The Vietnam War – George Seldat – Welcome to the Army

George Seldat and his spouse, Peggy, live in Marshall where George taught at Southwest Minnesota State University, but his story begins elsewhere.

George was born and raised in Decatur, Illinois, and graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 1965. He attended a year of college before the nation helped change his life plans.

“I received a draft call from the President of the United States and had a date when I was going to be drafted into the military. I realized that I was going to have to go and serve, so I looked at different enlistment options and ended up enlisting in the Army.”

He understood that a lot was riding on these decisions.

“This was in 1967 during a time when Vietnam was escalating and there was a move to get more military into the infantry and send them over to Vietnam. I had a friend who had joined the Marines and been killed in Vietnam. Those things crossed your mind and they are certainly playing a role.”

He also assessed how an Army enlistment could help him.

“I had completed one year of college and I was looking at continuing. If you enlisted, you received educational benefits for every year of active service. So, it seemed that the GI Bill benefits would be substantial. I remember thinking that it’s a four-year enlistment and that’s about like going to high school, not too long a period of time.”

His college time helped provide options when he enlisted.

“I went into what was called the Army Security Agency, which became a branch of Military Intelligence. I went to Fort Devens in Ayers, Massachusetts.”

But before George could train for the Army Security Agency he had to complete Basic Combat Training like every other new draftee or recruit. Arriving for Basic Training was eye-opening.

“I took a train to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. We got into the company area at the Basic Training site and the experience (involved) a loss of control. Up to this point I had a certain amount of control over my life _ how you dressed; what you did; and what you said. We were standing in the company street and the Drill Sergeant was passing out information for government bonds. I’d had one year of college and was interested in finance, so I asked about the rate of return. I found out that you don’t ask stupid questions like that. The sergeant was immediately inches away from my face, shouting at me. It was unnerving. I’d never been treated that way. There were other things that happened during that first day; running, calisthenics, and seeing how people were treated.”

That first day of Basic Training shook George and he considered leaving.

“I went to bed that night and (thought), ‘I don’t belong here. This is not for me. This was not the way to treat people.’ What went through my mind was leaving. I spent a few hours thinking about it and (concluded) that this isn’t something that you can do. I made a choice to say, ‘No, let’s stick it out.’ So, that was my introduction to the military and, as time went on in Basic Training, I was able to exist in that environment.”

Once George accepted that his only option was to complete Basic Training, he engaged in the daily training cycle.

“We would go out and do calisthenics and running. Whatever we did, we were running. Then we would go for breakfast and stand in line. That’s part of the thing I remember about the military, especially Basic Training, constantly standing in lines. We’d eat breakfast and get involved in training in the morning, whether it was out on the rifle range; training on the use of gas masks; or something else. We’d go through training and then go back; get in line; and have lunch. In the afternoon it was the same; training of some sort.”

This training period led George to pick up a habit he later regretted.

“I learned to smoke heavily in the Army. I found out that when we completed a certain amount of training, we were told, ‘Light ’em up, if you got ’em.’ If you smoked, you got a ten minute break. If you didn’t smoke, you found yourself ‘policing the area.’ So, you learned you could either pick up garbage or you could sit, relax, and smoke a cigarette. I chose to sit, relax, and smoke a cigarette, so I acquired a smoking habit.”

George chuckled remembering payday in Basic.

“You were paid by the paymaster and you got paid in cash. It was around 27 dollars.”

He reflected on the lessons he took from Basic Training.

“I was in pretty good shape, but what I found was that you didn’t know when they were going to tell you to stop. Of course, that’s a good training tool to teach you to dig deeper; to reach within yourself and find the means to continue when you feel like you cannot go another step. The physical training gave me a different experience than I’d ever had before.

Despite his initial, serious misgivings, George successfully completed Basic Combat Training. The Army sent him on to Fort Devens, Massachusetts, for Advanced Individual Training to become part of the Army Security Agency.

The Lyon County Museum is organizing an exhibit about the Vietnam War and Lyon County. If you would like to share Vietnam experiences or help with the exhibit, please contact me at prairieviewpressllc@gmail.com or call the museum at 537-6580.


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