“Grant, you’re an individual and the Army doesn’t allow individuals.”
Just out of boot camp, Roger Grant heard his commander’s words and spent his whole military career trying to prove him wrong.
The Columbus native saw the Army as a way to get out of a small-town rut and enlisted in 1966 with the Vietnam War raging.
“The military was an adventure, a chance to escape my current environment and get training for a career,” Grant said.
Grant, now a Sun Prairie resident, took every opportunity in the military to meet extraordinary people and do new things.
Shortly after graduating from basic training in 1967, Grant headed to Fliegerhorst Air Base in Hanau, Germany—just 15 miles east of Frankfurt—assigned to E Company, 122nd Maintenance Battalion, 3rd Armored Division.
The German people were welcoming to him and other American soldiers—-showing them hospitality whenever they traveled outside the base.
Just 20-plus years before, World War II had ravaged the area and Grant was reminded of that one day when an older man came out of his house to talk to him. In broken English, the man told Grant that he had served in the German Army during the war. The man offered his service cap to Grant, and with tearful eye, he saluted the American serviceman.
Just 20 years old, Grant was touched by the gesture.
“I guess it was his way of bringing closure to the war and saying he no longer was the enemy,” Grant remembered.
Grant made his mark in the Army and Army Reserves by being efficient and learning as much as he could—whether it was a fixing a vehicle or heading up operations of a unit, or overseeing a maintenance division.
When he landed in Vietnam in May 1969, it was the start of another adventure with an assignment to a motor sergeant of HHC, 45th Engineer Group at Phubai. Grant was committed to taking the experience for all it was worth.
“I had volunteered to go to Vietnam, “Grant remembers. “If I was going to be in the service I wanted to see all of the military—as much as I could.”
American involvement in Vietnam was okay with him if it was to hold off the communist North Vietnamese from taking over.
“We were there for a purpose—for democracy—I was not brainwashed, but I tend to believe that we needed to draw the line somewhere.”
The Americans troops, he said, were doing good things, with engineers building roads, churches and schools, and medical personnel helping in orphanages.
Be all that you can be
In Vietnam, Grant supported the troops—it took nearly 17 non-combat soldiers to back up one infantryman or a fighter pilot.
Grant’s skills fixing vehicles served him well. After leaving the service on November 1969, Grant eventually entered the Army Reserves in September 1973 and worked as a civilian administrative technician and then went back to the regular Army.
He jumped at the opportunity to be a maintenance technician, testing a new light assault vehicle that the Army was considering purchasing.
“That was a big deal for me to have a chance to have input on something the Army was going to purchase because I had seen so much junk—it was my chance to be part of history and that impressed me,” he remembers.
In May 1983, Grant was assigned as the Battalion Maintenance Officer for 2nd Battalion, 70th Armor Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, commanded by Major General Schwarzkopf.
In the first year of his assignment, the maintenance platoon (100 men) was recognized as having the Best Maintenance in the 24th Infantry Division. As a result of Battalion’s reputation, the unit participated in “Bright Star ‘85” as the only American mechanized element. Bright Star ‘85 was conducted in the desert at Gebel Hamza an old World War II British airfield near Cairo, Egypt.
A global experience
Since retiring from regular Army service in 1986 and the Army Reserves in 2004, Grant has honored his military memories.
When the Sun Prairie Historical Museum asked veterans for mementos to share in an exhibit, Grant offered up his uniforms and other objects.
While looking through his old military photos, he remembered a trip his Army buddies took in 1968 through Europe — visiting Portugal, Spain, Monte Carlo, France, Italy, and Morocco. He said the trio had the perfect skills to get through the 4,600 mile trip in 20 days, driving in a Volkswagen.
“There are three people you want to know in the military—the company clerk—because he can give you the company scoop, the supply sergeant—because he can get stuff, and someone from maintenance—to fix what’s broken—so we had it all covered.”
A year ago, Grant posted a picture on Facebook of a chimney sweeper he met in Germany while he was in the Army. After hearing a saying that shaking hands with a chimney sweep was good luck, he had someone snap the photo.
Not long after he posted the picture from decades earlier, Grant got a request from the man’s son explaining that his father had died recently and they didn’t have many pictures of him. Grant emailed the photo to him right away, happy to provide the memento.
Today, Grant is 72 years old, married with grown children and grandchildren—and often thinks about all he’s done since that picture was taken when he was just 20 years old.
“I’ve had experiences, saw things, and did things that I never could have imagined,” Grant said. “And plain and simple, I matured.”