Steven “Steve” Allen Dancy, Wilkes County native, lives today in the house where he grew up. He is the firstborn child of Carl and Marlene Dancy, and brother to Lennie, Donna, and Renee. His father started out in the Wilkesboro National Guard and then served in the Air Force during the Korean War. After Carl’s service years, he raised chickens and worked for Holly Farms until he retired. Steve remembers on the morning of his eighteenth birthday his father woke him up and said; You need to get over, and sign up for selective service.
“Daddy was all about serving your country and raised us to know that freedom doesn’t come cheap. If not for people joining the service, we wouldn’t have what we have now. He encouraged me to do my part.”
Steve’s feelings were, “I am no better than my daddy, and I had no second thoughts about registering. I had already decided that was what I was going to do as soon as I was old enough.”
At that time Steve had quit school and was working for Holly Farms. He was ready for new experiences and was looking forward to Army training. On November 1, 1976 he set off for boot camp at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. His highest test scores were in mechanics, so his Advanced Individualized Training (AIT) was in machinery.
“When I got to Missouri it was wintertime and the weather was cold and rainy. The most disappointing thing was, it wasn’t as rough as what I thought it would be. I thought it was going to be more of a challenge. I guess growing up on a farm really prepared me, so boot camp was pretty easy. I had heard from folks how hard training was, and it wasn’t what I expected it would be. Training has lightened up over the years. Nowadays when soldiers are under pressure, they can give the drill instructor a ‘stress card’ to get a break for a few minutes.”
Steve remembers one time in training when he did get a pass from his instructor Sgt. First Class Gilley.
“He was a beanstalk, black, skinny and tough. Sergeant Gilly didn’t play games. He had a job to do and he got it done. With me, I gave 110% . . . but one day I got so hoarse I couldn’t talk. I had to strain to whisper. While we were calling cadence I just had to move my lips, because I couldn’t talk. He had been jumping on my platoon because guys weren’t sounding off like they were supposed to. He knew I was trying, but no sound was coming out, and he kinda gave me some slack. I knew he was directing his angry discipline at the unit and not singling me out. Like I said, I tried to give it my all, but I did not volunteer for nothing!”
After training Steve served with the National Guard and was promoted to the rank of E4, specializing in mechanical engineering. As a specialist, he made a career out of the military and after thirty years retired as an E6. Looking back he thought the military lifestyle was pretty easy. The hardest thing of all was learning to deal with different people.
“When you are working with people from different areas, not the same kind of people you are used to back home, you have to learn how to relate to ideas and beliefs that aren’t what you’re used to. Sometimes you have to practice tolerance because folks may have complete opposite viewpoints. There are a lot of different cultures, races, and beliefs and when you are all wearing the uniform and working together these things shouldn’t matter. Thinking about combat situations . . . it is supposed to be ‘brothers in arms,’ but that’s not always that way. Sometimes brothers fight, but luckily they usually make up.”
Service in the Army National Guard is community based, although annual training was held in Granville County, North Carolina at Camp Butner. When a need arises, the Guard is called to protect the interests of the United States and may even be deployed for international duties if necessary. During his time in service, Steve went to Ecuador, Honduras, Italy, Germany, Mexico, and throughout the years things began to get serious.
“We wound up going to Fort Meade, Maryland in 2002-03 for about a year on a security mission. It wasn’t long before we ended up going to Iraq. We stayed there for about eleven months in combat service support. Elbert Sheets . . . we went to high school together . . . and I ended up going there together. It was nice to have someone you knew there with you. I worked at several different FOBs, forward operating base(s), while deployed.”
“Our job was to secure different areas for the troops. There had been a Humvee blown up and casualties by IED activity, so this was a pretty bad scene. We had dozer equipment and were assigned to destroy an intersection in town and other houses suspected as places where IEDs were manufactured. The houses were beautifully made out of stucco, brick, and cement roofs. They couldn’t use wood to build with because it was so hot it would curl and warp boards.”
