Edward Sipes Jr.
Interview with Edward L. Sipes Jr.
Interviewed by Troy E. Sipes
Interviewed on May 12, 2003
At the Edward Sipes Jr. House
TS: Today is Monday, May 12, 2003. This is the beginning of an interview with Edward Leo Sipes, Jr. at this home, 419 North Bethlehem Rd., Marion, Indiana. Mr. Sipes is 54 years old having been born on September 12, 1948. My name is Troy Sipes. I will be the interviewer. Edward Sipes is my father.
TS: Mr. Sipes, Do you remember the day you received your draft notice?
ES: Yes, I do. I was still living at home with my parents in Marion, IN. I was working the night shift. The notice was received in the mail. My parents woke me up as I was still sleeping, to inform me, well actually just to give me the letter, which I opened, that informed me that I had been drafted.
TS: Do you recall your first days in the service?
ES: Very clearly. We were transported by bus to Ft. Knox, KY. The first week we were there, we went through a battery of tests. We arrived late at night, when we arrived at Ft. Knox, at the training center. A drill sergeant met us as we climbed off the bus. That was our first realization that our world had changed. We spent a week taking tests and learning some things about the military and the way it functioned. After that week, the purpose of the testing was to find out where we were best suited to serve, in what capacity. At that time in 1969, when I was drafted, there was a lot, a lot of people being drafted. We were held for another week in the testing area due to an overload of incoming military. We spent the second week learning a little bit about military drill but mostly just cleaning up and picking up cigarette butts, etc…
TS: What was going through your mind during those first few days. Were you angry, upset, satisfied about being able to serve your country?
ES: I was pleased that I could serve my country. There was no question, my father was in WW II. It was an honor to serve my country. The first few days, it was more confusion, things happened so fast and you were kept busy constantly from 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning till 10:00 at night. You grabbed a few hours sleep and it all started again. Your hair was shaved, well trimmed really close to your head. People that you had grown up with, you didn’t recognize them because everybody had their head shaved. It was scary because you knew that the war in Vietnam was going on and there was a good chance that you would be in that war in just a few short weeks.
TS: Tell me about your boot camp experiences.
ES: Boot camp was very interesting. It was interesting in that you learned a lot. They taught you how to deal with situations, how to fire weapons, how to kill other humans, but also how to work within an organization, how to work as a team and it was constantly moving. You learned to march, you learned to fire weapons, you learned first aid. They just taught you many, many things. It is basic, they did teach you just the basics but you learned enough that you could survive if you needed to.
TS: Do you remember your instructors from boot camp and other training aside from boot camp, specialized training? Do you remember your instructors?
ES: I remember my instructors. I do not necessarily remember all their names. My drill sergeant, was a short, very slender black man that loved to sing when we marched. He had all of us sing, it helped the miles go by and made life a little bit easier in that respect. There were others that taught us weaponry, Sgt. Bell was very good at teaching us how to use, maintain, and clean our weapons. I do not remember the captain of our company, but he was a pretty nice guy that kept us all together and for the most part healthy and definitely kept us busy.
TS: How did you get through boot camp and your other specialized training?
ES: Boot camp, it was just a matter of surviving it. We were kept so busy that you really did not have a chance to think about not surviving it. My father, on the day that I was actually inducted into the army, told me to listen to the sergeants in basic training because they were the men that would teach me things that would keep me alive. I took that to heart and I listened and I learned from those sergeants. After boot camp, after basic training, life became easier. Officers as well as NCO’s were more friendly, in many cases it became a first name basis when not on duty, and they were just, you were through the rough and tough and then it was more real teaching.
TS: You previously stated that you served during Vietnam. I want to clarify for the record, which war did you serve in?
ES: I served from February 1969 to February 1971. It was during the Vietnam War. I actually did not go to Vietnam.
TS: Where exactly did you go?
ES: From Ft. Knox, Kentucky, where I took my basic training, I was sent to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas for my military police training. I spent 21 months there.
TS: Where exactly did you go? Did you stay after you received your military police training? Did you stay where you were or did you move again?
ES: No, I remained at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas for the remaining 21 months of my military service.
TS: Do you remember arriving at Ft. Leavenworth and what it was like?
