The period of the Vietnam War was filled with many fears and uncertainties, leaving many to wonder of the outcome of the war raging in Southeast Asia; yet one promise seemed to remain in the forefront of every young man’s thoughts –the potential of being caught in the military draft.
Upon his graduation from Jefferson City High School in 1964, local resident John Knaup knew that he might one day end up in a military uniform, but chose to first pursue his education at Lincoln University.
“Let’s just say that I wasn’t really focused on my studies back then and ended up leaving school,” smiled Knaup, California, Missouri. “I knew at that point they were going to draft me, so I decided to join the Navy and hopefully not have to go to Vietnam.” Smiling, he added, “Instead, I ended up going to Vietnam twice because that’s where the (Navy) liked to send us, it seemed.”
The recruit attended his basic training at Great Lakes, Ill., in April 1966 and and then transferred to Port Hueneme, California, beginning several weeks of training to become a light vehicle mechanic for the “Seabees”—a group of sailors possessing both construction knowledge and fighting abilities.
“I told them that my first choice was to serve on submarines and my second choice was to be a Seabee, but I didn’t pass the depth perception test,” Knaup said. “That’s at least what they told me … but maybe they were just in need of Seabees really bad,” he grinned.
Completing his training, Knaup was assigned to the 31st Naval Construction Regiment on Port Hueneme, which he describes as “little more that a holding company” where he performed “horribly mundane duties” such as sweeeping and painting barracks. In May 1967, he was assigned as a light vehicle mechanic with Mobile Construction Battalion 3 (MCB3) and deployed to Vietnam, where his newly acquired skills were modified for a lube rack, changing oil and performing maintenance on bulldozers and other heavy equipment.
“We arrived at Phu Bai (an Army and Marine airbase that now serves as an international airport) and the battalion started building a brand new base about ten or twelve miles from the A Shau Valley,” he said.
For several months, Knaup explained, the Seabees operated forward of the rest of the troops assigned to the area while they built a new base, with a battery of 155mm howitzers positioned to the rear to provide any necessary artillery support.
“Six months or so into our deployment,” Knaup shared, “we came under attack. The artillery began firing rounds that were supposed to be forward of us, but they hadn’t properly plotted our location,” he added.
By the time the episode ended, two of his fellow Seabees were killed and seventeen wounded because of outgoing American artillery rounds falling short of their intended targets.
“You got as close to the ground as your body would let you,” he said. "After that incident,” he glumly noted, “we built ourselves much better bunkers.”
Knaup recalls leaving Vietnam in late January 1968, days before the eruption of the famed Tet Offensive. He remained in Port Hueneme for five months of stateside training, returning with MCB3 to Vietnam in July 1968.
“This time they sent us to Da Nang and we relieved another Seabee Battalion,” he said. “I was placed in charge of a tire shop and had another soldier working for me and two older Vietnamese men that had worked for the French Army.”
With a battalion of 700 sailors, Knaup said, he and his crew remained busy repairing damaged tires for all of their assigned equipment. By March 1969, the battalion’s tour ended and they returned stateside, where Knaup received an early discharge after completing two tours in Vietnam. The following year, he married his fiancée, Linda, and the couple soon welcomed their only son, John. The veteran went on to spend several years working for a local supply company and retired in 2007.
“There was no fanfare when I came home; I wasn’t treated any better or worse than I was before I went (to Vietnam) … it was like it never happened,” Knaup said, when reflecting on overseas service nearly five decades past.
Though he has since faced medical concerns that were a result of his exposure to chemicals in Vietnam, and realizes that many of his fellow Vietnam veterans did not receive the homecoming they deserved, Knaup affirms that his experience in the Navy was, overall, an enlightening experience.
“It’s a brotherhood—a mentality that you develop which proves that you are part of a group … not an individual,” he stated. “Whether what we did helped change the world, I’ll never know, but you quickly learn to watch out for each other because what you’re doing might just save yours or someone else’s life.”
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
‘A wonderful experience’ - Nancy Northway helped pave the way for women serving in the National Guard
Nancy Northway is a woman with an interesting and unique military background spanning many fascinating historical experiences. Completing service with the National Guard in both Missouri and Indiana, she began her career in the enlisted ranks and eventually retired as a warrant officer while also making the transition from the Women’s Army Corps to the full status of U.S. Army soldier.