“I’ve actually seen the temperature reach 150 degrees. It was a dry heat . . . you wouldn’t even sweat. Any sweat instantly evaporated. You didn’t even get damp. But, I have seen in northern parts of Iraq where a thin crust of ice lay on top of puddles. One amazing thing was I’ve seen bottles of water (that had sat covered in an ice bucket) turn into a slush as soon as they were opened.”
Being on constant surveillance for enemy attack, and dangers in the desert, can really get to you over time. Steve tried to remain ‘all business’ and not let his guard down. But one night he got drunk with some civilians that he had made friends with.
“They were getting ready to go back into Kuwait and had some homemade wine. The stuff was made with sugar and fruit that was jarred and buried in the hot sand. On these very hot days the heat would do its job and things would start to ferment. It was very potent stuff, about like drinking liquor. That was probably the only night I had felt relaxed and at ease the whole time I was over there. But there was a price to pay. I was busted and lost a stripe over the incident.”
Steve talked about how the feeling of always being on guard became so ingrained in how you operate that it never leaves you.
“It is worse now since I’ve come home. It’s easy to get wrapped up in what you’re doing and forget about what’s around you. I was talking to a Vietnam veteran at Wal-Mart the other day and was constantly looking around behind me, or turning to the side to look around him. He was doing the same thing too, forty years after serving. It don’t take a second or two for somebody to attack you or cause problems. Most combat vets have heightened awareness about their surroundings.”
With all that’s going on in the world these days, Steve carries a weapon openly and shares his thoughts about gun laws.
“What gets me with all this is . . . If you wreck and kill somebody who gets blamed? You do. Airplanes crash and the pilot is blamed, until they can prove it was an equipment error. Computers destroy lives . . . you're blamed, because you hacked into something. This goes on . . . but when somebody gets shot the gun gets blamed. And the gun won’t do anything, just like the car won’t do anything, unless it is messed with. You don’t know who will do wrong, but don’t blame me because of the people out here doing wrong. With all the things going on this seems to be getting worse. I don’t carry to harm you, I carry to protect you.”
Steve never worries too much about what may come, but lives life day-by-day.
“There isn’t anything like luck, it is the good Lord that provides protection. I’ve come to know this and I try to stand by it. He’s the one who kept me safe and got me home from Iraq. The main thing I wanted to do is get over there and get back. I trusted the Lord to take care of this and he did.”
While in service, Steve got his high school diploma with a G.E.D. test, so that he could get promoted to rank of E6.
“There’s things in life that I would change if I could have had a do over, do them again. Daddy used to say Hindsight is 20/20 and with foresight we’re blind as a bat. The uniform probably contributed to a lot of drinking, partying, and having fun. When I went in, you could drink at eighteen. You could go sit down when you had time off, have a beer or two, relax and talk, meet people you don’t normally socialize with, and kindly enjoy yourself. If you can be asked to defend your country, be told to have to take someone’s life, you ought to be old enough to have a beer. Looking back, I’ve had a good life and I’ve enjoyed it, but probably one of the biggest things is that I would have stayed away from that lifestyle and stood more with the Lord. But you know, you’ve got memories and you can’t go back and change them.”
Steve joined the VFW about a year and a half ago and serves as the Quartermaster. His responsibilities include ordering supplies for the post, keeping the bills paid, taxes, insurance.
“The VFW is an organization to build camaraderie, support, and to bring veterans back together. Veterans understand. If you’ve not been there you have no idea. If you’ve been there, you know where that individual is coming from and you know about their experiences.”
The basis of the Veterans History Project is to help future generations understand. Steve agrees that “our future is the younger generation and considering the times, they are in for a hard way if things don’t change.”
