Growing up in a saddle: Man recalls military missions with horses
St. Joseph News-Press, Mo.
The soldiers spoke English. The horses responded to German. Jack Teegarden, no stranger to stables, remembers the day as a hoot.
“The first day that we mounted up, they were bucking and carrying on,” he recalls. “It was like a rodeo.”
The Missouri farm boy, after serving with the Marines in the South Pacific, found himself in Germany with the boots-and-britches crowd. His Army unit had a part in the U.S. Constabulary, a force put in place to bring order to European shambles after World War II.
Displaced persons would cross the mountains into occupied Germany’s American zone, and no vehicles could patrol the treacherous ground. Horse soldiers became the answer.
Mr. Teegarden, who by his own estimation “grew up in the saddle,” became a Circle C cowboy.
It proved a good fit, an old-school cavalryman in a day when the cavalry had gone mechanized.
His father had once been a livery worker in St. Joseph, and the family farm near the former Rosecrans airport, before the Missouri River changed course, always had horses.
In his youth, Mr. Teegarden first rode a horse named King. The horses he got in the Constabulary, whose insignia had a “C” inside a blue circle, came from German units, one a pack mare and the other trained to have a racking gait.
Neither was ideal. Alice, the mare, became his primary mount but lathered so readily that commanding officers thought the horseman had abused her.
Still the soldiers carried out their assignments in the high ground, shutting off the flow of border jumpers, most of whom fled the Russian sector in newly divided Germany.
“We had displaced personnel camps all over,” Mr. Teegarden says. “Food was essential, and the East had food and the West didn’t.”
The horse platoons took their cue from a commanding officer, Gen. Isaac D. White, who during the war had led the “Hell on Wheels” 2nd Armored Division that became the first American unit to enter Berlin.
The general had been an expert horseman, and he would later oversee a U.S. Olympic equestrian team.
“White just wanted horses around, so we had a horse troop,” Mr. Teegarden laughs.
A spread of equine encephalitis began to take a toll on the cavalry mounts, and the Missouri soldier, who had become the troop supply sergeant, watched the dismantling of the mission. The days of horses used for American military purpose, from the founding of the nation onward, had come and gone.
Mr. Teegarden would continue his military service through two more wars, in Korea and in Vietnam. In the summer of 1965, the warrant officer shipped out of Fort Riley, Kan., with the 2nd Battalion of 16th Infantry Regiment. He was among the first Americans to leave for Vietnam as a unit.
Having attended the St. Mary’s and Christian Brothers schools when growing up in St. Joseph, Mr. Teegarden would use the GI Bill to get a degree at St. Benedict’s College in Atchison, Kan. Later, he would pick up a master’s degree in gerontology. He subsequently taught on aging issues at Highland Community College in Kansas and worked with the Area Agency on Aging.
As another facet of his post-military career, Mr. Teegarden also served as a hazardous materials expert with the Kansas Emergency Preparedness Office.
An advocate for education, he insists that highly schooled people might not be able to dig a trench. “You get a farm boy, and he would dig it as straight as an arrow,” Mr. Teegarden says. “Education just says that you cared enough to follow through.”
Amid schoolchildren, the St. Joseph man, of Blackfoot tribal descent, has spent many hours talking about Native American traditions. While sold on the ideals of America, and while a flag still flies outside the door of his South Side home, he voices reservations about the state of things.
“I’m not impressed with government today,” he says. “It kind of irks me that I fought three wars for these people that consider themselves to be politicians and they’re not doing anything for the people.”
Mr. Teegarden will always warm to the topic of horses, though. The 85-year-old now has the pleasure of watching a great-grandson ride.
“If you’ve been around a stable a lot,” he says, “you kind of like the smell.”
On mountains long ago, the soldier did his duty to America on a horse that understood German. The high ground looked wonderful from a saddle.