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Cecil Walters's Story
Cecil Walters was born on January 7, 1948, in Ashe County, to parents Dempes and Mattie Walters. He is the youngest child with five older brothers: Tomas, Wade, Wayne, Frank, and Guy. He also has two sisters, named Margaret and Shelby. He graduated from Beaver Creek High School in 1966 and then attended a Heavy Equipment School in Charlotte before starting work for a construction company.
In 1968 he was drafted into the Army and sent to Fort Bragg for basic training. This was definitely a period of adjustment. His unit’s drill sergeant was intimidating with a harsh, loud voice, yelling obscenities and making threats.
“His method of training was really a form of harassment. He made you feel just awful.”
Cecil went to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for AIT (advanced individual training). He specialized as a combat engineer and this training helped him prepare for what it would be like in Vietnam.
“It was tough; things were a lot different than what I was used to. We did receive better treatment from our superiors in AIT. They knew what we were getting into … heading out to Vietnam. I had never been anywhere away from home before, other than going to Charlotte for career school after high school. Being in the Army and stationed 10,000 miles away from home was a totally new way of life. Learning to handle my own life without asking parents for help or advice was a big change.”
Cecil was assigned to work with a team that built a road from their base camp, Phu Bai, located in Central Vietnam, into North Vietnam. The jungle surroundings and weather were things to contend with. While working on the road, these soldiers would keep moving further out in the field, forging through dense and entangled foliage and camping along the way. They would ride back to the main base every week or so, to rest and regroup for a few days, gather more supplies, then head back out.
“It would pour rain one minute and be hot and humid the next. It would rain with the sun shining. There was no use in wearing a poncho to stay dry, because it was so hot you would be drenched with sweat and wet anyway.”
Cecil was able to come home for a brief visit in 1969, but he then left to spend another eight months in Fort Carson, Colorado. He soon learned that coming home from Vietnam didn’t mean much to people.
“Outside of family, no one noticed you or wanted to talk to you … it was certainly not a warm welcome. We were treated like the war was our fault and that the government wasn’t to blame. What hurt so bad was that all the draft dodgers who escaped the war and went to Canada, where later forgiven and allowed back into the United States.”
He met Glenda one month after he got out of the Army, and on April 10, 1971, they married. He worked several jobs before he began his civilian career, then he worked for Gates Rubber in Jefferson, NC, until he retired in 2008. In 1974, Cecil joined the National Guard when the 1453rd Transportation Company was formed in Jefferson. He remembers once they were called to haul hay, sent from out west, to areas in North Carolina that had experienced drought. He enjoyed visiting different places for summer training. In 1990 the local Guard was consolidated with a unit in Lenoir and became the 1450th Transportation Company. They were assigned to haul fuel in Iraq during Desert Storm.
“This war in Iraq was different than Vietnam. Back then we had to worry about Agent Orange, chemicals used to spray the jungle. Now the fear was chemical attacks of tear gas, nerve gas, and deadly mustard gas.”
When asked how the military affected him, how he felt about serving, Cecil remarks:
“I think instead of doing away with the draft, it should be mandatory. Every kid within six months of graduating from high school should have to pull a two-year term in the branch of their choice. Things wouldn’t be like they are now if people had to serve. When you have been through the military your attitude to work and life is entirely different. It builds a strong work ethic and you grow up. You learn to be responsible because you have to make your own decisions and deal with the consequences, good or bad.”
“Today many veterans are aging and will soon be gone. There won’t be as many around to take their place. I think it is important to show up for our youth. When they hold special events to honor local veterans, we need to be there. Not out of glory for what we endured as servicemen, but as positive role models. The little ones at elementary schools are proud to have us visit their campus. They line the halls and serve us a special meal. The high school students also go all out with a special recognition event for Veterans Day.”
Cecil and Glenda have been married 49 years and have three children: Jeff, Jody, and Joy. They also have lots of grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Cecil served 21 combined years in the Army and the Guard. Serving the United States and protecting Americans is a Walters family tradition. Cecil’s brothers set an example for him, and this has carried down to younger generations in the family. His nephew Tracy served during Gulf War as a Marine and his grandson, Dustyn is on active duty as a soldier in the Army.