My Grandpa, Joe Post

Published 9:09 am Monday, February 11, 2019

Editor’s Note: Students from Elizabethton High School recently worked on a project in which they had to write profile pieces on local veterans in the community. The Elizabethton Star will be publishing one piece a day, highlighting both the work these veterans have put into their communities and the students who have spent time and energy telling their stories.

Abbie Addington

EHS Student

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I get in the car, curly hair sopping wet, and lay my folder and pencils on my lap. I am filled with nostalgia from preschool days past, swirling down country roads with Pal’s in hand. But this trip I squirm a little in my mom’s Honda, bringing my grandparents fast food instead of them picking it up for me on the way home. My mom and I pass dogs and ducks and large expansions of land I’ve always dreamed of getting married on. We roll up to the ranch style white house nestled just on top of the bend. I sometimes think I can still see faint remnants of chalk cities drawn on by happy grandchildren with Crayola in summers previous. I go up the wooden steps, and through the screen door nestled beside the washer in the garage. I am greeted with bear hugs on two different accounts. Nana hugs first, standing in the middle of the kitchen framed in with the same coffee pot and picture-filled fridge that I’ve always known. Then as I continue into the house, I am wrapped up by the man of the hour. My Grandpa, Joe Post. New Balances, dark green plaid button down, black suspenders with some sort of pattern. A smile he typically wears when we come over. Thin white hair lies on top of his head. When I was younger I would touch his head and he would complain that I was breaking all of his hair off. Sometimes, instead, he would claim that the wind blew his hair off. He has never failed to make me laugh for as long as I am capable of remembering. Now I have been given the opportunity to remember another side of him I never knew. Twenty years of his life prior to even the thought of my existence.

The clock I used to use as a reference to when Curious George would come on, clicked uniformly as we dove into this interview. He lived in Annapolis, Maryland, Port Carbon, Pennsylvania, and Falls Church, Virginia, before volunteering to leave his home at the age of 17. He joined the Marine Corps in 1958. Just a young guy looking for purpose. And that became his life. Almost 20 years of it, at least. He didn’t even act like making tremendous life decisions at such a young age was a big deal, it was just something you did. Before joining, he was just a kid who grew up “poor and playing outside when you could get away from Mother.” Then he was someone risking his life for his country. He is so brave I think, but humble. He paints a picture of simplicity in his answers. He started at the beginning. Boot camp, as he described it, consisted of, “basic Marine Corps stuff.” Camp Lejeune is located in Jacksonville, N.C. He called it the Grunts. He said he was 0300MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) which “meant you was a ground pounder,” before he moved into the air wing and got into the crash, fire, and rescue division. Basically he swooped in to save the day after missions and things of that nature. He would rescue pilots if they came in and crashed, put fires out, and help cool down bombs when they were let loose on the runway. That position is where he ended up retiring as well. His amount of hero in my book continues to swell.

He describes his work after boot camp plainly. Just going and coming back, doing your job. “Whatever came up,” he said, “and if nothing came up then you were just there for 24 hours and out for 24 hours.” He almost makes it seem like no big deal. He was constantly folding and refolding the napkin on the table as he casually talked about planes flying into his workspace. “I was on the other side of the runway where there was defense for Charlie (a name they used to refer to the Viet Cong) and I was coming back across and the airplane was landing called an A4, a strictly bombing plane, and it went flying past me and blew a tire and flipped over. Scared me ta death. Anyway we got out there and got the pilot out. It’s a pretty big airplane when you’re standing by yourself. But everything was ok. He got out alright and of course trapped the plane out.” And that’s just one day in one place.

“I’ve been a few places,” he answered when I asked where he had been stationed. He certainly wasn’t overestimating. Camp Lejeune, to Beauford, S.C., to Japan, to New River Jacksonville, N.C., to Japan again, to Vietnam, to Quantico, Va., to Beauford again, to 18 months in Okinawa, to Cherry Point, N.C., to retirement. I got out of breath just typing that. I gushed about how even though he was working and serving our country, he got to do some pretty crazy traveling. He got to see places I may never see. One of my favorite stories he depicted was about a phenomenon I’ll probably never witness. This is from his time in Vietnam, “Another time we had a typhoon come in and we were about two miles from the ocean and a bunch of us got in the truck. We wanted to see what it was all about. We got over to the beach and nobody was nowhere. And the ocean looked like it was about 30 feet high. And it was just sort of rolling in. So we rolled back in the truck and went back.” He laughed, “Yeah that was a scary situation. I’d never seen it and now I’ve seen it and I’ve never forgotten that and that was back in ’67, I guess so, so that’s pretty good. Stuck to your memory there.”

That wasn’t the only thing that stuck to his mind from Vietnam. But to him going there in 1967 was, “just part of it. I had the opportunity to go and I went…got it over with.” Vietnam was pretty much the first televised war America had seen, but sometimes the government skewed the perception of the people by what they showed. I was extremely curious to ask him about this. He said the media did portray them differently than they actually were. He said he heard that they were baby killers but they weren’t. They were just doing the job the government had sent them to do. A job he said that he would even go back now and do it all again if he could. He said this despite inadequate living conditions and hangers recycled from WWII and being on duty 24 hours a day. There’s just something about helping your country. He and his platoon lived in huts in Vietnam that were about a half of a mile away from the runway. Even when he was off he would be up the rest of the night trying to fall asleep. The afterburn was so powerful it would shake the dirt off the top of their buildings. It’s doubtful that was relaxing. He left Vietnam in ’68, and even though those huts were not ideal, he seemed a little disappointed to say he had heard they were destroyed in the Tet Offensive just after he left.

But his real home was in Tennessee, receiving letters from her husband overseas, my Nana. “When Joe was in Vietnam, I got a letter and it said he had gotten to Chu Lai and that it was a safe place,” she remembered. “I turned on the 6 o’clock news because that’s how we got all of our news about Vietnam. It said Chu Lai had been attacked by rockets. So I thought, ‘yeah, you’re really safe aren’t you?’” I was thrilled when during the interview she said she had a couple stories too. They have been married 57 years. He said he wrote letters like that to her every day. He explained to me how he would get 15-20 letters at a time and he would just pick the earliest dated one and start writing back from there all the way to the most recent one. I know he loves my Nana a whole lot because of how little free time he told me he had. 

I do know there were times when he did get to go back and see her considering they were married right here in Elizabethton on May 10, 1961. But that wasn’t always the case, as he put it, “You got to take all of your clothes with you but your wife and kids stayed here.” Though they had to spend time apart, there were times where they lived together. This is true because my mom was born on base at Quantico, Virginia in 1970. And my aunt in Johnson City before her. I asked him what it was like to live oceans away from his family. He said, “We were just existing. Doing the job we’re told to do to the best that we could. Took care of the kids and provided for what we could provide them with.” And provide he did.

My favorite story is the one where his granddaughter interviewed him and learned that it was possible for her to love him even more than she already did. He grew from the great man who enjoyed the funny pictures we would always take and who was always willing to share his living room chair with me. He is still that, but now also a superhero. Learning about a younger version of my grandpa “just doing his job” has made me swell with admiration. I will never forget the stories of a my-age grandpa he illustrated for me. I have always known I love my grandpa but now I get to love more of his character. The humility displayed in his answers and personality is something I see reflected in my wonderful mom and aunt. I hope one day that might reflect in me as well.