Uniontown Baptist Church members are veterans of four military branches


Gratitude. Appreciation for an opportunity to serve. Always being in a state of readiness to protect the country against threats.

There are so many emotions that Irvin Benge experiences when asked what his military service means to him.

“That’s still a part of my mannerism today. It doesn’t go away,” the Crothersville resident said. “I appreciate the military for what it gave me as a man — the discipline, the sense of respect for people, job satisfaction, commitment. There are so many things there that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.”

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Benge served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1972 to 1988.

Now having been the pastor at Uniontown Baptist Church for nearly 10 years, he’s proud of the fact that six members of his church are fellow veterans.

From 8 a.m. to noon today, the church is hosting a breakfast in honor of Veterans Day, which is celebrated as a national holiday Nov. 11 each year.

“It’s just my way of sharing with those who served, regardless of the branch,” Benge said. “It’s just a way of sharing with them the camaraderie of having served. It brings people together that maybe wouldn’t come together for any other reason.”

Veterans Day is especially important nowadays because after the Vietnam War, members of the military were treated poorly upon their return to the United States, Benge said.

Fortunately, the military now receives more appreciation.

“We see that there’s a shift in our country as to the respect for what our military does, and they are starting to receive that,” Benge said. “You can go anywhere anymore and if you are wearing a (veteran’s) hat, it never fails, there’s always somebody to say, ‘Thank you for your service.’”

The church’s other veterans are Harold Morrow of Uniontown, James Anthony of Crothersville, Charles Harvey and Marlin Adams of Columbus, James Sechrist of Salem and Donald Castleberry of Scottsburg.

Benge said when he enlisted in the Marine Corps out of high school, the draft was just ending. He was drawn to enlist after a good friend from Salem had done so a year before.

“He came home wearing a Marine Corps uniform, and there was just something about that that just settled it,” Benge said.

He had gotten in trouble at school, and a guidance counselor set him up to talk to a Marine Corps recruiter.

At that time, his parents were going through a divorce, and his father wound up signing his papers.

“I was pretty angry, and I could see that if I didn’t do something, I was probably looking at a one-way ticket to jail,” Benge said.

Once he started his military career, he realized it was the right decision.

“If they had someplace for old guys, I would re-enlist in the morning,” he said. “I’ve been out 30 years or longer, and I still miss it.”

Benge went to infantry training school at Camp Pendleton and joined the Third Marine Division. In April 1973, his unit was mounted to go to Vietnam, but the cease-fire was signed in late May, so the unit didn’t have to deploy.

He was on an extraction unit that brought civilians and citizens out of Cyprus in 1974 and was part of a Caribbean deployment in 1977.

He was a drill instructor from 1980 to 1983 and later made E7 discharge rank meritoriously.

“Any time you can take 75 to 83 young men from everywhere east of the Mississippi and throw them together in 13 to 14 weeks and turn them into basically trained Marines, it’s an awesome experience,” Benge said. “I had a really good career. I appreciate the fact that I got to see a lot of the world that I never would have been able to see before.”

Morrow received a draft letter out of high school and went to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training and Panama for advanced training. He served there with the Army in 1966 and 1967.

Then from 1980 to 1986, he was based in Indiana with the Army National Guard and spent time in various places in the United States.

He worked his way up to the rank of sergeant and was a squad leader.

“Almost everything,” Morrow said of what his service means to him.

“My family was always a military-based family,” he said, noting four of his brothers and his father all served in the Army.

While he has a lot of good memories of his service, Morrow said it’s hard to think about the number of lives lost in Vietnam, including good friends from high school and his top sergeant.

“Just by the grace of God, I didn’t go over there,” he said. “It didn’t matter to me one way or the other whether I went or not, but I think God kept me from going for a reason. I probably would have been killed. I always figured when I got in, that’s what would happen.”

Anthony served in the U.S. Navy from 1954 to 1958. He was inspired to join because his older brother had served.

