Interview with Dr. Charles Knapp by ROTC students Morgan Liszta and Savannah Lewis
Morgan: My name is Morgan Liszka, and I am interviewing you for the Veterans History project on November 30th, 2017.
Savannah: Hi, I am Savannah Lewis, and I am interviewing you for the Veterans History program. And I’m doing this on November 30th, 2017.
Morgan: So, why did you pick the service range that you joined?
Charles: Well, maybe I ought to introduce who I am so that people will know, okay? My name is Dr. Stanley C. Knapp, but I go by Charles. Most people know me professionally by Charles. I am an Army veteran. I was drafted while I was in a post-doctoral residency to become an obstetrician. I got a draft notice, and applied for a direct commission in 1962, and entered the service, and then spent just a month or two longer than twenty-nine years on active duty. Served in the Army. I was trained by the Navy to be a flight surgeon, and I spent my entire career as a professional flight surgeon. I acquired about 3,000 hours of flying in all kinds of aircraft, especially in helicopters. I served in Vietnam, and after my retirement I got a recall to serve during the Gulf or Persian War in 1990 and 1991. And the reason I did was because I was a specialist. I had spent almost five years working in the Middle East, and they thought I might be able to help. I’m a physician, but I’m also an engineer. And so my time while I was on active duty I spent two years with the Air Force, a year with NASA during the Apollo program, and worked in the area of command where I was in charge, you might say, as a consultant to the Army Surgeon General, the Army Deputy Secretary of the Army, to the Deputy Secretary of Defense. So, I’ve had a very long career. That’s me personally. I’m now fully retired and I think not going to be recalled.
Morgan: Can you tell me about training?
Charles: About training? Well, I was an officer, but I had also trained as an enlisted man. When I was in high school, I went to a summer camp in Michigan, and that proved to be very valuable. I went through the standard officer training school for physicians at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and then immediately went through the Navy training for physicians at Pensacola, Florida. And my training in the Army, I don’t know, never figured it out, but I’m sure that the American taxpayers have spent several million dollars training me. They gave me a master’s degree, I’m a parachutist, pilot, have a couple of other advanced certifications. I was an aircraft accident investigator, not anymore, but I was. The Army, the Navy, and the Air Force trained me well, and I took advantage of anything and everything that came along, never knowing exactly how or what I would do, because when you’re in the Army, they tell you what they want you to do, and I was able to have some excellent, excellent assignments.
Morgan: Did you feel any pressure through this?
Charles: Pressure? Oh, there's always pressure. Yes, of course. There are good assignments and less good assignments. There’s more pressure when you’re in an unpopular—something you don’t really want to do. But the advantage of service is you just do your best, put your nose to the grindstone, and pretty soon you get a change in assignment. Unless you are thinking of a different kind of pressure. What did you have in mind?
Morgan: Like, did you get pressure from your family to join, pressure from your officers, team?
Charles: Well, interesting question, Morgan. No, my family was very supportive. My wife loved the service. I have two middle aged sons now, they both enjoyed very much Army life, because we made all of the moves an adventure, and they liked that. And they got to see a lot of the country and a lot of the world. There's one thing I learned is that you could never go back. If you had a real good experience in one place and you don’t like the next place or the next job, you can’t ever go back. The grass is never greener on the other side of the fence. So, I made it a habit that everyday was a good day, and it was going to be an especially good day if I could accomplish something that I set out to do, or a task that was given to me. In the Army, sometimes it’s easy to just allow the flow of the bureaucracy to take hold. In other words, you go where you're ordered to go, you do what you’re supposed to do. I tend to be self-motivated. I want to learn; everyday is a better day if I learn something new. I like challenging myself. I make goals, but to accomplish a goal you have to plan. So, when I got drafted and applied for commission and came into the service, why, the Army had goals, but I had to make those my goals.
And yes, there was some pressure. For example, after I had served for three years, I’d been to Vietnam, I wanted to go back to what I was planning to do, to be an obstetrician. In fact, I was going to be a missionary doctor in Central America. My wife and I had lived there for a while and I thought it would be an honorable thing to do and it would be very rewarding. Well, it didn’t work out. So there was a lot of pressure as to whether I was going to stay in the service. I didn’t fully understand for about ten years all that happened, but it didn’t work out for me to leave, so I challenged the United States Army. I told them I would stay in, but I would need to do the following things: I would continue my education, certain assignments I wanted. So I mapped out about five years, and the Army said “no,” and I said “okay,” and I was ready to leave. Finally, they said “okay.” But I’ll never forget the young officer that presented the papers for me to stay and get a regular commission. He said, “I have been told by the commander that if you sign these papers, the Army is going to own you.” And I said, “Yes, I understand that.” They don't give away things for nothing, and not only did I have to pay back the money, but I had to pay back with service, time. And I figured it up, and I said, “Okay, I’m going to have about twelve years of obligated service,” and never regretted it. There was a lot of pressure around that as to what decision to make and what not, but everybody faces that in their life. But other than that, I wouldn’t trade it. I would go back anytime.
To continue reading the interview with Dr. Knapp, click here.