Interview with Joseph Kinzer, August 4, 2005 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Interviewee: Kinzer, Joseph Interviewer: Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview: 8/4/20035 Series: Veterans' Heritage Length 57 minutes
Zarbock: Good afternoon. My name is Paul Zarbock, a staff person with UNCW's Randall Library. Today is the 4th of August in the year 2005, and we're taping this tape for the Military Reminiscence section of the Special Collections. We're at St. James Plantation, and we're at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Zimmerman. Our interviewee today is Joseph Kinzer. Good afternoon sir.
Joseph Kinzer: Good afternoon sir.
Zarbock: Well let me start off asking, when did you go into the military, where did you go into the military and why did you go into the military?
Joseph Kinzer: I joined the Army in January 1959, at Fort Holabird in Maryland, in Baltimore. And I joined the Army- uh.. knowing that the Draft would eventually uh.. get me, I thought that I would enlist and uh.. perhaps get a, you know, a choice assignment or something I wanted to do vis-a-vis what the Army wanted me to do. So I enlisted for the Infantry.
Zarbock: How old were you?
Joseph Kinzer: I was 19 years old.
Zarbock: Well, and you got the Infantry.
Joseph Kinzer: I did sir.
Zarbock: And where did you go?
Joseph Kinzer: I went to uh.. Fort Benning, Georgia, as a matter of fact and- home of the Infantry- and for six months I went through all the Infantry training and eventually uh.. sailed across the Atlantic aboard the USNS Upshur, and joined the 3rd Division in Schweinfurt, Germany.
Zarbock: And your assignment was?
Joseph Kinzer: I was a rifleman in Company D, 2nd Battle Group, 38th Infantry, in Schweinfurt, Germany.
Zarbock: And your rank was?
Joseph Kinzer: Private E2.
Zarbock: Well, you got your wish.
Joseph Kinzer: Yes.
Zarbock: You're in the infantry and you're- well I don't know if your wish was to be in Germany but--.
Joseph Kinzer: Yes sir, it was.
Zarbock: You're in the military, you're in the infantry- so far so good.
Joseph Kinzer: Yes sir.
Zarbock: How was the duty?
Joseph Kinzer: Wonderful really. Uh.. all of the NCOs, non-commissioned officers, in the company were veterans of either World War II or Korea. So I had some great tutors that kinda set the standard for me, and the officers were- uh.. several were Korean War veterans and uh.. but most of them were lieutenants from uh.. West Point, uh.. Class of '56, '57, '58 timeframe.
Zarbock: What would be a normal series of duties any month of the year?
Joseph Kinzer: Uh.. as I recall uh.. the normal duty was- in and around Schweinfurt we had local training areas where we'd go out and train there, and about three times a year we would go to some of the major training areas in Germany, either Lowenfelds, Wildflecken or uh.. Grafenwoehr, for extensive field training. We trained for 30, 40 days at a time, and rotate back to Schweinfurt.
Zarbock: So life wasn't characterized by being a barracks soldier, spit and polish and ready for the next inspection?
Joseph Kinzer: That was part of it but the majority of our time was spent in the field. Readiness was the name of the game.
Zarbock: What relationship did you as an infantryman have with armored?
Joseph Kinzer: Uh.. we worked alongside those uh.. formations, if you will. Uh.. we had a uh.. tank battalion not far down the road from our barracks and we were co-located with a mechanized transportation unit. This was before the Army saw fit to integrate the mechanized uh.. portion of the Army with the foot soldiers, and become a mounted formation, if you will- mechanized infantry.
Zarbock: I've got to ask the old-fashioned question, what was your basic weapon, the M1?
Joseph Kinzer: The M1 rifle, followed by the Browning automatic rifle. I carried the BAR for about six months and then the uh.. M1- uh.. M19, 1986 machinegun, my Fairclough [ph?] machinegun. So I carried all three of them.
Zarbock: The Browning was a--.
Joseph Kinzer: Fine weapon.
Zarbock: A complex weapon, wasn't it?
Joseph Kinzer: It was kind of a gas operated- it was a..- very heavy, it weighed 21 pounds fully loaded, and of course you carried 12 magazines, that uh.. increased the load quite a bit (laughs). But I persevered and uh..- and did well there.
Zarbock: Okay, so what happened after--? How long were you in Germany?
Joseph Kinzer: I was in Germany 15 months. I was there uh.. from July of uh.. 1959 until September of uh.. '60.
Zarbock: So you probably used up about two years of your three-year enlistment at this time.
Joseph Kinzer: Just about. I uh..- I was there- while I was there I went to the uh.. 3rd Division Non-Commissioned Officers Academy where they took young soldiers who thought that- who they recognized as having potential to be leaders, and put us through a 30-day training program on how to be a leader. So I went to that in November of 1959- had been in the Army nine months.
Zarbock: What was your rank?
Joseph Kinzer: I was a Specialist by that time- E4. They promoted me very quickly.
