Published On: Mon, Jul 9th, 2018

Veterans’ Corner: Warren Dupree

 

By ROBERT JUMPER and WARREN DUPREE

 

VETERAN: Warren Dupree, an EBCI tribal member, has served his country in three different branches of service over several decades and two wars. (Photos courtesy of Warren Dupree)

As Warren sat down to tell his veteran’s story, he related a childhood memory that foretold the courageous, spontaneous, and adventurous turn his life would take in the decades to come.

“My brother and I snuck away from the house. We must have been four years old-he was five. And Doc Smith, he was the road-grater driver. He was turning up the sod at the Cherokee football field (at what is commonly known as the Fairgrounds today). Right in front of the amphitheater, stage area. Back then it was just all sod and grass. It is where we played the football games. My brother and I, being sneaky little kids, we snuck away from the house. We went down to the field, and we saw Doc. I remember this vividly, ‘cause it was a near death experience for me. The sky was blue; it must have been in the spring of the year, maybe summertime, but we watched what he was doing. He would drop the blade, and he would move forward, and the sod would roll up. He would raise the blade as he came back. He did that a couple of times, and we thought that was amazing. And then my brother said let’s go for a ride. So, when Doc came back and dropped the blade, out of Doc’s line of sight, we went underneath the road-grater, climbed up on the back of the blade, there was a metal bar on the back side of the blade. I turned to the side and hung on to the top. I was on the inside; David was on the outside. He started moving forward, and I can still remember the sod rolling up and when he got to the end, and he raised the blade, and he came back and there we were underneath the blade. Then my brother had the bright idea, “Let’s get off!” He jumps off. And I don’t know how I did this, I must have gotten turned around and threw myself into the back of the blade, fell on the ground, and I remember falling underneath the blade. There was enough time for my brother standing to my right to be seen by Doc. I could see the blade coming down on my midsection. David was pointing at the blade, repeating “my brother, my brother, my brother!” and the blade was sort of digging in. It pushed blood and everything up. Just by the grace of God, that was not my time. Doc looked down as saw this little kid, and he stopped. He got out of the grater. He saw me, and instead of getting in the cab and raising the blade, he jumped down and came over to me. I was within a microsecond of being cut-in-two. And he started digging underneath me to get me out. Then he realized he could raise the blade. So, he got back in the cab, raised the blade and pulled me out. And I still remember him carrying me up to the hospital. It didn’t break a bone, no internal injuries. I spent three days in the hospital. My back was a little stiff, and I got a lot of ice cream and comic books for a few days.”

Warren is from the Wolftown Community, son of T.J. and Betty Dupree. His grandparents were Don and Bertha Craig. T.J. Dupree was a teacher in Cherokee who moved from California to the Qualla Boundary after military service in World War II. Warren was born in the old Cherokee Hospital on March 25, 1949. In 1954, T.J. and his family were transferred to teach in Indian boarding school in Chinle, Arizona, moving to different schools within the Navajo Reservation for several years. 1963, he was transferred to Fort Wingate, New Mexico, while Warren was a sophomore in high school.

Warren attended Gallup High School in Gallup, N.M and graduated May 29, 1967. Two weeks later, he enlisted in the United States Navy. Warren says that it was a combination of his desire to not be a burden to his parents and his brother’s correspondence. His brother had enlisted earlier in the Navy and would write to Warren about the travel and exotic places he was enjoying.

He did his 12-week basic training at the San Diego United States Training Corp in California, a Naval recruit training center. San Diego was also a huge naval base. He said that it was amazing to see the might of the United States military through the ships stationed there. “Twelve weeks basic training. During that twelve weeks, you go through all kinds of testing, medical, dental. Basically, everything is being stripped away from you. All the branches of the service are the same. They take you as a civilian, strip everything away from you, up to and including your hair. Everybody dresses the same. Everybody looks the same, and they build you back the way they want you built back”.

