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Jennifer Bender

My Grandfather's Past

By: Jennifer Bender
College Now Course - BSS 1

My grandfather, Robert DeJounge was born on February 24, 1947 in Holdrege Nebraska where he lived until age 15. He grew up on a farm with his little brothers Kenney, and Timmy as well as three younger sisters named Nancy, Janie, and Laura. However Timmy, his youngest sibling, died at the age of eight as a result of brain damage he sustained at birth. My Grandpa had a rough childhood, with all work and no play. He was raised with little money, and spent most of his young life in poverty. He attended school and graduated, but was more occupied with tending to the livestock and growing crops. In 1966, he turned 18 and was immediately drafted into the army. Since there really wasn't anywhere else for him to go he was eager to start his training. Most people in America at this time were drafted and later became known for their patriotism and pride towards their country.

When my Grandfather was drafted into the army, the Vietnam War had already begun and times where rough in America. He began as a private in Fort Campbell Kentucky and eventually moved up the ranks to become a Drill Sergeant in the 101st airborne division. He was sent to West Point New York where he trained young men to become paratroopers. My Grandfather said that he was moved up to sergeant because he always kept his clothes neatly pressed, followed orders, and was a natural leader.

Throughout his time as a sergeant my Grandfather did what every other serviceman did which included going to bars and attending serviceman's dances. He met my Grandmother, Jo-Ann Mollo, at the Cardinal Spellman's serviceman's club in Manhattan where her cousin Bobby was playing drums for a band. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, but worked for a company in Manhattan. Almost everyday after work my Grandfather took the bus down from West Point into Manhattan to take her out for dinner. On the weekends, he stayed in hotels which made it easier for them to meet up. They fell in love immediately, and after only three weekends they were engaged.

A few days after proposing, my Grandfather was re-stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where he received new orders. He had about two months left to serve in the military, and planned to get married when he was released. However, in the year 1967, his division was among many others chosen to go and fight in Hanoi. Many people thought if this battle was won by the United States, it would be a turning point in the war. He would be stationed somewhere in Vietnam for a minimum of six months with his troops. Since he only had two months left to serve, and he would be in Vietnam for at least six, this meant that he would be serving an extra four months.

When the day of departure came, my Grandfather packed his bags and said goodbye to my Grandmother. He boarded the plane and was ready to travel overseas to Hanoi. There was a minor engine problem in the plane and he was silently waiting for the green light to depart. The Lieutenant started a conversation with my Grandpa and asked him about his time serving in the military. My Grandfather told the Lieutenant about a beautiful Italian girl who he planned to marry in two months before receiving his new orders, which caused the wedding to be postponed. The kindhearted Lieutenant put his hand on my grandpa's shoulder, told him to go back to his fianc , and serve the rest of his time in America as opposed to serving six more months overseas. He eagerly got off the plane and finished his term out of harms way at Fort Bragg, until being discharged on February 21, 1968.

My Grandfather's 101st airborne division got a new sergeant and headed overseas to fight in the War. After arriving, they were instructed to jump from their plane over Hanoi and defend themselves in an intense battle. The entire division was slaughtered, with not one man remaining alive, including the new sergeant who replaced my Grandfather. They were ambushed by machine guns on their way down, and shot as they glided toward the ground. The few that reached the ground unwounded were outnumbered, and no one's life was spared. All the wounded were killed, and no prisoners were taken.

My Grandfather found out what happened when the war was over, because at the time it was classified information. He was heart-broken at the news, and couldn't have been more thankful to be alive. When my Grandpa was released, he got married in Brooklyn and moved to California. My Grandparents had my mom, and three years later moved back to the east coast to settle down in Staten Island. My Grandfather went on to become a locksmith and is now a successful businessman and owner of Bob's Locksmith.

I consider myself lucky and am very thankful, because if it wasn't for the Lieutenant, I wouldn't be alive right now. He saved my Grandfather's life, and what amazes me is how close he came to going over to Vietnam. The war was terrible, and the United States ended up losing the battle of Hanoi and suffering numerous casualties. All in all, my Grandfather was proud to serve for his country. He was very brave, and doesn't think it was fair that his life was spared above so many other worthy men who died as heroes for their country.