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Kentucky post holds special significance for Vietnam veterans

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By ERIC PILGRIM

As U.S. involvement in an intensifying Vietnam conflict began to accelerate in 1965, Fort Knox opened its doors to Reserve Officer Training Corps.

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Seeing thousands of basic combat training, advanced individual training and combat support training armor Soldiers running around post while attending U.S. Army Training Center Armor was already a familiar site at the post. The Vietnam War changed its significance.

“Because Fort Knox had the U.S. Army Training Center Armor, it became one of the largest induction centers in the United States,” said Matthew Rector, the historic preservation specialist at Fort Knox.

This increased population of Soldiers was highlighted in the Aug. 20, 1965 issue of Life magazine, which covered induction centers springing up all around the United States during the mid-‘60s in preparation for war.

Rector said it was a busy time for the installation during that period in its history — so much so that by 1968, Fort Knox celebrated its one millionth graduate. Although much of Vietnam’s terrain necessitated a lot of infantry and aviation assets, Rector said armor still played a role, not just in Vietnam but also in world events, and that fact brought many to USATCA.

“We still had a Cold War with many troops being sent to Germany. I personally know several who went through basic here but never went to Vietnam,” said Rector. “But the fact remains, many people know of Fort Knox because of that era, and because of USATCA.”

One of those who graduated at Fort Knox and later found himself in Vietnam was Greg Lowe.

A native of Kentucky, Lowe said he started his 30-year career in the Army at Knox and managed to get stationed two more times before retiring, including ending where he began.

“Fort Knox was always a good post. It had a lot going on,” said Lowe.

Lowe said he didn’t deploy to Vietnam right away. Instead, he was stationed in Germany for 15 months. It wasn’t until he branch transferred to military police halfway through his tour that he found himself in Vietnam for a 12-month tour.

When his branch manager offered to send him wherever he wanted to go after Vietnam, Lowe requested to return to Fort Knox.

“When I came back here from Vietnam, we had three training
brigades, so there was always stuff going on.
I enjoyed the post.
The facilities were great, and we had on-post quarters in the
Van Voorhis area,” said Lowe. “It was just a good Army post-hometown kind of environment.”

Unlike Lowe’s experience, Rector said it was widely known during the Vietnam era that graduating from USATCA could lead to Vietnam.

“A Soldier going through the USATCA was probably aware of his chances of going to Vietnam eventually,” said Rector. “Many ended up there after hoofing it up Misery, Agony and Heartbreak hills.”

Lowe considered himself fortunate, admitting his experience going through officer basic didn’t include road marching up Fort Knox’ three famous hills.

Another experience many basic and AIT trainees shared then was living in what has become known as the Disney Barracks. The buildings still exist today and are home to thousands of cadets each year who stay there while going through Cadet Summer Training. They were completed in the late 1960s.

To prepare Soldiers and officers for war during the Vietnam era, leaders borrowed a learning technique they had used during the World War II era, according to Rector.

“Fort Knox created these Vietnam villages, designed to simulate real-life experiences when they would deploy in theater,” said Rector.

During World War II, Soldiers had trained at Blitz Village and Tokyo Village, simulating both fronts of the war. During Korea, they also had trained at the Tokyo Village.

For Vietnam, the small simulated villages depicted not just the stereotypical thick vegetation of Vietnam but also the more open areas of the country, where armored forces were sometimes deployed. Rector said the post attempted to provide different training environments for where Soldiers may have found themselves.

Though Lowe ultimately didn’t take the armored path to Vietnam, he said the path he did travel that led to Fort Knox, Vietnam and eventually back to Fort Knox two more times was the right path for him.

“I would absolutely do it all over again in a heartbeat,” said Lowe. “I wouldn’t change anything.”