FACES OF FREEDOM 2019

Southside military veterans reflect on memories of yesterday

Each year, The Southside Times recognizes a few honorable and loyal veterans from the Southside. This year, we are featuring individuals who discuss memoires and how their experiences have influenced them: Jim Church (Navy/Vietnam War), Steven Lee (Army/Indiana National Guard/Vietnam War), Frank Peery (Marines/Vietnam War) and Joe Seider (Army/Korean War). Jim Church currently serves as a Master of Arms and Custodian of the U.S.S. Indianapolis as part of his membership through the Fleet Reserve Association Branch 130. He also attended an Honor Flight, an experience offered to all war veterans. Steven Lee serves as a surgical technologist with the VA Hospital. Frank Peery, who suffered from PTSD, is in remission from non-Hodgkins lymphoma due to Agent Orange exposure. Joe Seider, a history buff, served in the 35th Infantry Regiment Combat Team of the 25th Division. On Independence Day, take a moment to remember those who have fought for our country and thank a veteran for his or her service.

ARMY: Joe Seider

By Rick Hinton

“The easiest way to remember my last name is to think of the apple beverage,” Joe Seider declared as he made room at the table of one of his favorite restaurants – Steak ‘n Shake at U.S. 31 S. and Stop 11 Road.

Remember Tom Hanks’ character Forrest, from the movie, Forrest Gump? Seider seems to have “Gumped” his way through life.

“My life has been a series of not only coincidences, but always just plain good luck,” he said. I’ve been in the right place at the right time!”

Eighty-nine-year-old Joe Seider was born March 30, 1930, in the inner-city neighborhood along Sturm Avenue, just south of Michigan Street and Arsenal Tech High School. “The house is still there,” he stated. “Or at least it was three to four years ago.” He has two older sisters: Pat, who passed in 2006, and Gloria, 93, who lives in a nursing facility in Oaklandon. In 1939 the family moved a little farther east to 343 North Denny St., where a childhood passed in the blink of an eye.

Eighty-nine-year-old Joe Seider. (Photo by Rick Hinton)

Childhood memories

“My father died in 1946 at the age of 66. I was 16,” Seider remembered. “He was a good man. He loved to fish, so we went fishing a few times. There was a lot more involved back then. I remember getting on the Michigan Street Car holding onto bamboo fishing poles and riding downtown to catch the College Avenue Car heading north. We rode it all the way to Broad Ripple and we went fishing in White River.” And, there were the school days. …

“It was a very large class those years at Arsenal Tech,” Seider stated as he stared out the window seemingly trying to grasp a lost memory. “I was a singer … the male soloist with the Arsenal Technical Dance Band. He smiled, suddenly finding the memory. “It was like the movies where Bing Crosby, holding a microphone, is out there on that dance floor all alone!” He graduated high school in 1948, “posted” at the school for the next year to see if he would like to direct the band rather than perform (he did not!), and in 1950 went to work for a roofing company over that summer. On May 18, 1951, springtime introduced a drastic change in Joe’s life: he was drafted!

A time for giving back

The war between North Korea and South Korea began June 25, 1950, resulting after North Korea invaded South Korea following clashes along the border. The pot had been simmering for some time until it finally boiled over. President Truman intervened with America’s response to the whole affair, stemming from security considerations of the U.S policy toward Japan and the Soviets’ involvement with North Korea.

“I was drafted into the Army. It was my turn,” Seider said. “First, we had to report downtown, then they shipped us up to Fort Custer in Michigan. We were up there a couple of weeks processing, then it was off to Basic Training at the former Camp Breckinridge in Morganfield, Kentucky.” Seider’s unit was transferred to Fort Indiantown Gap, PA in the fall of 1951 for additional training, remaining until the early months of 1952 for their last stop on the way to Korea – Camp Pendleton in California. Then they were ocean bound, heading west. Joe still remembers the trip to Korea, and the fluffy cumulus clouds encircling Hawaii, along with the warm temperatures, as they pulled into port for a short stop.

Joe was drafted into the Korean War in 1951. (Submitted photo)

“I did one year in Korea … I was a baker and infantryman; however, I spent more time in the field,” he recollected. He fingered the bill of his Korean Veteran ball cap. “I wear this cap for one reason – as a teaching tool! There are too many people in this country – especially young ones – who know nothing about Korea. If you don’t come from a military family, you know nothing about it. It was only a 3-year- war!” Seider is correct. The Korean Conflict is often referred to as “The Forgotten or Unknown War” because of the lack of public attention it received both during and after the war. The Korean War came to a close in July of 1953.