“Everyone needs to do their part. There is something that President Kennedy said one time: Don’t ask what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” People today have forgotten that and they need to remember it. Because their way of life, what they have in life, their free life, comes right back to another saying: Freedom’s not cheap. If you want to see the price go to Arlington Cemetery. That’s the price. We may not know why we had to fight these wars. In Vietnam the soldiers came back home and were called ‘baby killers’ . . . this goes back to ‘if you ain’t been there you have no right to criticize me.’ Some countries fight wars outside the perimeters of the Geneva Convention, the rules that are supposed to govern this. They think if they can sacrifice one child to kill an American soldier, they’ve done something. And they will use children. All of this plays a big hand and our future needs to remember this stuff. We, here in the United States, live in a civilized world. And to have it this way there are people who have paid the ultimate price.
After traveling to forty-six of the fifty states and being deployed to serve in several different countries, Israel is the place that meant the most to Steve.
“I paid my own money to take that trip and it was worth every penny. It was by far the best place I’ve been . . . seeing the place where Jesus has been and going out on the sea of Galilee. There is a museum with the boat that Jesus used to fish with his disciples. There is so much to see, it’s literally unreal. Over all the years that this stuff has been buried, destroyed. They’ve got tunnels everywhere. You can see the old columns from years gone by. If you haven’t read about it . . . Mt. Masada . . . how they got the water up there. You have to take a cable car up there. It’s about ¾ of a mile. We met a lady over there who was sent over with her sister, by their mother, to escape the Holocaust. Her story is amazing . . . another highlight of the trip.”
THOUGHTS FROM BLAKE DANCY:
Steve’s son, Blake, reflects on the years his dad was deployed to service in Iraq during the Desert Storm Campaign. His parents were divorced years before and he had been used to not living with his dad except for visits on the weekend. Blake, at age 16, had only been living with his dad for about a year and a-half when he was called away.
“It was different than being just a phone call away. Dad was gone and it was different. I lived with my aunt, dad’s sister, but I had a lot of responsibilities. I helped out with my grandmother, who was in poor health, and I did a lot of yard work. I didn’t have the life of an average sixteen-year old. I had school, work, and took care of two different households. I didn’t get to talk with my dad regularly. It all depended on what he was doing and there was a time-change for when he was able to call. When I went to bed, he would be just getting up. It was stressful not knowing if he was coming home and not knowing what the next day would hold for him. I stayed busy helping my aunt and my grandma and spent a lot of time alone in my bedroom. It’s a scary thought thinking that you might hear your dad had died in war. I did have a lot of responsibility and that helped me to get through a lot of stuff. I had enough to focus on that kept me from focusing on the negatives of what could be.”
“I didn’t have Christ then, and I started hanging out with the wrong people. That took me down a road that I didn’t need to be down. Once I wrecked a vehicle of his that I wasn’t supposed to be driving. I totaled it and there went my driving privileges. The only way I got to drive my truck was when my aunt was gone on the weekend and I would take my grandma out for dinner on Friday nights. After I wrecked it, he came home about four months later for a two-week break. I told him about the wreck at the airport. I had to keep it a secret while dad was gone, because I didn’t want him to worry about me or be upset while he was over there.”
“It feels good to know that my dad, men and women like my dad, are willing to sacrifice their family, and their time, to go fight for everybody else in this country. Many people probably don’t even realize the sacrifices that they go through, or that their families go through as well, to keep America safe.”
“You know I took the ASVAB test to get in the Guard twice. The first time I missed the passing score by just a few points, so I took it again and I passed it. But then, they said I had taken the same test twice. That I needed to go back and take it again with a different version. Well, after that I did not want to go through that again, so I didn’t do it. Looking back I wish I would have taken it again. But then again, although now I would be more mentally ready, I wouldn’t go. I have a wife and a family here and it's a different world.”
“There have been close calls (car wrecks . . . etc) over the years, and this makes me look back. Everything is a choice, but it is also a process. I found the Lord a few years ago and realized that everything you go through is a process to make you who you are.”