ES: Yes, we arrived and due to the lack of housing for non-commissioned personnel, we were actually placed in a bachelor officers quarters, because they were available. It was two men to a room and it was so different. It was a building that was built for the officers. It was wonderful compared to the barracks where you slept with 45 other men all in the same building, all in one big room. To be with two men to a room, actually had facilities in the room. It was very very nice.
TS: At Ft. Leavenworth, once you received your military training, what was your job?
ES: I was placed with an experienced military police officer and we patrolled the fort actually in patrol cars, not jeeps. We had an assigned area that we patrolled and did the same thing basically a police officer would do.
TS: Do you recall the name of your partner?
ES: Our partners rotated. We never had a specific partner. It was almost changed anywhere from a daily to a weekly basis so everyone served with everyone else.
TS: Did you ever come under fire while serving at Ft. Leavenworth?
ES: One time. There was a young lady that had been drinking and had decided to, well we’re not exactly still to this day I’m not sure if she had decided to take her own life or if she was going to take someone else’s life. It was late at night. She was actually sitting on the curb in the military cemetery. Being as we were on patrol, we drove through. She was sitting there. We inquired as to what she was doing. She pulled a gun from behind her back and started shooting.
TS: What happened?
ES: Well, she fired two or three shots. We were sitting on a hill so we rolled back down the hill and got out of the line of fire. We called for reinforcements. We, my partner, Spc. Zewenski, he exited the police car and had me drive. I put my bright lights on this young lady. He went around behind her in some trees and was approaching her from behind and was attempting, since I had her blinded with the headlights of the car, he was attempting to sneak up on her. Unfortunately, the major who was the officer of the day, got on the radio and announced that we were all to extinguish our headlights. I explained to him that my partner was in the act of sneaking up on this woman. I was given an order by this officer to extinguish my lights, which I did. That in turn, not only left myself, my partner, blinded, because now it was suddenly dark, but also the young lady who had fired the pistol at us, got away. It took us four hours, but we finally found her and were able to arrest her four hours later.
TS: I was wondering if you could tell me about a couple of your most memorable experiences?
ES: We had an incident, one time, with an officer, that refused to pull over when we attempted to stop him for speeding in a school zone. We followed this officer and he went to the racquet club. When we approached him to inform him that we were going to write him a ticket, he informed us he didn’t have time for that, that he had a racquetball time and that he was not going to stand around and talk to us and walked off. We reported into our sergeant who joined us at the racquet club, and the 3 of us, the sergeant, my partner and I, entered the racquet club, walked to the court where the officer was playing racquetball and walked in and arrested him and took him right out of his racquetball game. That was memorable because the vast majority of officers were very respectful to the military police. This officer was not. That was one of only two incidents that I had a problem with an officer.
TS: Were you awarded any medals or citations?
ES: The basic training medals of firing weaponry, also our military police training, the medals that we received for our accuracy in firing our weapons, which included the M-14 rifle, the M-16 rifle, the 45 caliber pistol, and the 12 gauge shotgun. I received medals for the accomplishment in each of those 4. I also received what we called the 90 day ribbon, which just was a good conduct ribbon because I was not in any combat zones, I did not receive any other citations.
TS: While you were serving, did you stay in touch with your family?
ES: Yes I did. We, since I stayed state side, and was only approximately 600 miles from where I lived prior to being drafted, my parents and family were able to take a vacation and actually come and stay a week off post at a campgrounds. We got to visit then. We also wrote letters to each other and an occasional phone call.
TS: At Ft. Leavenworth, what was the food like?
ES: The food was great at Ft. Leavenworth. We had some really good cooks. They provided us with plenty of food and the food was actually good, nice variety, unlike basic training where there was a lot of food but it wasn’t always good. This food that we got in the military was good, plus there was other places other than the mess hall to eat. We could go to the NCO club where you could order from the menu. You could also go off post to restaurants. We had snack bars that were available on post where you could get food.
TS: Did you have plenty of supplies, ammunition, clothing, boots, socks?
ES: We had plenty of everything. Since we were in a non-combat area, the supply line was good. The only thing we were ever short of was manpower.
TS: Did you feel pressure or stress while serving at Ft. Leavenworth?