“I was with the 35th Infantry Regiment Combat Team of the 25th Division,” he recollected. “There was this colorful character, a very large Indian named Abraham Brown who just so happened got a bit intoxicated right before a march toward an engagement. Well … during the march he fell and broke his ankle. They sent him to the rear … he missed the battle!” Joe smiled as he told the story, trying to bring it around to his theory about luck. “I’m not condoning his drinking, but what do you call that? Being in the right place at the right time? Coincidence? I’m a firm believer that in life, you’re either in the right place at the right time or vice versa. It’s luck. You can’t explain it, it just happens!”

“All wars are hell!” Seider declared. “This goes back to the beginning of time. Man has never learned to live in harmony with his fellow man.” When asked about his combat experiences, Joe became quiet and stared down at the table. His lower lip quivered for a second, but just a second. Some things are best left unsaid. Joe Seider did one hitch in Korea, sailing to Fort Lewis, WA in 1953.

A life lived

Joe met his future wife, Odeen at the Western Electric Plant on Shadeland Avenue. They married April 9, 1966. She became the Yin to his Yang. Again, luck played a part in him even getting the job of tool & die maker that lasted 35 years. Their marriage was a good one, yet relationships never last long enough. Odeen passed away over 10 years ago.

Joe’s late wife, Odeen. (Submitted photo)

“I live alone. I believe in God. I do a lot of praying,” he simply stated. And, is always free with a Seider opinion that almost always strikes home. As he looked at his favorite waitress Melissa and the young couple seated across from us, he said, “You need to enjoy your life as much as you possibly can. You’re young and think you have all the time in the world, but you actually don’t. Make good choices. This is your time!”

What is a hero?

“A hero can be anyone, young or old, male or female, that goes above and beyond who and what they are, when they see a crisis occur,” Seider said. “Not just in war, but everyday life. You have to have a drive to do what you do. It can be anyone at anytime under any circumstance. That’s a hero!”

ARMY/NATIONAL GUARD: Steven Lee

By Angela Norris

When most people think of an army veteran, they think of someone who had served their time in war or combat, and then returned home to live out the rest of their lives doing whatever they may choose.

Steven Lee, on the other hand, has made it his entire life. Lee served in the U.S. Army for a combined total of 29 ½ years, with roughly eight years of that being active duty. The remaining time was split between the Army Reserve and the Indiana National Guard.

Lee went into the military in 1971 after working at JCPenney and a shoe company. “I just needed the extra income and it was a good source for that,” he said. Lee took basic training at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, with an initial enlistment of three years. After completing basic training in early 1972, Lee was sent to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where he learned combat medical skills. This was right at the height of the Vietnam War, when troops were returning home.

Steven Lee has served in the U.S. Army for a combined total of 29 ½ years. (Submitted photos)

After training at Fort Sam Houston, Lee was sent to South Korea for 13 months and was stationed with the 2nd Battalion 71st Artillery Group before coming back to the United States. From 1972 to 1974 he was stationed back at Fort Sam Houston before deciding to take a short break from the military from 1974 to 1982. He went back to working retail. In 1982 Lee decided to go back to the military in the Army Reserve and was assigned to the 337th General Hospital at Fort Benjamin Harrison.

“While I was with the General Hospital, the military was beginning to change, and the General Hospital was reclassified as a combat support hospital,” he said. “That then led me to further training back down in San Antonio, Fort Sam, and I learned how to scrub in the operating room, which I currently do now as a surgical technician at the VA Hospital.”

Around 1984, Lee was sent to Germany by the 337th General Hospital, with the 82nd Medical Group. He spent about a year in training, working as an ambulance driver and at a first aid station. “It was there I learned how to triage,” he said. Lee also spent time overseas in Europe during his time in the military. In 1989, Lee transferred from the Army Reserve to the Indiana National Guard. Lee’s 15-year enlistment with the Army Reserve was beginning to end, and a nurse who was working in the operating room with him convinced him to transfer to the Indiana National Guard for five more years.

Lee enlisted into the
military in 1971.

“I figured I might as well just go ahead and stay the remaining five years and get 20 years out of it and then retire with a pension.” Lee said. It was then he was assigned to the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and worked as a medic. He then traveled all over the country to receive more medical training.

“This one time up in Camp Grayling, Michigan, we learned how to transfer, receive and send patients by helicopter to other hospitals.” he said. “Basically 25 years of my 29 years of service was spent in the medical field, where I learned all aspects. Everything from basic patient care all the way to working in the operating room.”

Lee currently works at the VA Hospital as a surgical technologist and will celebrate his 40-year anniversary with the hospital on Sept. 30. Lee had a very decorative career in the military; combined with his work for the federal government, he already has a combined 69 years of service.

MARINES: Frank Peery

By Stephanie Dolan

Although the draft was implemented during the Civil War, World War I and World War II, many of us associate the draft with the Vietnam War. Draft dodging was in the news, rallies were held to burn draft cards and the favorite jokes all had to do with road trips to Canada.

Nevertheless, only 1.8 million troops were drafted of the 8.7 who fought during the Vietnam War, which lasted for nearly 20 years. The volunteers were the ones who did the real work during the war.

