In Honor of Veteran's Day ... Proud to be of Service

An interview with Carl Ordwar of Santa Rosa

As Veteran's Day approaches, I chose to seek out a career veteran for my November column. Someone who served our country in times of both war and peacetime. Carl Ordwar, who was born in 1925, is a retired career Army veteran who represents these veterans: drafted at age 18, served in the Philippines during WWII, joined the National Guard a few years after returning to the mainland, served again in combat during the Korean War, and worked with civilian components after the war.

By the time Carl served in Korea, his perspective had changed significantly. First, he was older and wiser, and second, instead of simply following orders, he was now in charge of other soldiers (his highest rank was that of Master Sergeant). Serving in the US Army taught him how to respond in the moment to whatever presents itself. You do what you need to do, and move on. Serving his country in the US military has become an important part of who Carl Ordwan is today. He was devoted to his men, but also considered himself "one of the guys" rather than anyone special. He didn't hesitate to counsel soldiers to "get out" if they didn't like it, and mentored more than one of his less experienced ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) supervisors.

Carl recounted one such Second Lieutenant, right out of college, who bluntly told him, "Sergeant, I'm depending on you because I don't know a darn thing." Now that takes real courage on the part of the officer! Of course, Carl also worked with some inexperienced officers who thought they "knew everything" (and maybe they did--on paper at least), but in any vocation it's also wise to recognize the value of experience. Higher ranked officers generally recognized this as well, and told Carl to "straighten out" his boss on more than one occasion. Perhaps his most difficult interpersonal challenge was working with a new officer who had no humility whatsoever, and Carl was prepared to request a transfer if things didn't change. Ultimately, it was the young officer who was transferred. As in any people-intensive occupation, Carl learned the fundamentals of interpersonal communication during his Army experience: what to say, how and when to say it, and who to say it to.

Carl proudly told me about the love of his life, Jenness, who he met on the Love Boat (really!). A standing joke between them was that she "outranked him" when they met after the Korean War. Jenness was a reserve warrant officer and Carl was an active duty advisor to her reserve unit (an NCO). It didn't take long before sparks began to fly and they remained married until she passed away a few ago.

One of Carl's most memorable moments during wartime was when the troops were traveling by ship toward Japan at the end of WWII after the atomic bombs had been dropped. They had no idea what to expect from the Japanese people, but they were pleasantly surprised to find the Japanese military and civilians to be quite friendly. Carl surmised that when the Emperor announced the war was over, the Japanese honored this fact and accepted the troops in peace.

At age 84, Carl says he'd jump at the opportunity to rejoin the military if he could. He still misses being in the Service, and his military service and memories have truly become part of who he is today.