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Ashe County Veterans History Project: Lory Whitehead

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Lory Whitehead's Story: Narrative from an Interview with ACPL

In the 1970s, President Jimmy Carter called for more women to join the military. Prior to this time, all women entered the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and were not commissioned in the regular Army. Under President Carter, women with college educations and job experience could receive a Direct Commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army. Lory had been working as a Parole Officer in Miami. She completed her graduate degree from Florida State University and was commissioned to service in 1975 with an initial commitment of only two years. Lory reported to Fort McClellan and attended an eleven-week course designed to indoctrinate the newly-commissioned women officers into the privileges and responsibilities of being an Army Officer. Following her completion of this course, Lory was chosen to serve in the Military Police Corps of the US Army.
When Lory started active duty, she was still very much a civilian in her thinking. She first realized what it meant to be "in the Army" after rearranging her assigned room to make it less regimented and more comfortable. Then her roommate showed up in dress greens and admonished her for not reading the bulletin board, “You’re in the Army now!” Posted instructions noted the precise way everything was to be organized, even down to the clothes in the closet, spaced two inches apart!  
Lory qualified with an M-16 rifle and .38 caliber and 9mm pistols. Over the course of her service years, she rose in rank from a 2nd Lieutenant to a Lieutenant Colonel.  The hardest part of her service was being assigned staff jobs. She wanted to be out in the field with the troops rather than making plans back at headquarters. Lory loved the adventure of traveling and changing jobs throughout her military career.
Lory's Kosovo tour in the Balkans (2001) was one of her most memorable assignments. While there Lory was assigned to the Multinational Brigade East and worked as the Force Protection Officer for all troops in the American sector. She visited remote outposts to check on their safety and security and be sure they had everything they needed: sandbags, plywood, construction needs.  She worked closely with Vietnam veteran Master Sergeant Dale Davis, the NCOIC (non-commissioned officer in charge).  Lory and Dale had deep conversations about his service years. He was drafted into Vietnam while she had been actively protesting the war.  She learned from him that there wasn’t really anything wrong with protesting, but holding anger against the men and women who were in that war was wrong. They weren’t to blame.
I am convinced now, more than when I was a Vietnam protestor, that war is wasteful of human life and all our resources. This is reality, and writing is how I have to deal with it.
Staying in touch with family and friends while deployed was very important. Emails and letters were the only way to maintain contact. Just before leaving for Kosovo, Lory’s mom was recovering from a stroke. It really broke Lory’s heart when a card from home arrived in her mom’s shaky new handwriting because her mother had always had the most beautiful handwriting. Another time a letter came with five pictures from home (son, dog, husband). Lory remembers arranging those pictures on her bunk in every imaginable way before taping them to the wall over her bunk. “Those handwritten letters mean so much," Lory recalls. "You can carry them around with you.”
By the end of her active service years Lory’s nerves were shot. She had been living on guard against snipers and always careful of every step. She frequently witnessed the fates of soldiers who stepped on hidden mines and suffered loss of limbs or life.
Before her time was up, the 9/11 attack on New York’s Twin Towers took place, and she was deployed to work at the Army Operations Center in the Pentagon. Lory began fighting now from a staff position, reporting to the Operations Center for long, fourteen-hour shifts that alternated days and nights. This schedule was brutal on the body.
Her feelings about war, and the military in general, were galvanized during this time. Lory says, “I am convinced now, more than when I was a Vietnam protestor, that war is wasteful of human life and all our resources. This is reality, and writing is how I have to deal with it.”

Lory Whitehead retired as a Lieutenant Colonel from the U.S. Army in 2003. Her career included 28 years of active and reserve service with tours in CONUS (the continental United States) and overseas. She was deployed to Germany in 1996 as part of Operation Joint Endeavor and to Kosovo in 2001 as part of Operation Joint Guard. Her last tour of duty was in the Army Operations Center at the Pentagon after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

 

Lory Whitehead's Story: From Her Memoirs

As a child, I remember my father letting me read poetry from the Robert Service collection he cherished. Selections from 'Rhymes of a Red Cross Man' made lifelong impressions on me, particularly those dealing with the casualties of combat actions. I can feel tears welling up even now, as I recall those images from Service's works that have never left my psyche...
I was aware that most of the fathers of my friends had served in World War II. Some also went on to serve in Korea, and learning firsthand about those conflicts was part of our upbringing. It was a common experience for me and my playmates to pretend to be at war. We engaged in battles with toy weapons, captured each other, and delighted in our imaginary kills. It never occurred to us that this was unusual...
Growing up in Florida, I came of age learning to prepare for nuclear attacks and the aftermath of what those attacks would bring.  I was taught to hate communism without really knowing what it meant, and to believe that a life under such rule would be worse than a nuclear holocaust. Strange thinking, but typical life in the 1950's...
As I reached my late teens I became aware of the conflict in Vietnam, and for the first time my own generation was going to be sacrificed for a cause that would cost thousands of lives on both sides of the battlefield. I protested that war and saw many of my male friends do everything in their power to avoid getting drafted. Just as many answered the government's call, and of those who went to  Vietnam, I am certain they came back changed men. And some never made it home. When the names of my classmates went on the lists of those Killed in Action, I realized guys I had dated in high school were dead. Vietnam was now our war...
 

These excerpts are from Reluctant Warriors by Lory Whitehead. For more information about the book, visit https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22714258-reluctant-warriors.

Lory Whitehead's Documents