The United States military would not be what it is today without its affinity among members. Today on Veterans’ Voices, Navy veteran Steve Harmon from Dayton reconnects with his old friend Charlie Campbell, and tells him how their Ohio roots unexpectedly authorized his first mission in Vietnam.
Charlie Campbell (CC): You and I, we were at Denison in the 60s.
Steve Harmon (SH): Yeah.
CC: But how the heck did you get in the Navy? And why the Navy?
SH: Well, I think I had water on the brain. But I always saw myself close to the water.
CC: Okay. And so did they say what job you want to be in the Navy?
SH: No. No, they said, “Here's your commission and don't screw it up.” I remember Denny Nightie, who is a guy from Indianapolis, I think, and he got terribly sick.
CC: Sea sick?
SH: Sea sick. And he took a wastebasket with him and he barfed all night long.
CC: But then in a couple of days, he was totally fine?
SH: No. But then I had a reassignment and I had orders to go to UDT, Underwater Demolition Team. They’d later become the SEALs.
CC: Okay, but those SEALs are all big guys who are strong and they can swim ten miles and everything.
SH: That was me.
CC: Oh, yeah. Okay.
SH: So when I went to Vietnam, part of my responsibility was to fly around to the various villages.
CC: But you're not a pilot.
SH: No. No.
CC: So how could you fly around to those places?
SH: They took me by helicopter.
CC: And then what would you do in those places?
SH: Then I'd talk about these these ships that could fire weapons. But I did have a chance to fly out to our first mission on a cruiser. And so we went there and I'm sitting in the board room talking with the skipper of the ship and some of his key people talking about the kind of missions that we could conduct. He said, “Well, I should get my CSE officer in here.” I said, “Who is that?” And he said, “That's Lieutenant J.G. Schwabacher.” I said, “Schwabacher? Did he go to Dennison University?”
CC: Oh, my God, you're kidding.
SH: No. So John came in and I laid out the mission that we were going to conduct the next day. We we had to authenticate any kind of mission we were going to conduct with the firing ship. Well, I hadn't received my authentication papers yet. So the whole mission was going to go down the tubes. But I thought, well, I will use something that only John Schwabacher would know. I said, “I authenticate Tony Rizzo. R-I-Z-Z-O.” Tony Rizzo is the bar owner in Granville, Ohio.
SH: There's nobody else who would know Tony Rizzo. And I heard some chuckling in the background, and they accepted it.
CC: They did. Really?
SH: Yeah, and that's that's how we conducted the mission.
CC: So it was the Denison secrets? I'll be darned.
Steve Harmon and Charlie Campbell's conversation took place at WYSO as part of StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative which visited the Miami Valley last summer. Veterans’ Voices on WYSO is presented by Wright-Patt Credit Union with additional support from CareSource. This story was edited by Tony Holloway and Will Davis and created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.