Volunteers like Frank Peery, who enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at the age of 18 in 1966.

“My dad was a marine,” he said. “When I went through, anything went. Nowadays, you don’t get the same treatment. But they were tougher than they are now, too.”

Peery, 72, a retired Eli Lilly warehouse worker, entered basic training not quite knowing what to expect.

“It was a challenge,” he said. “Learning how to march. Learning how to fight. Learning how to use a knife and the bayonet on your rifle.”

Frank Peery enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at 18. (Submitted photos)

Peery said that, in basic training, you never knew what to expect.

“You never knew what time they were going to come in and wake you up,” he said. “They’d wake you up different hours just for the fun of it. Usually, it would be somewhere around 5 a.m., and you’d get dressed, make your bunk and then go to show. After that, you would be marching and doing activities the rest of the day.”

Peery didn’t go to Vietnam straight from basic training. First, he was given more training involving riflery and shooting that lasted another six weeks. He boarded a ship Feb. 18, 1966 for Vietnam. The trip took 32 days.

“We went across the Gulf of Tonkin,” he said. “The guys that were vets would tell us to watch out for Vietcong subs. There wasn’t any such thing. Then, when we got to Vietnam, we went down a rope ladder into a landing craft that took us to the beach. I was assigned to the Second Battalion First Marines Echo Company. They trained us for a while. We had our first operation that April, which lasted about 25 days.”

Frank with his daughter, Jamie.

Peery said that fear was a constant companion for every soldier.

“I think everyone was afraid,” he said. “If they said they weren’t then they weren’t telling the truth.”

Willing to look that fear in the eye and move forward, Peery opted to extend his time in Vietnam by six months when he was given the option to come home.

“I didn’t want to come home to the Marine Corps and be spit shined and polished and shaved,” he said. “People really didn’t know the true facts about what we went through.”

Regardless of his willingness to stay, Peery eventually returned with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“At first, there was no way to deal with it because the doctors didn’t understand what it was,” Peery said. “I was put in alcohol and drug programs when I didn’t do either. I was confused. Doctors didn’t know what to do.”

It would be 12 years before Peery was properly diagnosed and treated.

“There was a lot of counseling,” he said. “And the doctor prescribed meds.”

Regardless of the trauma, Peery said he’s still glad he served.

“I would do it again if necessary,” he said.

In December 2018, Peery was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. It was Agent Orange non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“In May, I had my last chemo treatment, and then this past Monday I found I was cancer free,” he said.

NAVY: Jim Church

By Stephanie Dolan

Launched in 1931, the USS Indianapolis served the U.S. Navy for 14 years before it was torpedoed by the Imperial Japanese Navy on July 30, 1945. The result was the single greatest loss of life at sea in the history of the Navy.

Today, a replica of “the Indy” can be seen at the Museum of 20th Century Warfare, located in Fort Harrison State Part. U.S. Navy vet Jim Church serves as custodian of the ship model, frequently visiting the museum to check up on the display and provide maintenance as needed.

“It was the Cadillac of the cruisers,” he said.

Church, 77, enlisted in the Navy in 1961.

“I went to high school and played sports and carried papers and worked at the gas station – things like that … like any other boy,” he said. “I liked cars. I grew up in Terre Haute and enlisted in the Navy there. Some of my buddies had joined the Navy, so I did too. I had my problems, but I made it through. I didn’t really know what I was getting into, like everyone else. It was a whole new life.”

Jim Church, 77, enlisted in the Navy in 1961. (Submitted photos)

Initially, Church was stationed at the Naval Academy, but was transferred to Cuba during the Missile Crisis.

“There was traveling and meeting people in different areas and different countries,” he said. “I was an electrician. That’s what I had studied in high school.”

Upon his return, Church went through the IBEW apprenticeship program. Now retired, he still takes the time to read about his vocation.

“Age can take things away from you,” he said. “You want to keep your brain up. I work a lot of the problems at home and take care of the house and things as well.”

On May 18, Church was given the opportunity to take the Honor Flight.

“I enjoyed it,” he said. “It was quite educational. I had been out there before, but a lot of things had changed over the years. We went to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Vietnam War Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and the World War II Memorial. I also visited the grave of Audie Murphy. He was in the movies, but he was also the most decorated soldier in the Second World War.”

Church had heard about Honor Flight over the years but didn’t know much about it. Then, a friend of his took the flight, told him about it and suggested he apply for the trip.

“I really learned about Washington,” he said.

Bottom, Church was on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.

Honor Flight is a program that transports U.S. veterans to Washington D.C. to visit the memorials dedicated to their service. More information can be found at honorflight.com.

Church said his 28 years in the service has paid him back several times over.

“It’s paid me back more than once,” he said. “It’s been a lot of help with my life really. As time went on I really learned how to handle things. It’s good to be able to do what you need to do.”