An Interview With a Veteran
November 5, 2019 by Wink RockStars
Wink is closed on Monday, November 11th to honor Veterans Day. We are proud of the U.S. Veterans and want to say THANK YOU to those who serve and have served!
We would like to take a moment to feature a very special veteran in our extended Wink family, Sheryl Moore’s father, Kurt S. Sundberg, CTRCM, U.S. Navy Retired.
Living in Des Moines, Iowa at the time, Sundberg wanted to serve our country and to earn GI Bill benefits. Following the footsteps of family tradition, he joined the Navy on September 5th, 1975 and served until September 30th, 1995.
To this day, Sundberg doesn’t attend reunions however, he made many close friends and they all have been keeping in touch for the past 30 years. After his service, he joined the veterans’ organizations: The Fleet Reserve Association, Disable American Veterans, and Cryptologic Veterans Association.
In 2015, we had the privilege to speak with Sundberg about his service days. The following is an excerpt from our interview.
Do you recall your first days in service? What did it feel like?
“Waking up after three hours of sleep to trash cans being thrown down the halls of the barracks and people yelling ‘Get up you maggots!’ and ‘Rise and shine girlies! This is going to be the worst day of your life!’ That was a real experience.
Then, we were rushed off to the Grinder— a 5,000 square foot piece of cement which would become our new home away from home. We would learn to march there and spend most of our days on that piece of cement; to exercise, march, and do jumping jacks forever… for the next 16 weeks.
Boot Camp in 1975 was very different than today. We had 16 weeks of intense physical training (PT) and mental training for 14 hours a day such as memorization of 21 General orders and many other items for tests. PT was daily, running 2.5 miles every day along with 50 push-ups, 65 sit-ups, and 40 pull-ups. We had to keep our barracks spotless, with keeping our beds with hospital corners so tight you could bounce a quarter off of it. Shoes had to be “spit” shined and glossy. Uniforms had to be ironed with military creases. If someone in the company did not ‘cut it’ they were given a blanket party (we covered them with a blanket and beat them until they cried ‘uncle’).
I was in a Special Company because I played the drums. So I was in Company 936, the Drum and Bugle Corps. We had some perks that other companies did not have because we got to go off base and play at NFL Football games and other events representing the Navy at events.
We had to work just as hard or harder than other companies because we were special. If we screwed around, we would find ourselves on the grinder at 9PM at night doing extra drills and rifle push-ups (doing push-ups with our rifles in our hands with our knuckles on the cement). That hurt a lot. When our Company Commander, Machinist Mate First Class Murchison was in a bad mood, which was most of the time, we would take a base tour consisting of running around the perimeter of the fence. This equated to about five miles.
We would drill six days a week and usually had Sundays off to go to church. After week five, we could go to the exchange and buy little things like toothpaste, soap, etc… to replace articles for our ‘ditty bags’ and we could buy other rations such as cigarettes and pop.”
Do you remember your instructors?
“MM1 Murchison was stereotypical during boot camp, but he had to fulfill a role. Drill Instructors had to have a certain demeanor to be feared and be the leader of the unit. Otherwise the boot camp experience would not work as it does.”
How did you get through it?
“My recruiter, gave me the best advice: ‘Just do as you are told, keep a positive mental attitude and STAY OUT OF TROUBLE.’ Always remember to say ‘Sir – Yes Sir!’ after everything your Company Commander orders you to do. That served me well.”
Which war(s) did you serve in?
“I served in the Vietnam War and the Iraq Wars”
Where exactly did you go?
“I can tell you where I was stationed, but if I told you exactly where I went, I would have to kill you. My daughter Sheryl can tell you the particulars to that! She has heard that enough times.
I was in the Naval Security Group as a Cryptologic Technician with a Top Secret Clearance. Many of the things I did I could not talk about to anyone and still can’t.”
Do you remember arriving and what it was like?
“I can tell you that where I went and what I did was very special and that I was sometimes scared. I just did my job. I can also tell you that I sometimes went out with Seal Teams.”
What was your job/assignment?
“I was a Cryptologic Technician.”
