The following is a guest post by Andrew Huber, liaison specialist for the Veterans History Project (VHP).
When you think of jobs in the military, what comes to mind? Infantry, pilot, tank crew and other combat roles are probably at the top of your list. Perhaps a few non-combat positions make your list as well, like mess cook, chaplain or truck driver, but there are hundreds of Military Occupational Specialties (or MOS) from which to choose. You may be unfamiliar with some.
For instance, take Carl Les Fordahl, MOS 4611, also known as a Combat Illustrator. It may be hard to believe that someone’s job is to draw pictures in the middle of a war zone, but while other members of his team carried M-16s into battle, he carried a pencil and a sketchbook. Carl drew dozens of illustrations while serving in Vietnam, 90 of which can be viewed here.
Back on the homefront, thousands of workers assemble bombs, bullets and other munitions in factories far front the front lines, but can you imagine putting a bomb together on the deck of a pitching ship with jets taking off all around you? That’s exactly what Heather Sandler did during her tour in Iraq as an Aviation Ordnanceman, MOS 6511. Sandler and her crew mates attached warheads, fuses, arming wires and other components of 500 and 1,000 pound bombs aboard the USS Harry S. Truman.
Interestingly, not all bomb assemblers make bombs that kill; some make “bombs” to win hearts and minds. Lee Ingrid Lane was a helicopter pilot in Iraq, whose unit dedicated its tour to making and distributing “candy bombs” filled with sweets, toys and stuffed animals she dropped out of her helicopter into Iraqi villages.
The Army may be the last place you would think a librarian would go looking for work, but for librarian Peter Young, the Army actually came looking for him! Young was drafted shortly after earning his Masters of Library Science degree from Columbia University. Sent to Vietnam, Young built a library for troops in-country, almost from scratch. By the end of his tour, his library had more than 5,000 books and newspapers being shipped in daily from nearly every city in the United States, and even audio recording stations where soldiers could record tapes to bring with them in the field. (I wonder if that’s where Bill Kilgore got his tape of Wagner in the movie Apocalypse Now!) Young earned three Bronze Stars for his work building the library in Cu Chi. He eventually went on to serve as Chief of the Asian Division at the Library of Congress until he retired in 2010.
The reality is that more than 90% of jobs in today’s military are not directly combat related, and they have a remarkable variety. A few have been featured in Folklife Today, including this one written by my colleague, Megan Harris, on weather observers. So the next time you meet a veteran, ask about his or her MOS. You may be surprised!
Know a veteran who played a unique role while serving? Tell us a little about him or her in the comments section, and then go to the VHP website, loc.gov/vets, to find out how to ensure the full, first-person narrative gets preserved for future generations.