‘The joy of self-fulfillment’ - Green Beret discusses military career spanning more than three decades
Graduating from Jefferson City High School in 1960, more than two years crawled by at the University of Missouri before Lynden “Lynn” Steele realized he was not prepared to excel in his academic endeavors—a perception that would inspire a break from his educational journey and eventually lead to his membership in an elite component of the armed forces.
“While I was in school at Columbia,” said Steele, 73, “my grades started to slip, so I decided to leave and go to work for the highway department. But then I cooked up this idea that it would be cool to become part of the Special Forces,” he laughed.
Enlisting on August 30, 1963, the young recruit was soon on his way to Ft. Polk, La., to complete his basic and advanced infantry training. From there, he transferred to Ft. Benning, Ga., to complete his “jump school” and then received assignment to the Special Forces Training Group at Ft. Bragg, N.C., spending the next year at the post undergoing the strenuous process of becoming one of the famed “Green Berets.”
“It was a very difficult training program and you could flunk out at any point along the way,” said Steele. “During that year, a recruit was cross-trained in several different areas that might be used during a mission, such as demolitions, engineering, language and medical,” he explained.
Graduating in early 1965, Steele received his green beret and assignment to the Seventh Special Forces Group at Ft. Bragg, where he soon discovered the swiftness of operational tasking when he deployed to the Dominican Republic with seventy of his fellow “berets” during the Dominican Civil War.
“We kind of snuck into the country because we hadn’t been invited,” he grinned, “and camped out on the runway for about a week or so. We spent the next month pulling security on a mountaintop near Santo Domingo.” He added, “It was jungle terrain, so we used demolitions to blow away the canopy to create an area for a helicopter landing pad.”
A month later, as the conflict on the small island nation began to subside, Steele returned to Ft. Bragg, but weeks later received orders for his next operational assignment—this time in the beleaguered country of Vietnam. Arriving at Bu Dop on September 25, 1965—a small border surveillance outpost on the Cambodian border approximately 60 miles north of Saigon—Steele recalls the Special Forces camp protected by a mixture of World War II weaponry ranging from 4.2-inch mortars to smaller weapons such as the M-1 Garand and the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR).
As a “demolitions man,” Steele explained, he was “knowledgeable of field construction techniques” and “skilled in the preparation of camp perimeter defense systems,” all useful skills that he employed when helping rebuild Bu Dop shortly after his arrival. (The camp was one of several nearly destroyed during attacks from Viet Cong regiments in the weeks preceding his arrival.)
In addition to carefully disposing of unexploded ordnance left in the area, Steele participated in patrols with soldiers from two companies of Montagnards (a “Bronze Age” people indigenous to Vietnam) and a company of Cambodians also residing at the camp. While participating in patrols, Steele discovered the dangers posed by an enemy that was oftentimes greater in threat than one armed with a rifle and, which culminated in an incident leaving the unsuspecting soldier in the hospital.
“It was summertime and raining … and I thought about wearing a poncho but believed it would be like sitting in a sauna in the hot weather,” he explained. “I got wet and stayed wet, and the patrol lasted all day. Within a week after returning from the patrol, I had a fever and was sent to a field hospital with what ended up being pneumonia.”
Steele returned to Ft. Bragg in September 1966 after spending a year in Vietnam and went on to serve as a demolitions instructor for Special Forces recruits and, in 1969, attended training to become an infantry officer; however, he left the Army during a reduction in force in 1971 while serving with the 24th Infantry Division in Germany. Following eight years of active duty service, he remained with reserve units for the next 25 years, retiring in the late 1990s at the rank of lieutenant colonel.
In the years after his return from Vietnam, he earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree and retired in 2006 from his full-time employment with the U.S. Department of Labor. For the past several years, Steele and his wife have resided in Florida, but he has remained active with organizations such as the American Legion, VFW, and Special Forces Association Chapter 85, leveraging his experience from 33 years in military uniform to share with others the lessons he has learned while in the military.
“When I was growing up, I remember watching Audie Murphy in the movie “To Hell and Back,” and there was a scene of him and his unit digging in for a nighttime defensive position somewhere in the French countryside … and it was raining and they were getting wet. I remember wondering, ‘How did they get warm and dry?’”
Grinning, he added, “Years later on patrol while it rained in Vietnam, I wondered the same thing—and never did figure it out! But I also learned that there is nothing the Army will ask of you that you cannot do; it will help you learn to recognize and control life’s lessons and experience the joy of sell-fulfillment.”
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America
Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.