by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Iraq four years ago, seriously wounding his gunner.

But then he wasn't going to let a soldier in his care die while waiting for medical help, either.

So Rodgers, who will be a special guest of Rockdale VFW Post 6525 in Saturday's Veterans Day parade, returned to Camp Al Taqqadum as fast as he could.

That saved a life.

Body builder

Specialist Lee—Rodgers doesn't remember his first name—survived his wounds, received the Purple Heart and returned home to Texas.

At left, Rodgers presented an insignia plaque to an Iraqi general whose rank compares to a chief of staff in the American Army. "I don't remember his name but I spent quite a while with him and he was a real good guy," Rodgers said. At left, Rodgers presented an insignia plaque to an Iraqi general whose rank compares to a chief of staff in the American Army. "I don't remember his name but I spent quite a while with him and he was a real good guy," Rodgers said. "They told us two things saved him," Rodgers said. "One, that he was a body builder and having his muscles so devloped kept the shrapnel from penetrating too deeply even though it got under his body armor."

And the other factor? "That we got him back to base so quickly," Rodgers said.

Two days previously Rodgers' lieutenant had been told by his colonel not to bring any of his patrolling vehicles back without the others, for any reason, fearing the Americans would be outnumbered in a combat situation.

Did anything happen because Rodgers tech- nically disobeyed that order. "No, they all understood the situation," Rodgers said.

High tech

Rodgers, who has been in the regular Army or Army National Guard for the past 22 years, served two tours of duty in Iraq.

He returned from the second tour in August. Rodgers said a lot had changed since 2005.

"The Iraqi Army had assumed much more responsibility," he said. "It wasn't at all like four years when vehicles I was in got hit three times by IEDs.

Rodgers worked in security, screening entry to military locations. His job was to determine of persons seeking access were security risks.

That's much more high tech than it sounds.

"We checked fingerprints and we checked their eyes," he said.

Miltary squads, similar to the CSI teams so popular on television, respond to every IED detonation site.

"They lift fingerprints and those go into a database," Rodgers said. "So someday you see someone seeking access whose fingerprints were on an IED and that's someone you're not going to let in."

"Corneas (part of the eye) are even more individual than fingerprints," Rodgers said. "Eye information is also recorded, whenever someone comes into contact with police, so there's another check."

The process is called "biometrics."

Desert storm

Rodgers is also a veteran of Operation Desert Storm, the first Iraq War in 1991.

"It all happened so fast," he said. "It was really something for a 23-year-old to experience."

Rodgers was the gunner on a Bradley armored vehicle. Derik Strelsky of Rockdale was part of the crew.

The Bradley was part of a massive effort to outflank Saddam Hussein's feared Republican Guard.

It was no contest. "We were so technolog ic a lly superior," Rodgers said. "Everything was computerized. The gunner's job was to line up the target in the crosshairs and press the trigger."

It was called the 100-hour war.

Military structure

After getting out of the Army, Rodgers tried total civilian life for a while but ended up enlisting in the Texas National Guard.

"I missed that military structure," Rodgers said. "I decided to get back in it."

But his "weekend army" turned into much more.

In 2003, Rodgers was activated to search for pieces of the space shuttle Columbia which broke up over East Texas.

"We searched for debris, literally shoulder to shoulder going through fields, forest, water, all over east Texas," he recalled.

The guard found some parts of the shuttle but no remains of the seven astronauts killed in the explosion.

Iraq tours

Two years later he was on his way to Iraq.

"This was during the time of greatest attacks on American forces," Rodgers said.

But he made it home.

Four years later, in his second tour, both the strategic landscape and the technology had changed.

In addition to the Iraqi army taking over most of the duties, there's a new breed of almost IED -resistant armored vehicles dubbed Mine Resistant A mbush Protected (MRAPs).

"Those are much safer and effective then the old humvees," Rodgers said.

He came home to wife Kim Foster-Rodgers and their two dogs "that we treat like children" on Aug. 17.

Rodgers is currently on leave and will be until Nov. 25.

The next day he becomes site administrator for Bryan area National Guard recruiters.

"I'll provide support for the new recruits between the time they sign up and the time they leave for training," Rodgers said.

He turns away any praise for his actions or those of his fellow men and women in harm's way.

"We're just doing our jobs," he said.


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The burn ban for Milam County has been lifted. Burning is always prohibited in the county's municipalities.


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