An Officer and a Gentleman Recalled

I was commissioned a Second Lieutenant 50 years ago and looking back I see it as one of the greatest achievements of my life. Also, one of the luckiest ones and I’m so glad to still be around to tell about it.
Yes, by an Act of Congress I was made “An Officer & a Gentleman.” I don’t know where that title came from  —  Great Britain I guess —  but I tried to live up to it’s “ideal” while in the army and when discharged and choosing different career paths in my life.

Like many veterans, I utilized the GI Bill to improve my education having gotten nothing more than a high school diploma, from a trade school at that. I got an Associate’s Degree, a Bachelor’s Degree and a Master’s Degree in four years relishing the training I got at Officer’s Candidate School to “accomplish the mission.”

At age 20, I was the second youngest soldier to graduate from the Fort Benning “School for boys,” aka the US Army’s Officer’s Candidate School. The company commander tried to force me out because of my age. He ordered me to do hundreds of sit-ups in a sleeping bag while in his office but I refused to quit despite having to go on sick call the next day for injuries caused my butt during the process.

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My brother, Sergeant George S Contos, gave me my first salute and pinned the yellow bars on my shoulders. He was a “lifer” having served more than 22 years as an Army combat engineer.

He was the one who talked me into going to OCS when I scored high in a leadership test.
A year later I was leading a combat infantry platoon in Vietnam. Thanks a lot Brother George!

————–

     No one was killed under my command although five guys were wounded one day, the worst day of my life. I am eternally grateful. And when times were bad in civilian life, I thought back to the war thanking God and saying “At least no one is shooting at me!

There was an urban legend that may have some truth but I don’t know. “What was the life expectancy of a second lieutenant landing in a hot LZ? (That’s a helicopter coming into a Landing Zone under fire by the Viet Cong.)

Sixteen minutes.”

I never experienced such a fire fight like that. But the first person killed when I served in Vietnam was a first lieutenant — Lt. Vic Ellinger — shot by an enemy sniper. I’ll never forget you buddy . . .

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     Many enlisted men disliked their officers. “Don’t call me Sir. I work for a living” some would say with a sneer. Well, I worked. I walked point in Vietnam, once using a machete to cut through the triple canopy jungle. I would never ask a troop to do anything I wouldn’t do. Except carry an M-60 machine gun, maybe. Hey, I am 5-foot-six inches tall and weighed only 140 pounds soaking wet back then!
The date of August 22nd will always be a glorious day for me. I became an officer then and I have tried my best to always live up being a gentleman. I feel blessed to have been given the chance to serve!

9 comments on “An Officer and a Gentleman Recalled

  1. contoveros says:

    The following exchange took place on Facebook:

    Terri Kira:
    I am always honored to hear your Vietnam stories. There’s no doubt that you still are an “officer and a gentleman”. I knew it from the first day we met. Thank you for your service, Michael J.

    Contoveros:

    You’re a sweetheart! I thought about you when you made your trip to Omega Institute and I wanted so much to meditation walk with you!
    Thanks my writing friend. . .

    Terri Kiral:
    We shall walk together one day. 🙏

    Like

  2. Katharine says:

    Thanks for this, Michael. I am happy to know more about some of the events which made you the wonderful person you are today.

    Like

    • contoveros says:

      Ah shucks, ma’am!

      Just doing my duty.

      But its so nice to reflect back and see how a person’s development leads from one thing to another. And to the people we meet along our journey like that lovely person from Rhinebeck, NY whose name I will not mention . . . Love you my WordPress-blogging friend!

      Like

  3. Robert Palumbo says:

    Proud of you mike how’s your brother today?

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    • contoveros says:

      Good to hear from you Bob. I’m sure you have your own stories to pass on about the war. I’m glad we made it back in one piece.

      My brother John is doing well. He moved from the San Francisco area south toward Sand Diego. I see stories about his youngest son — Rocky — on Facebook. He is a white-water rafter and travels all over the world and sends pictures. He would have been a great grunt in Vietnam. Walking point and maybe serving as a tunnel rat.

      You, me and Carl Disler as well as “Buzz” (Bobby) Richmond were the ones I remember serving a tour in Vietnam who lived around Brewerytown. Tommy Bush and Pat Ward were from Fairmount. We’re a band of brothers.

      Talk to you later!

      Like

  4. Robert Palumbo says:

    Proud of you mike

    Liked by 1 person

    • contoveros says:

      I was thinking about you when I put a postage stamp on a letter and showed my step-grandson a picture of George Washington enveloped by a heart.

      It was the purple heart!

      Proud of you too dude! You would have made a pretty good Greek, my Italian friend . . .

      Like

  5. This is a wonderful reflection! Is there a way for me to share this with my older brother? If not, that is fine. The reason that I am asking is because he also served in Vietnam many years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

    • contoveros says:

      Yes. Just copy the link above and e-mail it to him or go to my Facebook page and hit share!I think it will work but I’m not too computer savvy. Good luck and give my best to your brother who is my Vietnam veteran brother too!

      Liked by 1 person

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