Born and raised in Beloit, Wisconsin, Northway graduated high school in 1953. The following year, she was married and made the move to Jefferson City, where her husband was employed as a mechanic at a Ford dealership.
“The year after I was married, I had my first son, Jerry,” she recalled. “Three years later, our second son, Tom,” was born. Several years later, I was able to get a job with the state working at the Missouri National Guard Headquarters,” she added.
Employed as a secretary in the office Colonel Kirby Goldblum, who was an assistant to the adjutant general, Northway was encouraged to apply for a new program that afforded women the opportunity to enlist in the National Guard prior to their 39th birthday.
“I was getting ready to turn 39 at the time, so I decided to go ahead and enlist while I still qualified,” she said. “My official enlistment date was July 23, 1974, and there were only three of us who enlisted before the program closed a few weeks later.
The three enlistees were classified as members of the Women’s Army Corps—the women’s branch of the U.S. Army. They traveled to Ft. McClellan, Alabama, which had been established as the permanent home for the WACs, and completed two weeks of basic training.
“They taught us a little bit of everything while we were there,” Northway said. “We were fitted for our uniforms, learned military customs, did physical fitness training … all of the things that soldiers do,” she said.
Shortly after returning to Missouri, the women were moved from the WACs and became soldiers in the Missouri National Guard. She continued her secretarial work in the state side of her employment, but during her drill weekends and annual training periods, she performed an entirely different duty that was both interesting and engaging.
“I was assigned to work with a warrant officer whose job it was to pay the soldiers completing their annual training,” she said. “We traveled to Camp Clark and paid all of the soldiers in cash, and I thought that was really neat. That experience made me want to become a warrant officer someday.”
The colonel for whom she worked full-time encouraged her to consider joining the Missouri National Guard rifle team. She soon became the first woman to do so, participating in competitions in Ohio and Arkansas.
Northway and her husband later divorced and, in the fall of 1976, she made the decision to move to Indiana after she got a job with the Indiana National Guard. At first, she worked in a finance position and then transferred to personnel, serving as a unit administrative clerk. Having achieved the rank of sergeant first class, a warrant officer vacancy came available and she decided to apply. She was accepted for the position in 1984.
“After I became a warrant officer, the colonels and general I worked with addressed me as ‘Mr. Northway,’” she said. “The regulations at the time said that warrant officers were to be addressed as ‘Mister,’ and since females were new to the warrant program, it took them some time to change that.” Smiling, she added, “That’s all the funniness that happens in this kind of situation.”
Her new responsibilities as a warrant officer began with her active-duty appointment as a property book officer with the headquarters for the Indiana National Guard followed by assignment to the 38th Infantry Division.
“I had become a chief warrant officer three and was due for promotion to chief warrant officer four,” she recalled. “But at that time, you could only stay until age 60 and had to be able to complete one year as a chief warrant officer four to qualify for promotion, which I wasn’t going to be able to do.”
Retiring on September 30, 1996, Northway spent the next couple of years traveling. Then, having amassed an impressive assortment of antiques and other historical collectibles throughout the years, she and a partner opened the Yellow Moon Antique Mall in Mooresville, Indiana. Several years ago, her youngest son encouraged her to return to the Jefferson City area since she had no relatives living in Indiana. In 2013, Northway sold her half-interest in the antique mall in Indiana and moved back to Missouri.
“My son had built an antique mall in Jefferson City and we got permission for him to name it Yellow Moon Antique Mall,” she said. “Now there’s a Yellow Moon in Jefferson City and one in Mooresville, Indiana. My oldest son, Jerry, lives in southern Alabama and teaches avionics,” the proud mother added.
In her retirement, she enjoys leveraging her knowledge and experience in the antiques and collectible field by assisting her son, Tom, at his business in Jefferson City. Her career in the military, she explained, has provided many opportunities to be part of some historical changes while also serving as a mentor to others.
