Wisconsin Veterans Museum

Oral History Interview with Gary W. Scalzo

Wisconsin Veterans Museum


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00:00:11 - Introduction

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Segment Synopsis: Emily is interviewing Gary about his military service on 07/29/22 at the Washburn County Fair. Gary is a U.S Air Force Veteran.

00:00:23 - Connection to Washburn County & Decision to Join the Military

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Segment Synopsis: Gary has lived here all his life, went to school here and graduated from Spooner High School. He couldn't go to work so his dad signed him up for a program where the government sent him to school to become a machinist. He then worked in Minneapolis, MN at Fridley Manufacturing making guns and missile launchers for the Navy. He got a letter from the selected service that was sent to his parents home, when he went to his parents home four days after the letter arrived he read the letter and threw it away. Then he let his parents know he had already joined the United States Air Force. He didn't go to active duty until Aug 9th, 1968.

Keywords: Active Duty; Fridley Manufacturing; Machinist; Minneapolis, MN; Spooner High School; Spooner, WI; United States Air Force

00:02:42 - Decision to Join the Air Force

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Segment Synopsis: Gary and a friend, Bob went into the office to harass the recruiter and the recruiter scared them. The recruiter asked if they had been drafted and told them they would be drafted in the next six months. The recruiter asked their specialty, they said they were machinists and the recruiter asked them to take a test. Then he made a phone call and asked if they wanted to sign up for the delayed draft program. They had a physical the next week and made the oath. He joined the Air Force because he didn't want to go in the Army, there was a lot going on at the time in 1968 and he didn't want to be digging mud holes or laying in ditches. He wanted to do something useful.

Keywords: Air Force; Army; Digging Mud; Draft; Physical Exam; Recruiter; Specialty; Testing

00:04:39 - Training Experiences & Achievements

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Segment Synopsis: Gary went to basic training in Amarillo, TX and he was one of the squadrons to be trained there. He took a bypass test to avoid tech school and he scored 85% (minimum score needed was 35%). At Moody Air Force Base, he was there with 2000 men learning how to fly airplanes. Gary later found out online that president Bush was training to be a pilot for the Air National Guard at the same time he was there.

Basic training started at 5am in the morning and he was in bed by 8pm or 9pm. They went through physicals and also mind games, that would try to break you mentally. Gary was in good shape then, he could run a 5 minute mile and was one of four people (out of 80) that got expert rifleman. Three of the four were from Wisconsin, including two from Spooner, WI. David Hansen and himself.

Keywords: Air National Guard; Amarillo, TX; Basic Training; David Hansen; Expert Rifleman; Mindgames; Moody Air Force Base; President George W. Bush; T-37; T-38; Wikipedia

00:07:59 - Ranks & Local Servicemen

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Segment Synopsis: Gary recounted how he moved up the ranks quickly. When he was overseas after 2.5 years he had a line number for Staff Sergeant. He found out that while he was in Cam Ranh Bay that other men he knew from his hometown and surrounding areas were serving in the same base, including Lyle Simpson and Barry Danielson. He recounts that there was an article about him in the Spooner Advocate around Christmas of 1970 showing him enjoying a beer with another serviceman from Minong, WI.

Keywords: Barry Danielson; Cam Ranh Bay; Lyle Simpson; Minong, WI; Spooner Advocate; Staff Seargant; Vietnam

00:09:49 - Requesting Leave & Communicating with Family

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Segment Synopsis: When Gary requested to leave early for Easter, it was denied. He communicated back home via cassettes rather than mail. Their family would fill up a cassette and he would send one back. He saved one of them. While he was overseas he was the head of night shift and read some paperwork that the man who was taking his place at the machine shop in Cam Ranh Bay was the guy (Bob Graveny) who he had went to the recruitment office and joined the Air Force with. They still keep in touch.

Keywords: Air Force; Bob Graveny; Cam Ranh Bay; Cassettes; Local; Vietnam

00:12:09 - Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Segment Synopsis: At Kirtland Air Force Base, Gary worked in research and development, building laser machines that were secret at the time. They ran lasers through rubies and emeralds in order to see the light. They also flew spy planes in the Kirtland Air Force Base because it was at a high altitude. Before he left, they wanted him to re-enlist for 8 months to send him to Vietnam to be an instructor. He told them no.