ES: Ft. Leavenworth is unique in the military forts or posts in that it is a war college. At this college which they train officers from all over the world, they train them to become higher echelon officers. On Ft. Leavenworth at that time there were 2500 officers and only 500 enlisted men. It was a 5:1 ratio, officer to enlisted men, which is very unusual in the military.
TS: Did you feel as if you were under pressure all the time because of such a ratio?
ES: Actually because there were so many military officers, the normal protocol of saluting was not required and what was more confusion in trying to learn the insignias of rank, what country an officer would be from because these people were from all over the world. There were very few incidents where we had to deal with a foreign language speaking officer because the vast majority were English as either their primary or secondary language. There was pressure to, due to the ratio, and the fact that the military police were evident, to officers and their families from other countries, the pressure was more in using the right amount of force necessary, but keeping it to a minimum. It was a necessity to not offend, especially officers of other countries.
TS: Was there something special you did for good luck?
ES: No, not really. We were not in combat, so good luck was getting through another day of duty.
TS: How did people entertain themselves?
ES: Well there was a lot of drinking. That seemed to be one of the favorite pastimes. We spent a lot of time together doing sporting events. We had football, baseball. We had an auto body shop on post that we could go and utilize the equipment there. We were able to, we also had an airport on post where we could go and watch, mostly smaller planes. Also there were some big cities. Kansas City, Kansas was close by. You could go and enjoy the entertainment in Kansas City. There was also an all girls college 6 miles from post and so for young men of teenage to early 20 years, of course, that is always an enticement.
TS: What did you do when you were on leave?
ES: Well when I first, my first leave was after basic training. I had been gone 10 weeks and I had several friends that were still around. By the time I was able to take my second leave, which was almost a year later, a lot of the guys that I had grown up with had either moved away, gotten married, or had also been drafted or joined a military service. I spent time, a lot of time with my family, the few friends that were still around. It was more a time to relax and not have someone controlling your time.
TS: You previously stated that you served at Ft. Knox and Ft. Leavenworth. Did you travel anywhere else while you were in the service?
ES: Travel, yes. Part of our job as a military police unit at Ft. Leavenworth was to transport AWOLs and deserters from, that were brought to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. We transported them to Ft. Riley, Kansas where they faced trial. Other than that, no.
TS: Do you recall any particularly humorous or unusual events?
ES: There were lots of humorous things that happened, probably better left off of this tape. Unusual; on patrol at night, we were driving on a road that went around the officers golf course, the officers club and officers golf course. It is 3’oclock in the morning and right across the road in front of us goes a golf cart with two guys in it just flying right across the road in front of us. Well it turned out it was a couple guys from our company. They had been doing one of our favorite pastimes, which was drinking. So they had decided if there were any keys left in the golf carts and decided to go for a drive in the golf cart. Upon further investigation, they were not the only two. There were two other pairs of guys with golf carts. They had been running all over the golf course chasing each other, wrecking golf carts. As it turned out, what seemed to be a very simple, whoops, got drunk, shouldn’t have done that, turned into a fiasco in that they had done quite a bit of damage. That was pretty unique. It was an unusual event for that to happen and since you asked for unusual, that was pretty unusual.
TS: At any time, when you were serving at Ft. Leavenworth, did you ever have to make bank runs for money or other things being as a military policeman?
ES: Yes, part of our responsibility when the commissary, which was the military name for a grocery store, when someone from the commissary called stating that they had money that needed deposited in the bank, then we would go to our armory, pick up a 12 gauge shot-gun, go and pick up that person and transport them in our military police car to the bank and allow them to deposit this large sum of money and then we would return them back to wherever. It wasn’t just the commissary, there were other on post businesses that we also did that for. Then we would return our shotgun and go back to our normal jobs.
TS: While serving your country, you said that you patrolled a bank and ran money to a bank. Was the bank ever robbed or were there ever false alarms that stand out in your mind?
ES: There were lots of false alarms. The alarm systems which were silent alarms that the provost marshal’s office, which is the equivalent of the police station, the alarms would sound there but they did not sound at the bank or the commissary, where ever the alarm was located. There was one incident, when you asked me earlier about a humorous incident, in ways this was humorous. We had just made a money-run for the commissary. As it happened, our barracks was right next door to the bank and our armory where we needed to return the shotgun after the commissary money run. We were a block away from the bank when there was a silent alarm. We were dispatched there. I grabbed the shotgun and went running inside. My partner opened the first set of doors. I went in as an officer came out the second set of doors. I, not knowing if he was robbing the bank, someone who had dressed up as an officer and was robbing the bank, whatever, I stuck the shotgun in his face. Well, he turned a little pale and dropped down to the floor. As it turned out, it was a false alarm, which we had lots and lots of those. That was humorous in a way, this officer was not upset with us after the fact. He was kind of funny to watch him drop to the floor as if someone had knocked him over the head.