Once Warren completed Basic, he was told that he was to be trained as a “radio-man,” because, during his training, he excelled at Morse Code. During Basic Electricity and Electronics School, Warren found the work boring and could not get motivated to focus on it, so he was sent to “Fleet.” He was assigned to the USS Estes, Amphibious Group Command 3, December 1967. Warren reported as a grade “E2”. Warren described that rank as the lowest of the low or “scum of the earth.” His assignment was called a “deck ape” whose duties included scraping paint, painting, cleaning, etc. Disciple aboard a fighting ship was strict and the authority of the captain absolute. Warren’s day would start at 5 am. He would work a 12-hour shift, then “stand duty.” Standing duty meant standing guard over your living quarters or work area. While you may not be doing any physical labor, you were to be “at the ready” if a superior wanted you to do anything. Living space was at a premium on Navy ships of Warren’s day, and there wasn’t much to work with.  “Sixty people in canvas bed racks, the air conditioner doesn’t work, the deck below you have the evaporators. When the ship is at sea, the evaporators take on seawater to distill it to make fresh. It is a hot process.” Warren and his crew had a hot deck and no working air conditioner in tight quarters. “You might have five racks (canvas beds stacked on top of each other) with about (a foot and a half) space between them.”

The Estes deployed from San Diego to Southeast Asia Jan. 3, 1968. It took eight days to get to Pearl Harbor for a layover of a week before continuing. Their next port, Subic Bay in the Philippines took three weeks at 15 knots (17.26 mph) to achieve. Four days later, the Estes pulled into Danang, Vietnam. Warren described the odor, the first thing he noticed as his ship got close to shore, as a mix of “vegetation and body waste.” He arrived during the “Tet Offensive.” “The Tet Offensive was where the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and the Vietcong came out of hiding with just hit and run tactics to do massive assaults, like in Saigon, Caisson, where they were under siege for 77 days by over 30,000 NVA troops…that was a part of it. The Tet Offensive was designed by the NVA and Vietcong to basically overpower the American forces and South Vietnam”. Tactically, they did what they set out to do which was to cause chaos and death, but strategically, Warren expressed, it cost them the war. American forces nearly wiped out the NVA because of the Tet Offensive. “When you come out of a spider-hole and confront armed troops that are highly disciplined, Marines, Army, Air Force and the air power of the Naval forces, you can’t do it. It literally broke they back.”

The USS Estes carried the rear admiral who was in command of the entire amphibious forces in the Pacific Fleet. “We steamed on Yankee Station in the northern part of the DMZ in the Gulf of Tonkan, South China Sea…was the strike zone, Hanoi, Haiphong Harbor, North Vietnam, the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It was the most deadly naval operation station to be on”. The Estes and the amphibious group would land Marines on the beach, and then, as needed, provide fire support for those troops. “We would pull the ship as close as possible to the beach and fire 5-inch 38’s, which was artillery onboard ship, probably about the size of the guns down here at the Veterans’ Park. The range was 15 miles. We would patrol the coast.”

Warren remembers patrolling the coast of Vietnam at night. They were not allowed to anchor close to shore or at docks because of danger from the enemy. He recalls watching aircraft dropping napalm, creating a purple fire and green and red tracer bullets flying across the coastal area as combatants engaged each other.

He talked about the large military hospital ships, USS Sanctuary and USS Repose, that would receive wounded every 45 minutes from med-evac helicopters. “Warfare is horrible. Warfare involves death and destruction. That is all there is to it.”

Life about the ship was very regimented and hard. Twelve to fourteen hours days were common. The ship was constantly moving, unless on break (rest and recreation) or stop for resupply. The ship is like a “small city,” and everything needed for daily life was onboard. Every shipmate was vital, and it was critical that each person did their job. “The old adage was ‘one man can sink a ship’…very true. It only takes one person to screw up, and you can take a ship down.”

Warren’s ship was called back to San Diego for a time and then reassigned to Vietnam for a second tour of duty. Each trip, one way, required crossing the entire Pacific Ocean. “In July of 1969, that is when the Apollo landing on the moon happened.” At the time of the splashdown, Warren was on the USS Estes in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on his way to his second tour of Vietnam. He remembers thinking that while the astronauts were in space, they were so far out that if anything happened to them, no one could come to their rescue and he realized that he was in the same situation. “I thought, we are just as isolated as they are. We are out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and if that ship went down for whatever reason, that is it.”

“During the course of my first year…I got to see what a quartermaster in the Navy does, on the bridge; the ship’s navigation. I thought ‘this is neat!” Where you are working with charts, sextants, celestial navigation, radar, dead reckoning. But it is working with the navigational end of a ship at sea.” He inquired, learned and eventually asked to become a part of the quartermaster group.

