Donnie Carroll Houck was born on August 22, 1946. He grew up in the Helton area and was the oldest child of a hard-working family. His father, Carl, farmed tobacco and corn and his mother, Pauline, worked at Sprague Electric and as a housewife. Donnie has three brothers: James, Kenny, and Gale (who also served in Vietnam) and one sister named Marie.
Donnie was in the first class to graduate from Northwest High School in 1966. He worked for Sprague Electric in Lansing, NC, for a while, but was soon drafted into the Army on September 7, 1967.
“It was on a Thursday … I first went to Charlotte, NC, for induction and then rode a bus to Fort Bragg for basic and AIT (Advanced Individual Training). My assignment was working in the mess hall, where I learned to bake. I would bake cakes at night and then drive trucks to deliver food to training fields during the day. On my first Christmas away from home I was assigned to walk guard duty. It was a cold and lonely time.
In the winter of 1968 I was deployed to serve in Vietnam. It wasn’t cold here, it was HOT, year-round, with temperatures often rising to 120 degrees. We arrived in South Vietnam at Cam Ranh Bay on a Sunday morning, but there was no rest on the Lord’s Day for us. We were put to work filling sand bags.
Later our unit was sent to Phu Loi Base Camp. My mom prayed for me all the time while I was there … from December 1968 – 1969. I enjoyed getting letters from home and sometimes there would be a bundle every week that would come all at the same time. Once while on a weekend of R&R, I went with some guys to Vung Tau Beach. I fell asleep in the sun and woke up with third degree burns all down one leg and across my forehead. When I got back to base, I had to stay in the hospital for at least a week to treat the burns.”
Donnie completed his tour and received an honorable discharge from the Army; he finally came home for good in September 1969. After a few days home, he went right back to work for Sprague Electric. Donnie attended Wilkes Community College and studied mechanics. After graduating in 1973 he took a job with New River Tractors and worked there for twelve years.
In 1984 Donnie’s life turned around for the better when he met Betty Bauguess. He was single and father of two girls, Michelle and Melissa, from a previous marriage. Betty was raising two children: a son and daughter, Derik and Geneva, from a previous marriage.
Betty remembers Donnie calling her on a Friday, January 13, and they talked through the night. She accepted a blind date from him and on Saturday, January 21, he picked her up for a night out. They married on June 30, 1984, and have a great life together. They are members of Fletcher Memorial Baptist Church in Jefferson, NC, and have attended regularly throughout their marriage. Donnie has worked on the church’s building committee for many years. Betty ran a home daycare; and Donnie helped with morning flag raising exercises, teaching the little ones to salute and pledge the flag.
They love to travel and always try to take one good trip a year. Some of the places they have visited include: Aruba, Cayman Islands, Las Vegas, Cancun, Nova Scotia, Myrtle Beach, and Pigeon Forge. They love going to Dollywood and have visited every year since the park opened in 1986. They also enjoy camping and deer hunting. Every year Donnie goes up on Pine Mountain, on the other side of Mt. Rogers, to pick wild huckleberries. He has been doing this since he was a boy for over 60 years. He loves to put huckleberries in his pancake mix … nothing compares to huckleberry pancakes. Delicious!
Donnie has been a member of the American Legion Veteran Organization for 37 years. He says, “The military is the best thing for anyone to be a part of. It is guaranteed employment. I learned a lot in service to our country. It makes you grow up and learn what respect for the United States flag really means. You also have respect for the office of the president. Whether or not you like who is elected, you need to respect them. Leading the country is a hard job.”
Donnie and Betty have eight grandchildren: Amanda, Tucker, Emily, Ashtyn, Drake, Montana, Molly and Megan. They also have three great-grandchildren: Marijane, Hunter, and Nicholas.