“I had such a darn good time in the service and enjoyed being able to help teach several women to become good soldiers,” she said. “Also, I got to work with everyone from the lowest private to the highest general during my time as one of the first female warrant officers. It was all just a good experience that I will never forget.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
World War II was a period when citizens of this country overwhelmingly rallied in support of the war effort, often sending their offspring to fight the tyranny spreading overseas. In Jefferson City, the war exacted a toll in the loss of the lives of many local residents such as Charles Ermin Kieselbach, who earned the uncoveted distinction of becoming the first Cole County casualty of war when he was killed at Pearl Harbor.
Born in Jefferson City on January 14, 1916, Kieselbach was the namesake of this father, a local bricklayer. When graduating from Jefferson City Senior High School in May 1934, he discovered that good jobs were elusive in the height of the Great Depression.
Later that summer, after spending several weeks searching for gainful employment, he signed up for work relief with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a federal program providing single men between ages 18 and 25 with jobs improving public lands, forests and parks.
“He worked in the CCC program from July 1934 to August 1935,” remarked his nephew, Wayne Kieselbach. “Still with no work to be had, he made the decision to enlist in the U.S. Navy in September 1935,” he added.
Beginning his four-year enlistment period, Kieselbach traveled to Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Illinois, where he spent the next three months becoming a sailor. His training soon resulted in his rate of a Carpenter’s Mate and assignment to the battleship USS Arizona in January 1936.
The website of the Naval History and Heritage Command explained, “USS Arizona, a 31,400-ton Pennsylvania class battleship built at the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, New York, was commissioned in October 1916.”
The site further noted, “In 1929-31, Arizona was modernized at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, emerging with a radically altered appearance and major improvements to her armament and protection.”
Throughout the late 1930s, Kieselbach remained with the USS Arizona while it continued operations with the battle fleet. A milestone year arrived in 1939 when the sailor reenlisted, earned the rate of carpenter’s mate first class, and married his sweetheart from Jefferson City, the former June Summers.
As a carpenter’s mate, the young sailor’s duties found him working with issues related to the ship’s ventilation, painting, repairing lifeboats and, in times of combat, assisting in fighting fires and sealing any holes in the hull of the vessel.
“The Arizona had teak decking and sometime in the late 1930's, the ship was re-decked,” explained Wayne Kieselbach. “Of course, as a carpenter’s mate first class, he would have been involved in this project.” He continued, “Apparently after the re-decking was completed, the carpenter's mates were allowed to use some of the old decking on personal projects done in their spare time. My uncle made a pair of teak lamps which he gave to my grandmother, and which my cousin now has.”
In 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to demonstrate American strength to the Japanese by moving the Pacific fleet (including the USS Arizona) to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The president attempted to allay tensions with Japan through diplomatic means, which quickly unraveled and resulted in deadly consequences for Kieselbach and scores of his comrades.
On the morning of December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor became ground zero for a devastating attack by Japanese forces—the signature event that drew the U.S. into World War II. The attack resulted in more than 2,400 American casualties and the destruction of nearly 20 U.S. Navy vessels and more than 300 aircraft.
A bomb detonated in a powder magazine aboard the USS Arizona, sending the battleship to the bottom of the harbor and becoming the coffin for scores of sailors including a 25-year-old Kieselbach.
“The USS Arizona Memorial is built over the remains of the sunken battleship USS Arizona, the final resting place for many of the 1,177 crewmen killed on December 7, 1941, explained the website of the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites. “This loss of life represents over half of the Americans killed during the worst naval disaster in American history.”
Devastated by the loss of their son, Kieselbach’s parents quickly committed to supporting the war effort, including two other sons still in the service, by appealing to their fellow citizens to purchase war bonds. Throughout the years, Kieselbach’s family explained, communication was lost with the young sailor’s widow, June.
In 1959, Jefferson City participated in observance of “USS Arizona Memorial Day,” presenting a check to a representative of Gov. James T. Blair to help with the construction of “a suitable memorial over the sunken battleship at Pearl Harbor,” noted the Sunday News and Tribune on August 9, 1959. Contributions were given in honor of the ultimate sacrifice made by Kieselbach and his fellow sailors.
The USS Arizona Memorial opened on May 30, 1962.
Nancy Snakenberg, a niece of Kieselbach’s, never had the opportunity to meet her uncle. However, she maintains that his respectable legacy has been passed down through her family, providing her with an enduring appreciation for all the sacrifices that were made on behalf of future generations.