Keywords: Albuquerque, New Mexico; Gems; Kirtland Air Force Base; Lasers; Research and Development

00:14:16 - Life After the Service & Decision not to Re-Enlist

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Segment Synopsis: When Gary returned to Spooner after leaving the service, there was no work in Spooner. So he relocated to Madison, WI and Stoughton, WI for some time. Then he moved back to Spooner and worked on the railroad for 14 years. He chose not to re-enlist because they weren't given incentives to stay and at that time, felt that there were better things in life than the military. He said 25 years later he realized that if he had stayed in he could have been retired at 39 years old. He wondered what his life would've looked like. If he would've made it back. They wanted him to stay because he went up through the ranks quickly and would've been a Tech Sergeant in just five years. Which doesn't happen often. He says there are a lot of what-ifs and shares some advice. He shared that his knowledge and schooling is what helped him move up the ranks so quickly. He brought his uniform to the Washburn County Fair with six ribbons for Expert Marksmen, a Defense Ribbon, Unit Citation, and the other two are for Vietnam.

Keywords: Defense Ribbon; Expert Marksmen; Georgia; Madison, WI; Re-enlist; Spooner, WI; Stoughton, WI; Tech Sergeant; Unit Citation; Vietnam Ribbon

00:19:06 - Learning about other Places & People

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Segment Synopsis: Gary learned a lot about the world and that you don't need to leave the United States to see how bad some people live, which he attributes to education. He recounts his time in Georgia, where on clean up days, the Air Force guys would help out the National Guard and would go into low-income neighborhoods. He describes what he saw in the neighborhood, which included signs of segregation above drinking fountains. He talks about how this is still going on today, and recounts his experiences going to cities when he used to drive for work and during his Honor Flight. He shares his thoughts about why people end up living that way.

Keywords: Air Force; Army; Clean Up; Homelessness; National Guard; Segregation; Travel; United States

00:24:08 - Reflections: Honor Flight & Life Lessons

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Segment Synopsis: Gary paid to take his grandson with him on the Honor Flight and gave him a set of dog tags with a saying that explained what he thought of his grandson. That was in 2019, and he had lost them. But happened to find them last week. His grandson told him that he is going to wear them. Gary also talks about how you can't change the past and people most often change. He has learned to slow down as he has gotten older. He shares his philosophy on how to live. To slow down, laugh, and enjoy.

Keywords: Dog Tags; Grandson; Honor Flight; Life Lessons

00:26:32 - Traveling to Sydney, Australia & Motorcycle Trips

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Segment Synopsis: He traveled to Sydney, Australia on R&R and joked that he had to go back to Vietnam to get rested. He describes Sydney as a paradise in the middle of Vietnam. He recounts they wouldn't let him on the plane if he didn't have at least $300 for the week. The party area was Kings Cross and he will never forget his time there. He went to a Zoo and wildlife preserve and has keepsakes and photos from his travels. He turned 21 in Vietnam and bought himself a ring for making it to 21. He also road a motorcycle across the United States in one day from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Colorado Spring, Colorado, to Mongo, Indiana. He recounts waking up in Custer, South Dakota with 5 inches of snow under his motorcycle on Sept. 19th. He credits his time in the service for all the fun he had traveling.

Keywords: Albuquerque, New Mexico; Colorado Spring, Colorado; Kings Cross; Mongo, Indiana; Motorcycle Trip; Ring; Sydney, Australia; Traveling; Zoo

00:29:47 - Advice for Those Thinking of Joining the Service

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Segment Synopsis: Gary says that if they don't have education beyond high school, he thinks the service is a good experience. He states that it is only four years, it is not a lifetime. He recounts how fast life goes. He tells a story about times where people aging didn't match up with his memories and expectations. He loves to "dazzle" people, to make them laugh and impress them by doing things they think he can't do. He built a garage at 65 and he built a deck that people take pictures of. He dazzled people while he was in the service too. He shares his secret for how he was able to make the deck so well. He attributes his building skills and thought process to his work as a machinist in the service. He values doing things well over doing things fast.

Keywords: building; education; life lessons; secrets

00:36:00 - Closing Thoughts

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Segment Synopsis: He shared that since he was out of the service, for the last 25 or 30 years no one has cared. He feels it is different now, that everybody cares which makes him feel better. He recounts how the Marine and Army guys would pick on the Air Force and Navy guys because they were the grunts. Gary would respond , "We can fly you in and fly you out" and remind them that the Air Force had the best food. He shared that what had delayed him for the interview was that a girl at the fair stopped to talk to him, shake his hand, and ask him to tell stories. She was wearing an U.S Air Force hat, she wanted to join the Air Force when she grew up.

Keywords: Air Force; Army; Girl; Marines; Navy