TS: Do you recall any other particularly humorous or unusual events?
ES: There was one unusual. The Vice President of South Vietnam came to visit Ft. Leavenworth. The 60’s and early 70’s was a very uproarious time in our country. There was one of many organizations, this organization was the SDS, Students for a Democratic Society, that were somewhat violent. When they heard that Vice-President Key was visiting, they said they were going to attempt to disrupt his visit. Disrupt we did not know how. I was assigned as a guard for him at the residence that he was staying. That was unusual in that we dealt with many different federal organizations, including the Secret Service. So that was unique in guarding a particular dignitary and being assigned to his entourage.
TS: What were some of the pranks that you or others would pull?
ES: Well in basic training, we used to do lots of little things to create humor. It was a very tense time in basic because you were constantly learning and under scrutiny by the non-commissioned officers and officers of your company. So most of the things we did were small pranks; hiding someone’s equipment, what we called ‘short sheeting’, also, being really quiet and ducking out in the morning, leaving someone in bed so they would get in trouble. Just simple, really childish things, but ways to relieve some of the stress.
TS: Do you have any photographs from your time in the service?
ES: Actually no, I don’t have very many. Several of them, all of them that I did have got lost. I still have my book that I bought from basic training that has pictures of everyone in my basic training company but no, I do not.
TS: What do you think of officers or fellow soldiers?
ES: What I thought of them then, when I was serving or as officers in today’s military?
TS: What you thought of them while you were serving with them and what you think of them now as you look back on it.
ES: Then, officers especially, especially the young ones, the second and first lieutenants, the words we used ‘gun hoe’. They had just come out of officers candidate training and were very excited about their ability to have authority over others. Most of those officers learned fairly quickly that their lives depended upon people that they were in command of. The non-commissioned officers were very very good in treating us most of the time with respect and also teaching us how to stay alive. Now I look back and that’s still pretty much the way I still feel. While I was still in, I met some older officers who were just very, very nice gentlemen. It was no longer, at that stage in their lives, it was no longer a power trip, it had just become their career and they were comfortable with their lives at that point. The non-commissioned officers again were very good in teaching us, there were a few difficult but we all learn in our lives to deal with difficult people.
TS: Do you recall the day your service ended?
ES: Never forget it, February 10, 1971. I had my own car at Ft. Leavenworth. We check out. We had spent a week doing the medical exams and checking out of the post. You had to check out of anything and everywhere that you had any contact with the military such as, checking in your weapon, your uniforms, whatever was assigned to you in the military. We were allowed to leave after we had all the proper authority. We were able to sign out and leave. I drove from Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas straight home to Marion, IN.
TS: What did you do in the days and weeks afterward?
ES: About three months before I got out of the service, I had gotten married. My wife had moved, six weeks prior to me getting out, had moved to Marion and was living with my parents until I got out of the service. I had been working for General Motors prior to me getting drafted and they had held my job. When I got out, I had spent three days looking for a place to live and getting back in touch with my employer. After three days, I went back to work.
TS: Did you ever go back to school after your service ended?
ES: Yes, I took some classes at Indiana Business College. After a few months of that, decided that I did not enjoy that particular field of endeavor. I had been working back at General Motors for some time and the advantages of working there and also the money made me stay there and not go back to IBC.
TS: What the education that you took, the few classes that you took supported by the GI bill?
ES: Yes it was.
TS: How much did it cover?
ES: It covered probably 95%. Basically I had to buy a couple books and supplies.
TS: Did you make any close friendships while in the service?
ES: Yes, there was two guys from the state of Michigan, one guy from Indiana, as it turns out, that I spent occasional time with after we got out. The guy from Indiana, we, actually he got married and we used to visit back and forth, our wives and us, couples.
TS: Did you continue any of those relationships?