Tell me about a couple of your most memorable experiences.
“I have many positive experiences. Most of them were during my off time. We worked very hard, so we played very hard.
In Iceland, the USO always had a Fish Fry every Friday night.
In Puerto Rico, we stole man hole covers. We also used to hang out every Friday at the Bacardi Rum Factory drinking free samples. Our bus was ambushed with two of my friends killed and 20 were wounded.
In Japan, we watched an Air Force guy steal a bullet train and drive it to Tokyo from Misawa. There were festivals where the locals would invite us to party with them every few months. This meant drinking Saki and eating sushi and live Squid. We had a ‘Mamasan’ in Japan and she was related to Admiral Yamamoto, the famous Admiral of the Pearl Harbor attack. She took care of our daughters like they were her own and would do laundry, cook, and wash windows.
I really enjoyed the culture in all the countries we visited. But there is no place like home.”
Were you awarded any medals or citations? How did you get them?
“I will tell you what medals I earned, but many of them I cannot tell you how I received them (or I would have to kill you).
In order from Highest to Lowest:
Meritorious Service Medal,
Navy Commendation Medal,
Navy Achievement Medal (2),
Joint Meritorious Unit Commendation,
Meritorious Unit Commendation,
Navy Good Conduct Medal (5),
National Defense Service Medal (2),
Navy Overseas Service Ribbon (10),
Master Training Specialist Designation.”
How did you stay in touch with your family?
“By letters, postcards and by phone calls.”
What was the food like? Did you have plenty of supplies?
“When overseas, we always had the commissaries, which are like grocery stores. We usually had a fair amount of choices of food to buy. But we always missed fast food and pizza. However, each country would have its own special cuisine, that I miss now that I am gone.”
Did you feel pressure or stress?
“Oh yes. Either from the job or because of the culture and not being able to totally speak the language.
Then there would be stress because of the climate we were in, especially if in a cold climate but not so much if we were in a tropical one.”
Was there something special you did for “good luck”?
“Not really. In our profession, there was no such thing as good luck.”
How did people entertain themselves? Were there entertainers?
“Every now and then, there would be a USO show, but we would make our own entertainment. I was in a Band in Puerto Rico that was very popular. It was called Crossfire and we played rock and country music in all of the military clubs on the island. I also had a DJ friend and we played gigs every month at our club. Again, it kept our friends happy and we would play the popular tunes of the time.”
What did you do when on leave?
“I would always visit family and friends!”
Where did you travel while in the service?
“I was stationed in: San Diego for Boot Camp, Pensacola, FL. For “A and C” Schools. Puerto Rico, Iceland, California, Northern Japan, Hawaii, Virginia.”
Do you recall any humorous or unusual events?
“Probably the most humorous events would be when I would start mimicking Cheech and Chong skits in front of people at parties when they were drunk. You had to be there. Just ask Sheryl.”
Do you recall the day your service ended?
“Yes, September 30, 1994. Hurricane Floyd had just passed us in Virginia.”
Where were you?
“Naval Security Group Activity Northwest, VA. It was my Retirement Ceremony.”
What did you do in the days and weeks afterward?
“I took time off before starting college full time. I went back to college because I had the G.I. Bill.”
What did you go on to do as a career after the war?
“I continued to work in the computer field as a Defense Contractor. I now work for the State of Iowa at the Office of the Chief Information Officer”
Did your military experience influence your thinking about war or about the military in general?
“I believe it did. I am not as quick to think it is good to send troops to war. However, I believe we need to keep our military forces up to strength and keep them trained.”
How did your service and experiences affect your life?
“It made me respect our country more and to respect the military and our service men. Whenever I see a retired service man, I thank them for their service. If I have time, I love to have a conversation with them about what they did.”
Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview?
“I am proud of my service. What I would like to say, is that we all should be proud of our active duty and retired military. Please tell them ‘Thank you for your service’ when you see them in uniform or wearing a hat. While many of them may have only spent a few years in the military, there are also many who have career of 20 or more years in service to our country, like I did.”
Kurt, we thank you so much for sharing your recollections with us!