In 1969, Warren reported to the USS Meyerkord, a destroyer escort. He was one of her first crew, and Navy tradition was that each of the first crew would receive a piece of steel from the ship when it was decommissioned. He was then transferred to the USS McKean, a destroyer, to hunt and destroy enemy submarines.

Warren served in the Navy from June 12, 1967, to June 12, 1973.

“When I was getting ready to ETS out, I told my boss, an E6 First Class Petty Officer Knapp, that I wanted to reenlist and make a career out of this. He was a mule farmer from Missouri. He said, ‘No. You don’t. You will get out, and you will go to college’. Petty Officer Knapp brought his car to the pier when Warren’s out day came, pick up Warren and his sea bags and took him to LA International Airport. “We had a few drinks in the bar, and he watched me go down the ramp to get on that aircraft to fly to Asheville. I got on a bus in Asheville, came into Cherokee and called Dad, and he picked me up from the old bus station down here.”

Warren did go to college. He is a member of Western Carolina University’s Class of 1976. He graduated cum laude.

He sought out the Coast Guard recruiter in 1977. He said, like many veterans, he missed the comradery of being part of a military unit. “There is a special bond there.” He said that is why many of our veterans enjoy being a part of a VFW or American Legion post. They want to experience that fellowship again. Warren wanted to get back into the military and keep his civilian life, which he realized he could do as a member of the Coast Guard Reserve. He signed up and was base was in Knoxville, Tenn. He would go there once a month and patrolled the Tennessee River on a “15-foot boat with twin, 100-hp Evinrude motors. Now you talk about a flying piece of equipment!” He served as an E4 Boatswain’s Mate, Third Class. Part of his duties was ensuring the red and green navigational buoys were in good working order along the river. This included removing any obstructions. “We would take bush axes, cruise the river, and chop away the vegetation, the trees, the saplings away from the aids to navigation.” Also, the Coast Guard was like highway patrolmen for the river, checking civilian boats for safety gear and registration compliance. So, after two years of service, Warren added to his honorable discharge from the Navy, an honorable discharge from the United States Coast Guard.

Warren enlisted in the Army National Guard in the fall of 1979 in the 210th Military Police Company headquartered in Webster. There were also platoons in Franklin and Murphy. They drilled the first weekend of every month. They trained in nuclear, chemical and biological warfare. They trained in desert warfare. Warren stated that they always trained as if the war was imminent so that they would be ready to go when required. At least once a year they did an extended, extensive 3-week training at one of the Army bases in the southeast. Every odd year, Warren participated, along with the 210th, in desert warfare training in Egypt (called “Bright Star”). In 1987, the real-world training was the last two weeks of July and the first week of August. They flew to West Cairo, Egypt, to an Egyptian military base. The air temperature during that time was 150 degrees during the day and “very dry.” At night, it dropped down to 80 degrees. “You are looking at 60 to 70-degree temperature fluctuations. If you were off-duty and didn’t get into your sleeping bag at night, you would wake up literally shaking and freezing for the big drop in temperature overnight. You had to drink water constantly sipping, sipping, sipping.”

Warren covered some interesting ground as he could be deployed to anywhere in the world as part of the 210th. He said in addition to seeing the Sphinx and other historic landmarks in Egypt; he had been to Pisa, Italy, where he saw the leaning tower and has been through the Panama Canal twice.

One humorous but shocking note was mentioned as Warren told a side story about the latrines in Egypt. Warren recalls going to the latrine for what you would normally go to a latrine to do, and as he sits down, he heard a “hissing sound” coming from underneath him. He didn’t take time to look, but he imagines that there were Egyptian cobras that had denned in the bottom of the latrine. He said he had an “oh no!” moment.

SOLDIER: Warren is shown in Iraq during the Gulf War in March 1991.

 

On Aug. 1, 1990, the Iraqi Army invaded Kuwait. “Sept. 12, 1990, we were activated, along with the two other North Carolina Guard units…We took about a week gathering all of our equipment and then we convoyed to Fort Bragg. At Fort Bragg, we swapped out our woodland, forest camo for desert camouflage. We received new equipment, and all of our vehicles were repainted to desert camouflage. Warren was 18-years-old when he served in Vietnam. He was 41-years-old at the time of his National Guard deployment to the Mideast. The force, flying out of Pope Air Force Base, flew on out on C-1’s and C-1A’s. “These are the biggest aircraft that the Air Force has to fly. A C-1 can carry 5 Greyhound buses. Massive aircraft.” We flew into Torrejon Air Force Base in Spain to refuel. From Spain, they flew into Saudi Arabia. From Pope AFB to King Fhad International Airport, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia was approximately 22 hours.