ES: Yes, eventually I lost contact with the guys in Michigan, but Steve Creel, who lived in Greenfield, IN, we stayed in contact for 3-4 years. Then we lost contact again.
TS: Were there any other relationships that really stood out? Did you have friends going into the service that you lost contact with while in the service, and then regained contact later? Any real close contacts from home that passed away while in the service?
ES: I had one friend that joined the Air Force a year prior to me getting drafted. That relationship, I received a couple letters from him in that year and then we lost contact. After I got out of the service, we made contact again, and to this day, we are still very close friends. I had another friend that was drafted, we were drafted at the same time, we went through basic training together. He went on to NCO school, was sent to Vietnam, and was killed there. He tripped up a hand grenade that was set up as a booby trap, he was killed April 22, 1970. His name was Keith Lochner and he is on the wall. I had other friends that went into other branches of the military, some in the Marine Corps, some others in the army. Some of those friendships are still alive today.
TS: After serving in the army, did you join a Veteran’s Organization?
ES: For awhile, I joined the VFW. After a couple years, I dropped out. I was not interested in continuing that type of relationship with former military people.
TS: What did you go on to do as a career after the war? Did you continue working at General Motors? Did you ever finish up college after deciding that it was a good idea or was there something else?
ES: I continued to work at General Motors and put in 30 years. I retired in 1998 and started my own business and am still currently doing that. No, I took some more classes, basically in the computer field a couple local universities, but never completed a degree.
TS: Did your military experience influence your thinking about war or about the military in general?
ES: Yes, it influenced my thinking about war. War seems to be a glorious thing on television or in the media. When we grew up it was cowboys and Indians, or you played soldier, but reality sinks in when you carry the casket of your friends. And you see friends that are permanently disabled, either physically or mentally because of war. Today, I now wish we never had to have a war because I know what it does to people, but unfortunately we have yet to find world peace. Even though I think it is a goal we should all strive for.
TS: Did you ever attend any military reunions?
ES: No, as far as I know, no one has ever, since I have returned to my home town and have lived here since I got out of the military and should have been easy to find, as far as I know there have been no reunions.
TS: How did your service and experiences while in the service affect your life?
ES: I learned discipline. I learned that my limits, especially physically and mentally. It taught me to be organized, how to organize not only my personal things but also how to organize my life in thinking about the future.
TS: You said that you took some college classes, some before and some after. Is that correct?
ES: I took none before I went into the service.
TS: So you took some afterwards. Did you complete high school?
TS: You were the graduating class of …?
TS: Where did you graduate from?
ES: Marion High School, Marion, In.
TS: Is there anything else that you would like to add to this interview that we have not covered yet?
ES: I really think that reinstating the draft or requiring some type of military service or government service would be good for the youth of today. The discipline, the organization, learning how to deal with situations, not necessarily war, but dealing with having the team work, the camaraderie, the feeling of belonging to a large unit, but also the feelings of being proud of being able to serve your country. We are fortunate of having such a great country where freedom is something that we all don’t really respect as much as we should. It is so easy to just expect it to be that way, but without the struggles of the military draftees, volunteers, whatever, before who have fought for our freedoms, have died for our freedoms, for the liberties that we have. I think that 90% of the people, and I’m guessing at the number, that served in the military during that time frame are still to this day, very proud of the fact that they did serve their country and some very disturbing emotional times. I think that would help give direction to the majority of the youth of today. Even though the military has changed, being all volunteer, I would still like to see more of our youth being utilized in the service of our country.
TS: Once your service ended in 1971, did you ever consider serving in the military as a career, or serving more time in the military?
ES: I thought about it. I decided that two years of my life and the possibilities of continuing to fight a war that our country was mostly against, I did not want to go and serve at that time. I became a father, a parent, with a wife and child. No longer was, at that point, the low income a desirable way to continue in a career.
TS: If there was anything you could say to your fellow peers and younger people, what would it be?
TS: Something in general, a word of advice. Something that you might have learned while serving.
ES: Always try to find a way out of the situation without violence. That is not necessarily something I learned in the military, but something I learned in life. Always try to find a way to resolve an issue without violence. That is probably the best way to deal with situations. I just hope that we can some day, as a world, reach that.
I thank you for interviewing me, Mr. Sipes.
TS: Thank you for your time.