Veterans History Project

Patrick Michael Callaway, Petty Officer – 1st Class, US Navy, Feb 1971 to Aug 1976

 

The Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.

Like many kids coming out of high school in the early 1970's Patrick Michael Callaway (Mike) wasn't ready for the college experience. One of his high school teachers had served in the US Navy as an Electricians Mate. The teacher often talked of his Navy days and an inspired Mike Callaway thought that it would be something he could pursue.

His high school in Kansas used the point system for student accomplishments. With enough accumulated points, a student could graduate early. He earned both the points and early graduation. He joined the Navy and reported for training at the US Navy Training Center, San Diego, California.

Mike had never been away from home. He heard there were weird people in California. Now he's there. When he arrived at the training base, he and other BNGs (brand new guys) were soon familiarized with being yelled at, and yelled at some more! The young men went through the haircut process and were issued new clothing... they wouldn't need those civilian things for a while.

In boot camp, someone noticed that this young sailor had some talent in the drill and ceremony part of training. He soon joined the Flag Team representing the Base. The team worked on close-order drill and became accomplished. He was in a group that represented the Navy at San Diego Padre Baseball games, and was part of the graduating ceremonies for every recruit class for several weeks. He was still a recruit in boot camp, but was honored to do this extra work. In time, his graduation date arrived.

After some time on leave, he headed for BEEP School – basic electrician training. Here, he learned and practiced the essential skills he would need later on in his career. In eight weeks it was time to move out of the San Diego area and on to Port Hueneme, California. This is a major training location for the US Navy Sea Bees. There was a lot to cover in this program – taking six months. The time frame is 1971-1972. Most graduates of any military training situation were given a first opportunity ticket for SE Asia.

On arrival at Saigon, Viet Nam and a little rest, he and a few others went on to the central highlands. The Sea Bees were situated with a Marine Corps unit. Over several months and additional training, Mike developed a skill in working in and around power plants. Units needed an electrician in these plants.


In the process of entertaining themselves. One of the events was a flag-football game. One of the players was a guy named Bob... from West. "West? Yep,West, By God, Texas." And I can ride anything.

Hmmm... The guys found a water buffalo and hooked up a line from a deuce and a half truck (!) to the water buffalo. The water buffalo was on the move. When they slammed on the brakes, the water buffalo ripped the front bumper right off the truck and kept going. Bob decided he didn't need to ride a water buffalo that day.

He worked on several ship-board generators and on islands with similar operations. He served next on the island of Guam as an electrician. In 1975, the Battalion Commander received a call from his higher command to say that there would be about 65,000 Viet Nam refugees coming there in seven days. Well then...

This wasn't a reality game-show challenge. On the south end of the island, the unit took control of a little-used installation. They built a tent city that had the capability of housing, processing, feeding and tending to this huge number of people coming their way. Before the place was ready, refugees began arriving. All available plywood on the island was used up. The Sea Bees built a public address system, toileting infra-structure, lighting, and everything else in consideration. There was a significant change in the diet of the refugees... resulting in rampant diarrhea. (Nothing is easy in these situations!) There was quite a clandestine criminal operation going on as well.

When it was time to move this sailor away from Guam, he was sent to Spain. He had been cross-trained as a military policeman. He used this skill in verifying identification of various persons and negotiating releases of US prisoners in various places of confinement. One of Mike's best achievements was escorting two US military prisoners back home to Philadelphia, PA .

In 1976, Mike's tour of duty had ended. He was honorably discharged. America was a different place then. One would wear a larger cap so that snoops wouldn't notice the short hair cut. Service men would get out of their uniforms quickly.

Mike reflected that this would be the best and the worst of times. There were funny things that went on. One couldn't be in a situation and not develop some of the best relations with the other guys. It would be hard to understand, and if you were there, you got it. Mike thought it was one of the reasons a lot of Viet Nam vets didn't keep in touch with each other...

Mike worked for military contractors for years. His military experience was and remains a significant part of his life. He is a highly decorated Veteran. He suffers from Agent Orange contact and some PTSD. His left lung has collapsed as well.

Petty Officer Mike Callaway, you served America well. Thank you so much for your service!

 

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