At that time, Warren was a Sergeant (E5). He also had the advantage of growing up in desert conditions in Arizona. Many of Warren’s comrades had not. He was charged with prepping them for what was to come. The 210th loaded up on buses and were taken to a place called “Cement City.” A Saudi cement production facility that was being used as an acclamation point for troops, where they stayed for two weeks, adapting to the desert environment. They wound up serving with the 105th Airborne (10,000 troops) due to a coincidental visit to Cement City by their Provost Marshal, who needed a military police company. The 105th was stationed at King Fhad Airport, so that is where the 210th went to provide division law enforcement and security. As the U.S. geared up for the major war with Iraqi, supplies came into Saudi Arabia nonstop. The supplies and equipment were convoyed north toward the line of battle. Warren and the 210th escorted each convoy from the airport to the staging area north.

During this operation, the threat of enemy chemical weapon use was ever-present. “Wherever you went, you were totally encased in mob-gear…tops, pants, boots, protective mask. In that environment, it is incredibly difficult, and you could die from dehydration. You carried a protective mask wherever you went. If you went to the latrine, you carried it with you. You slept with it. You bathed with it. You took it wherever you went because of the threat of Serine nerve agent. A minute speck of Serine on you would kill you in about 15 minutes, and you die a horrible death.”

There were many suicides, both among enlisted men and officers. Warren said that due to the immense stress of the location and situation, they took their own lives.

Warren said that he received a lot of care packages from Cherokee during his tour of duty in Saudi Arabia. “One of the most valuable items in a care package from my mom was a washboard.” He was the only one in the company that had one. Soldiers would borrow his washboard regularly.

In January 1991, the 210th, and other forces moved from King Fhad International Airport to King Khalid Military City. The move was in preparation for engaging the battle in Iraq. Nawati was where they staged for the ground war during Desert Storm. The troops kept up with what was going on with the war via shortwave radios, picking up Russian and BBC reporting on the progress of the fighting. “The 101st had a supply route that reached 200 miles into Iraq. A tactical road during warfare doesn’t go straight,” Warren stated. “I was a machine gunner in a Humvee. I had 2,000 rounds of 7.62. I had an AT4, an anti-tank weapon with rocket-propelled explosives. 80 mm. I had a LAW (light anti-tank weapon). 60 mm.”

At that time, the assault on Iraq was the largest air assault in the history of modern warfare. The toll of the assault could be seen as Warren, and the rest of the troops encountered the enemy. “The Iraqi Army was pretty well isolated. We encountered Iraqi EPW’s, Iraqi soldiers who became prisoners of war, that we processed, they had basically deserted their position, tied themselves to a camel, so that they wouldn’t fall off when they would sleep, and they were headed home. When we would capture them, they would show you pictures of their family and cry, and they wanted us to kill Sadam Hussein.”

It was a 100-hour war. The mandate was to get the Iraqis out of Kuwait, and that mission was accomplished. That was as far as they could go without potentially having the coalition of countries turn on the United States. Warren said he and his colleagues knew that in 10 to 15 years, they would have to return and fight again. Once the war was officially over, the troops sat in place for about a month before the pullout started, at least for the 210th. After that, they made the transition back to “Guard City,” and then the process of getting men and equipment back to the U.S. began.

HOMECOMING: Warren is shown coming home from the Gulf War in April 1991.

Warren felt that General Norman Schwarzkopf was a brilliant leader. He gained additional respect for the General when Schwarzkopf refused to proceed with attacking Iraqi forces until he felt confident that we had overwhelming superiority over them so that he could minimize the danger to U.S. troops. When Warren returned to civilian duty, he asked a friend, who was a childhood playmate of General Schwarzkopf, to send him a message. She wrote him a letter and included the following from Warren: “I was honored to be under his command and that I would follow him through the gates of hell because I know that he is a leader that would get us back out again.” Schwarzkopf wrote his friend back and included a statement for Warren. He said it is comments like that that mean so much to him because you are looking at an average soldier on the ground.

