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Independence Day — 40+ Years Ago, and Today

Ed Thompson

Ed Thompson is Manager, Facilities in the Milwaukee Office.

A year ago in this series, Jon Labukas in the Q&B Washington DC office, reflected upon Independence Day in our nation's Capital. I've spent most of my 60+ Independence Days north of the "cheddar curtain" here in Milwaukee. Today I'd like to reflect upon two Independence Day's I spent elsewhere.

I was drafted back in May of 1969 (before the lottery), my life changed, quickly. The next day, I found myself in Ft. Campbell, KY for Basic Training, where this 19-year old experienced a complete consumption and new direction of his body, mind and spirit. I hated it, and it was the best thing for me. The first, and really only, day off in those eight weeks plus, was on Friday, July 4th. After the usual early morning "formation," and then breakfast in the mess hall, we were free to walk about the post, our first such opportunity. I have a vague recollection of going to the PX and the Enlisted Club, where I had my first beer in seven weeks! But, I also remember watching the class a week ahead of us "graduate" that morning, with our time to follow a week later. While I had not asked for any of this, and thought how much better off I would have been if I was back in Milwaukee (and at that Quarles law firm place), I also felt a sense of pride in my (vastly improved) physical, mental and emotional transformation.

Fast forward a year, to July 4, 1970, near Long Binh, Vietnam, where I had been for nine months, I was witness to a Change of Command ceremony at I had the luck and good fortune of a relatively safe, year plus, assignment to this Army unit. I was in a "base camp" environment for my entire tour. In a broad sense, I did work that was not all that different from that of my career here at Quarles & Brady. Guard duty every other night, yes, but I never had a weapon pointed at me, nor did I point one at the enemy. On that Independence Day, which included ice cream and all the trimmings*, I felt very proud to be an American. That year I made some great friends, we counted on one another, which helped boost our spirits in a place where we did not want to be. In the summer of 2009, to my great surprise and delight, I received a call from my Commanding Officer, who in the next couple of days after that July 4, 1970 ceremony, returned to "CONUS," as we called it, I never saw him again. Lieutenant Colonel (later Colonel) Madden had tracked me down, and called to ask how I was doing. We had a great conversation, he told me how his life had followed, he was even interested in mine, the lowly, drafted, SP4 who was his company clerk "(Radar," if you will) some forty years prior. Sadly, LTC Madden passed away several months later, but I was especially proud that I'd had a recent chat with him, and had sent him a copy of the July 4, 1970 Change of Command ceremony notice I had kept all these years. His son later wrote to tell me how much his Dad had appreciated receiving it.

I will be spending Independence Day 2013, our nation's 237th, at an area lake with several long time buddies from high school. I will stop at the graves of my parents that morning, my Dad was a 1930's Navy veteran, and a civilian employee in the Army during WWII. Quarles & Brady is fortunate to have many veterans, men and women, among its legal and support staff, and at least one active "Citizen Soldier" of nearly thirty years, SFC James Livingston here in Milwaukee. I know all veterans appreciate the importance of Independence Day. Have you thanked a veteran for their service lately? They will appreciate it…