MEET OUR VETERANS:
Don Strimpel: U.S. Army (Vietnam era Medic)
Don Strimpel was born the same day as Bill Clinton. He was born right outside of Detroit, Michigan on August 19, 1946. He had two brothers and two sisters. Don was the only immediate family member who served in the military. All his uncles did serve however. Don’s father had four brothers and five sisters. “My father’s name was Robert Strimpel and Helen was my mother’s name. My dad had a Minneapolis Moline farm tractor dealership. When I was about three months old, my dad and Henry Ford, sat down and took a tractor apart. I got to sit on Henry Ford’s lap and I wet my pants,” laughed Don.
“I grew up about 18-miles south of Detroit in the country on a 100-acre farm in Monroe, Michigan. I went to a Christian School and a private High School, being raised Catholic. I worked in the cafeteria to help pay for my way thru High School. During the day I worked at a truck farm pulling sweet corn and cutting cabbage among the migrants. My dad grew soy beans, corn and a little bit of alfalfa and hay. I was plowing and disking in the 5th grade,” recalled Don. “We had a small garden and even milked the cows. I played High School football as a defensive back, two years at centerfield on the baseball team, and the rest of my time I had to work. I received a very rounded and wide range of education. They told us to be very thankful for what we had,” said Don. “I loved math and accounting and those were the two I ended up getting degrees in. I graduated from High School in 1964. I always wanted to go to college. I remember my dad saying, “son, as old as I am right now, the more you learn, the more you are going to forget,” he laughed. “My older brother, who was about 9 years older than me, had gone to college. He was very smart and ended up being a teacher. I saw how hard my father worked and me working at the truck farm, I knew I never wanted to work that hard again,” he said.
WORKING FOR FORD MOTOR COMPANY
After Don graduated from High School and went down and applied for a job with the Chrysler Corporation. It was the same company who had told his dad year’s earlier thay were not hiring white applicants.
“I ended up going to Ford and worked on the manufacturing line as a repairman. I was working on the carburetor line. Once the product came to the end of the line I inspected it, made sure it worked and out the door. I was bored after two days from a $3.50 and hour job. It was far better than the truck farm where I was getting 50 cents an hour.
I joined the union under Jimmy Hoffa and soon we were laid off and I was making three quarters of my pay. I thought, this isn’t right. I ended up working at Ford for a year and a half. In 1966 I got drafted into the military.”
DRAFTED INTO THE ARMY
On December 23rd of 1966 Don received his draft notice to join the Army. “I could have gone into any of the other military branches but my choice was the Army. I had two good friends with me and they both went into the Army, so I joined. I had no idea what to expect. I knew a war was going on but didn’t know to what extent. All I knew is, I like America. I knew I wanted to be a good soldier. It was a sad time for me as my mother was going thru the later stages of cancer. It was a hard to me to go into the military, but I had no choice.”
Don went to boot camp at Ft. Hood, Texas for six months and advance training at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio. He was stationed to Ft. Hood in the tank division. “They let me shoot all that free ammunition. I loved it.” laughed Don. At one time, the Army wanted me to be a sniper. I grew up on the farm hunting, but being a sniper did not sit well with me at all. I was doing great on all my exams and they wanted me to go into some of the intelligence services, so I started flunking all my exams.
After boot, Don was assigned his MOS. He was assigned as a Company Clerk. They eventually changed his MOS and ended up being a medic and was sent to Ft. Sam Houston to train.
He worked at Darnell Army Hospital in Ft. Hood for a year. He got to work in just about every department including recovery and surgery. He worked in the emergency room and rode in the ambulance for a period of time. They taught the soldiers basically how to keep people alive. “I was assigned as a medic for the headquarters. I always wanted to be a doctor. Working at the hospital I saw a lot of happy occasions but also a lot of said occasions.
I saw a lot of people coming thru with Agent Orange and wounded from the Vietnam War. Our veterans were poisoned. As a medic I could understand people having injuries but not dying from Agent Orange. A lot of them dying from stomach cancer, intestinal and spline cancer, liver and kidneys.
The VA did not recognize what was going on. They kept spraying. I still get angry over it today,” he said. “If you have a physical trauma the VA takes good care of you, the best in the world. But, if you have mental trauma you were thought of less than a soldier should be. You just got turned back into society and then you were on your own.”
Don spent another year working in a tank division at Ft. Hood. Still working as a medic in Headquarters. Have no idea why I was assigned to the tank division. We had one guy who was a teacher who spoke five languages and they made him a cook,” laughed Don.
The six-day war woke me up politically, and I decided the military was not going to be a career for me. Selling equipment to both sides was not my idea of a “just war.” The Vietnam War was raging. Coming home on leave, I was spat on and called “Baby Killer. People made us feel like the enemy. I will never forget that. It was a difficult time to be in the military. We won the war, but our government gave it away,” said Don shaking his head. “Two to three weeks before I was ready to get out the Army said my orders was to go overseas. I did not consider staying in.
I was offered a signing bonus of $12,000 and given the option to attend West Point. Don’t know if I had been given both, but I didn’t stick around to find out. My other option was to get married. I met my wife, Carolyn, at a USO dance at Ft. Hood in December. We have been married 53-years.