Warren said that the troops came home to a wonderful homecoming. When called to duty for Iraq, the 210th and other Army National Guard units were under federal jurisdiction. Once the conflict was over, they were “de-federalized” and returned to the control of their states.

The 210th was also deployed during domestic emergencies, and Warren served when, for the first time, National Guard troops were deployed to the Cherokee area and western North Carolina during the 1993 blizzard. Warren has participated in duty during hurricanes in North Carolina.

“In 1999, I had been promoted to Staff Sergeant (E6), and I was transferred to the 211th MP Company in Asheville.” Warren was rated (soldiers are given a point value based on several measurable military factors) the number one E6 in the state of NC. He was then promoted to Sergeant First Class (E7), and I was the platoon sergeant for the 211th MP Company. Warren was selected as Most Outstanding Non-Commissioned Officer E7-E9 in North Carolina. Warren considers that the pinnacle of his career. In the spring of 2000, he represented NC in the regional competition.

Warren, now in “retirement,” is an active Eastern Band member, helping the Cherokee veteran community through his participation in Steve Youngdeer American Legion Post 143, spending much of his time helping his comrades-in-arms and their families with tasks from family services to monumental recognition to reuniting loved ones with soldiers’ remains. He also participates with community events, like the Cherokee Indian Fair, and works with several groups and organizations to help preserve the health and culture of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Warren shared a special memory from Vietnam that we all can take to heart. “In Vietnam, I was sitting with a buddy of mine; the last name was Jordan. He father has just passed away from a massive cardiac, and we were on the other end of the planet. In 1968 and you have a death in the family, you are not coming home, not from a war zone. He just got the word, from the Red Cross through the ship, that his dad had a massive cardiac and died. He was so down. I just sat down next to him, and he started talking to me. I wasn’t there to talk to him. I was there to show support. He talked about his dad. And, he talked about how mean and hateful he was as a teenager. I was too. He said, ‘You know, I was so mean and hateful to my dad growing up man and you know, he is gone now, and I will never be able to say I am sorry for being such a (blockhead). Dad, please forgive me. I am sorry. I will never be able to do that.” I learned a lot from my dad. He was a good man. It wasn’t about him. It was about other people. Later that night or the next day, I sat down, and I wrote a letter. “Dear Dad, I am so sorry. Please forgive me for being such a (blockhead); for being so mean and so hateful as a teenager. I am sorry. Please forgive me.” I gave him such a hard time. When he passed away in October 1992, and I was going through the strong box that he kept all of his important papers in…there is that letter.”

“I am very proud of being an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Everything I have ever done, in my military career reflects my pride in being a member of this beautiful people. I have never forgotten, nor will I ever forget that it is an honor and a privilege to be a member of this tribe and I will never do anything to bring discredit to our people. When we do, we do our best because that is the way our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents taught us to be. We have a proud history of being warriors. When you take that oath when you initially enter into the armed forces of these United States of America, and you swear an oath before God, it doesn’t stop when you get off active duty, or you retire. It is life-long. You will serve and expect nothing in return. If you get a kind word or smile that is payment enough if it comes your way. You will do and give everything that you have to improve the quality of life for our people.”

Warren D. Dupree

Staff Sergeant-NC Army National Guard-Retired

Awards, Commendations, Decorations

Army Commendation Medal

Army Achievement Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Cluster

Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal

National Defense Service Medal with 1 Bronze Service Star

Vietnam Service Medal with 4 Bronze Service Stars

Southwest Asia Service Medal with 2 Bronze Service Stars

Humanitarian Service Medal

Armed Forces Reserve Medal

NCO Professional Development Ribbon

Army Service Ribbon

Army Reserve Components Overseas Training Ribbon

Republic of Vietnam Campaign with 60 Device

Saudi Arabian Liberation of Kuwait Medal

NCNG Meritorious Service Medal

NCNG Achievement Medal

NCNG State Active Duty Award with Numeral 9 Device

NCNG Service Award with Numeral 2 Device

NCNG Governor’s Unit Citation

NCNG Meritorious Unit Citation

Driver Badge

Expert Marksman Badge with Rifle and Pistol Device

NCNG Service Award with Numeral 2 Device

NCNG Governor’s Unit Citation

NCNG Meritorious Unit Citation

Driver Badge

Expert Marksman Badge with Rifle and Pistol Device

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