“I just wanted to do it to see what it was like, and I liked it,” he said.

Serving on the USS New Jersey, Anthony spent time cleaning the decks at night and looking over the sea.

The Vietnam War was going on at the time, but Anthony’s ship never was called to go there.

His service ended when the ship went out of commission.

“It was good to do it,” he said of serving in the Navy. “If I had to do it again, I would do it, I would go.”

Harvey grew up in West Virginia and later served in the U.S. Air Force from 1960 to 1964 and shortly after was in the U.S. Navy.

“I was raised in the ‘50s, and nothing was good,” he said. “I didn’t want to work in any coal mines, and I didn’t want to drive a coal truck, and I was uneducated. I quit school at 15. The only grade I completed was the eighth grade. I didn’t know anything. I was smart as a rock. My upbringing wasn’t good, so I just went to the service, and it was the best thing I ever did.”

In the Air Force, Harvey was an air freight specialist. He went through boot camp in Texas and trained in Illinois and Delaware before being stationed in Alaska for two years.

He served during the Vietnam War era but didn’t have to go there.

“If you think about it now, I was ready to go. I didn’t know any better back then. I was just a young whippersnapper,” he said. “But thinking about what I know now, if I could do it again, I would. If it wasn’t for the military, we wouldn’t be here now.”

Adams said it was his choice to serve in the Army from 1960 to 1966.

“I just thought that I wanted to do something in the military to contribute some way, and I knew that if I didn’t push myself, I probably wouldn’t do it because they weren’t doing drafting at that time,” he said.

He was an E6 supply sergeant and only served in the United States. He also was a drill instructor at Fort Knox.

“It was a really important experience of maturity,” he said. “Also, just understanding how the government works and some of the initiatives and how they train people and how they treated people, the government and the standardization of how they go about conducting business.”

Adams now owns a manufacturing company. When he interviews potential employees, he said they go to the top of the list if they are a veteran.

“If you were a gambling person in terms of whether they will stay or not stay, if (the person) is a veteran, you’ve not got much risk,” he said.

It’s because of the maturity and discipline from the military, Adams said.

“You can tell a veteran the way they dress, the way they talk,” he said. “The discipline, the life skills that you learn in the military are very apropos to any discipline that you go to. That goes without saying.”

Sechrist was drafted in April 1968 and remained in the Army until May 1971. He served overseas from November 1968 to December 1969 during the Vietnam War.

The specialist focused on hydraulics on helicopters and Mohawks.

“The schooling they gave me, I didn’t really need because Dad was a mechanic for 45 years,” Sechrist said. “I was working on stuff since I was 11 years old.”

He enlisted an extra year so he could get into hydraulics.

“I’m proud of it,” he said of his service to the country.

Castleberry’s Army service began in 1964. Two years in, he went through special training in Panama before heading to Vietnam.

In early 1968, he went to Fort Carson in Colorado. He wound up running into a buddy from his time in Vietnam who talked him into going back overseas.

Three and a half months in, mortar dropped on his unit one day. Of the 16 men, only five survived, and they became prisoners of war.

Castleberry dropped down to 89 pounds during his six months as a POW and wound up having a bad arm for two years.

At a field hospital in Vietnam, he recognized one of the nurses. When she walked by, he hollered her name, and she couldn’t believe who it was. When he was on the football team in high school, she was a cheerleader.

“She said, ‘You were the last person I thought I would ever see over here,’” he said. “She made sure all of my files, my records and everything was perfect and I had to stay in that field hospital no more than necessary. She got me out of there.”

Castleberry served with the Army until 1972. While he said it was a blessing to return home, he has had problems ever since from what he endured.

“I always will all my life,” he said. “I’m better now than I used to be because I used to have a lot of crazy flashbacks. I’ve told people I don’t want to ever experience it again, and I don’t want anybody to ever have to experience it.”

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