I discharged from the Army on January 13th of 1968. I later learned the guy who took my place died two weeks later in Vietnam. The two friends I went into the military with, Bobby and Jerry, both died there too.”
WORKING FOR TEXAS INSTRUMENTS
When Don got out of the military his first job was with TI, Texas Instruments in Austin. He trained there for three months and then went to Dallas. “I was trained as a drafter and worked in their AWAX. We were doing some government encrypting. We were working with a lot of the state-of-the-art equipment. I worked drafts on the Apollo spacecrafts and laying out of the equipment panels and circuit boards. TI had a lot going on at the time. The transistor was just coming on as well as the early computers. They came out with the TI digital watches, which they got from a Swiss Company along with the early hand calculators. I was with TI for six and a half years.
WORKING WITH GSI (Geological Surveys)
Don transferred within TI and went to work mapping for Geological Surveys for a year. His wife’s uncle, Herb Colburn, was a whiz, with about 15 patents with TI. He is one of the reasons we have Sonograms today.
He ran the seismic survey for oil exploration with a truck and crew for about $150,000 a month. “I was working on these modules about a half mile long. When the “THUMPER” hit the ground, they would pick up the sonic waves and translate it to computer to analyze it. Russia was trying to get the technology for these modules and wiring for cold weather technology in the oil exploration as we were. The Chinese would come over and go to the stores and get all of our toys. They would go back and take the chips out of them and duplicate them. Their only problem was they didn’t have the crystals to mass produce them. We know how it ended with us sending over most of our manufacturing to them.
I also got to work on the Air Force One wiring diagram. I went out to Dallas Love Field. It was amazing.”
WORKING FOR ROCKWALL INTERNATIONAL
While working at TI, Don was attending UT at Dallas under the GI Bill. He eventually received a BS degree and was working with government contracts. The year was 1983. He worked about 70-hours a week working with defense contractors.
Don’s next career move was with Rockwall International working for their government products division. “I got a better position as a designer with Rockwall. Within a year and a half, I was able to bid on a job in government contracts. It was a very lucrative job for me and my family,” said Don. “Bidding for contracts was very competitive especially the big ones with the military. We were prime bidder on the space shuttle program and at one-point Rockwall was talking about moving all their facilities to California. Politics got involved and too much money moving to California.
In Saudi Arabia we lost a lot of contract people We sent our contractors to Saudi Arabia to bid on large generators. They were receiving about seven per cent on each sale. They would make a thousand sales, move back to the States and retire. Lots of money being made in Saudi at the time. I had three kids now and living out of suitcases. There was a lot of travelling involved.
I worked with Rockwall International for eight and a half years, three years in drafting and five in contracts.”
Don was offered a “super paying” job and his next career move was to Northern Telecom. He was once again working with government contracts. AT&T had broken up and “Ma Bell” of the north was a company from Canada called Norther Telecom. They were a manufacturing satellite equipment. They were in the telephone business using analog and had a customer base all over the United States. They were wanting to take their technology from analog to digital. IBM was our big customer. They wanted to purchase a company called DANRAY which they did. They hired me to phase out the DANRAY Collins Division. I simply wrote them a letter and told them to quit manufacturing it. I spent about a year working on a proposal to NT to buy all their analog equipment. I did a 10-year plan and knew all their customer base. I tried to buy it. They had all their inventory located at 28 different locations. In the middle of our negotiations to buy they end up scrapping all their analog inventory. They closed the division and we are all out of work.
SHELL OIL BUSINESS IN CALIFORNIA
Don’s brother-in-law was in the Shell business and was a big dealer in California. I had a station in Carrollton and ran that for about a year and a half. I owned the small gas station as a dealer. I got an opportunity to move to California and own a brand-new Shell station. I was offered a couple of stations if I would move to California, so I did. I hopped on a plane to San Bernardino. We ended up moving there and renting a house for a year. We had ten pumps, a car wash and had the best start up Shell had ever had. I ended up being the West Coast dealer for Shell. I ended up buying two other stations, one was in a survival mode. We named our business Northern Gateway.
We got the Soap Box Derby going for the town. We sponsored five cars and really got the community involved.
The business was a lot of stress. I had 30 people working for me. The stress eventually put me in the hospital. As far as volume I had one station pumping 600,000 gallons a month at $.73 a gallon, the 2nd highest in the state of California. Eventually, competition and L.A. riots in 1993 doomed the gas business. I did stay for nine years and finally got out when the crime rate got so out of hand,” said Don.
RETIRING TO VAN ZANDT COUNTY
Don and Carolyn decided to move to Texas to be closer to her family. Her mother was dying of cancer and moved in to take care her. His brother-in-law had a Shell station in Carrollton but was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and the family moved there to manage the station. We ended up staying a couple of years and sold the business and moved to Van Zandt County. Don got involved with the Veterans Memorial and helped raised money to get it started.
“I am here because I love this country,” Don said smiling.
Don Strimpel, thank you for your service to our country while serving in the United States Army.
NOTE: Meet other Veterans from Van Zandt County by going to the top of www.vzcm webpage and click on MEET OUR VETERANS and click one of the (5) branches of services and the veterans last name first and click to read.
“Every Veteran has a story to tell.” Phil Smith
GOD BLESS OUR VETERANS AND GOD BLESS AMERICA
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