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For Georgia man, joining the military was a given

By ELIZABETH FITE | Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn. (Tribune News Service) | Published: November 4, 2017

Walking up the wooden stairs to Harold Silcox's "man cave" feels more like walking into a history museum.

Old pictures, plaques and mementos from as far back as the Civil War adorn the walls, while a faded green military belt holding a canteen and knife drapes over a chair.

In a display case below the window, flanked on one side by a red and gold Marine Corps flag and the other by the United States flag, lie dog tags, an old first aid kit and maps worn from repeated folding.

Silcox said he always knew he would become a Marine – it's in his blood.

His grandfather served in the Army during World War I, and his father went into the Marines when World War II broke out, then later fought in Korea.

So less than a month after graduating from Chattanooga High School, Silcox found himself at Marine boot camp in Parris Island, S.C.

"That's where you say, 'What in the world am I doing here?'" he said.

But after years of training and an 18-month tour in North Africa, the 24-year-old buck sergeant bid his wife farewell from his station in California and rode for weeks across the Pacific Ocean aboard the USS Iwo Jima to face his greatest challenge to date.

"They said, 'OK, you've got tomorrow to get all your stuff together, get your wills made and all that. We got to go somewhere,'" he said. "That was to Vietnam, which we all knew. They didn't say it, but we knew it."

Although decades have passed, Silcox still rarely talks about the war, especially his first operation.

"Just as soon as the choppers landed, we were under fire, and they landed us right in the middle of Charlie – it was a reinforced, ready-to-fight Vietcong," he said. "We did all right, but for most of us that was the first time. Some of those guys were right out of boot camp."

Silcox completed a nearly 15-month tour as an infantryman, where he led a group of 12 soldiers on search-and-destroy missions near Vietnam's Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, the area around the former border between North and South Vietnam.

"I was very, very fortunate, very lucky that first time. I don't see how in the world I got through that without getting hit, but I did – me and the man upstairs," he said.

Silcox completed countless combat missions during that first tour before voluntarily returning to Vietnam several years later, this time working for counterintelligence.

"And I thought, by that time, after one tour and halfway through another tour, I thought I was invincible," he said.

During the second tour, Silcox was awarded a Bronze Star with "V" for valor for pulling an injured Marine radio operator and lieutenant to safety under fire, and he later received a Purple Heart.

Silcox, now 78, retired from the Marines in 1977 after 20 years of service, and then worked in industry, health care management and local politics before officially settling into retirement in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.

"It's been a good life. Because of the Marine Corps, it was a good life," he said. "But I'm right at 80, and hell, I'd tell them I could do a desk job. I'd still go. I'd do the whole thing over again."

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(c)2017 the Chattanooga Times/Free Press (Chattanooga, Tenn.)
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