“The Kieselbach family were a hardworking, loving and patriotic family who taught respect and integrity,” said Snakenberg. “Their values are directly responsible for my quality of life and those my children have enjoyed.” She added, “I am thankful for their examples they set and that their memory is being honored, including that of our Uncle Charles Ermin Kieselbach.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
The moments after finishing high school are generally a transformative period in the life of a youth since they must begin to map out an assortment of possibilities for their future. For Carl Smith II, when graduating from Jefferson City High School in 1989, his journey as an adult began with employment at a restaurant in the Capital Mall while mulling over the prospects for his future career.
“The owner of the restaurant and one of my coworkers were veterans and I often overheard them sharing stories about their military experiences,” said Smith. “Between that and some of the inspiring recruiting commercials I saw on television, I decided to enlist in the Army infantry,” he added.
Receiving orders to report to Fort Benning, Georgia, in the late summer of 1990, the young recruit completed several weeks of basic training and remained at the post for additional training to prepare him as an infantry soldier.
A significant portion of their training regimen was spent tramping through the dirt and grime while learning to prepare their fighting positions, the operation of an assortment of weapons and building the confidence needed to ensure battlefield readiness.
Smith explained, “I got to come home for Christmas and then flew to Germany in January 1991. My first duty assignment was with 3rd Brigade, 8th Infantry (Division) at Lee Barracks in Mainz. It was a mechanized cavalry unit that used the M113 armored personnel carriers.”
For the next year and a half, he participated in a variety of training maneuvers, some of which were at the expansive Grafenwoehr Training Area. Since he was both stout and young, Smith was often selected to carry the radio in a backpack while also toting the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (a light machine gun) during their training exercises.
At other times, there were training events during which there were too many soldiers available for the limited number of infantry tasks to be performed. On occasion, recalled Smith, he was given the bland assignment of assisting the staff in the mess section with their responsibilities of preparing meals for the troops.
“Actually, even though that was something I hadn’t necessarily trained for, it wasn’t bad duty,” he laughed. “When you were done for the day … you were done. Many of the other soldiers involved in the exercises still had training they were doing even after the end of the normal duty day.”
During 1991, his unit also participated in “Reforger 91,” a major training exercise involving thousands of U.S. soldiers and troops from an assortment of NATO countries. By this point, the Soviet Union was in tatters and the Cold War had fallen in hindsight, but many of the U.S. forces in Germany were preparing for deployment to the Persian Gulf War.
“In late 1991 and into early 1992, many of the units had deployed from Mainz for Desert Storm and since we had not deployed, our unit often pulled guard duty in Martin Luther King Village (a housing area on the base),” he said.
Departing Germany in late Spring of 1992, Smith received orders for Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment. His unit was designated as air assault and was trained to utilize helicopters for insertion into areas of combat.
With a chuckle, Smith noted, “I went from tracked vehicles to helicopters … and that was a little bit of a change.”
In the months following his transfer to the Kentucky military base, Smith’s unit traveled to a reserve component base in Arkansas to perform training maneuvers and exercises. They wore equipment called “MILES Gear” (multiple integrated laser engagement system) that helped them simulate combat. The gear sounded an alarm if a soldier was “shot” by opposing forces.
With his enlistment soon to expire, Smith began weighing options for the future and chose to return to the civilian world. He received his discharge from the Army in the spring of 1994.
“I enjoyed my time in the service but I was ready for the next stage in my life,” he said.
After returning to Jefferson City, he was employed at Scholastics for a couple of years before being hired into state government in 1996. He eventually completed law enforcement training and has served as a deputy marshal with the Missouri Supreme Court since 1999
“Tyronne Allen used to work in the library here at the court and he was commander of American Legion Post 231,” said Smith. “He convinced me to join and I have been commander of the post since 2015.”
American Legion Post 231 is named in honor of Toney Jenkins, an African American soldier from Cole County who was killed in World War I. Since its charter in 1934, it has been a predominantly Black post.
Reflecting upon the years he spent as a soldier, Smith remarked, “Whenever you completed a challenge the military placed before you during your training, you discovered that you aren’t so concerned about trying new things.”
He added, “I guess that I feel like the United States Army helped me accomplish a lot more since it instilled me with the confidence to know that I could overcome challenges and succeed in my life.”
Jeremy P. Ämick 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.