Zarbock: E4 in my old-fashioned--.
Joseph Kinzer: Was a corporal.
Zarbock: Okay. Well how did you like NCO school?
Joseph Kinzer: Uh.. it was great. I uh..- the first school I'd ever been to in the Army, other than uh.. Advanced Individual Training. And uh.. I met a lotta neat guys and again uh.. learned to appreciate the value of non-commissioned officers, uh.. who were great trainers, uh.. were great role models, and uh.. had a wealth of experience and would- took time and patience to work with us, albeit, uh.. you know, taught us what standards were all about and uh.. things like that and uh.. attention to detail, how to inspect, uh.. how to lead- uh.. went through several leader reaction courses and various leader sit- situations where you had to uh.., you know, figure out how to take four or five guys, get 'em across a bridge or something with uh.. whatever equipment you had available type-thing. So it was a great course.
Zarbock: And you rotated back to the United States?
Joseph Kinzer: I came back to the States in September of uh.. '59- correction '60- uh.. to uh..- I'm sorry, '61, I came back in, to West Point Prep School.
Zarbock: West Point Prep School.
Joseph Kinzer: I decided- I decided that uh.. I wanted to take a shot at going to West Point, and uh.. I came back.. in September of that year and uh.. was there for three months, and I realized that uh.. I didn't think I could make- get the appointment and make it through West Point, so I figured I'd better go ahead and spend my time someplace else.
Zarbock: You've introduced me to a new concept, a new organizational concept. What did you do at the West Point Prep School?
Joseph Kinzer: There was three facets to the West Point Prep School. One was fitness and leadership, the other was academics- fitness, leadership, academics- and the academics were mathematics and English- overdose of both those, to get you as shape for the uh.. entrance examinations at West Point.
Zarbock: Now you held at that time a high school diploma- is that correct?
Joseph Kinzer: Right, I was a high school graduate. I graduated in- (clears throat) I graduated in uh.. June of 1957.
Zarbock: How'd you do in math in high school?
Joseph Kinzer: Uh.. I was average- not real well, it wasn't one of my favorite subjects. Geography and history were my favorite subjects, and uh.. I- that's why I love to travel and, you know, loved Germany and being over there, I got the chance to travel to a couple- to a couple of countries.
Zarbock: What about the physical conditions?
Joseph Kinzer: Not a problem with the physical fitness piece or the leadership piece, uh.. but it was the academics. There were 125 of us in the West Point Prep School.
Zarbock: You were selected to go there.
Joseph Kinzer: Yes. I volunteered and then selected through a series of examinations, and uh.. arrived there--. The school started- I was two weeks late getting there, as a matter of fact. I was behind the power curve when I arrived and uh- uh.. so I--.
Zarbock: Sir, you've got to explain that. That's an AWOL- that's a Court Martial offence to show up late.
Joseph Kinzer: No. I was late getting out of Germany. They didn't cut the orders soon enough to get me on an airplane to fly me there. I got there as soon as I could. But I was- school had already started so I had a couple of weeks- somewhat behind- not that far behind but--. But the uh..- there was a daily routine of fitness training in the morning, uh.. academics, and then uh.. academics in the afternoon and then more fitness in the afternoon- in the evening, and then evening- study time in the evening. It was a great routine but I just- there were 125 candidates, cadet candidates they called us.
Zarbock: All of who had been or were in the military.
Joseph Kinzer: Yes, all of 'em had to have been in the military but some had had a year of college, some had just graduated high school. Uh.. and there- in those days the corps of cadets was authorized 90 cadets from the regular- regular army and 90 from the Reserve. And there were only 19 vacancies in the regular army coming available that year- 125 guys competing for 19 vacancies. What I didn't realize at the time though that I could have gone over on Capitol Hill and started knocking on doors for congressional appointments and presidential appointments and things like that. I- I just didn't have the time, or take time to do that. So uh.. I said, "It's- it's not gonna work so I'm outta here." So I resigned and went to Fort Benning again, this time joined the 2nd Division at Fort Benning.
Zarbock: This would call for a reenlistment, wouldn't it?
Joseph Kinzer: Uh.. not yet, no. I uh.. was at Benning for a year and uh.. came up on enlistment in '60- for re-enlistment in '62, in February- uh.. January '62 was the uh.. end date for my enlistment of a three-year assign- uh.. enlistment. And I took- I asked the Company Commander if I could take 30 days and think about what I wanted to do with my life, and he said sure. So I extended my enlistment for 30 days and uh.. at the end of 30 days I said, "I think I'm gonna stay in the Army, I think I'll make this my life." And so, I reenlisted for six years and- for the infantry again, for (clears throat) for Fort Myers, Virginia, the Old Guard in Arlington, Virginia.
Zarbock: Let me call to your attention- I may do this several times- that one of the important things about these interviews is that 50 years from now people are going to say, "Wow, that's what they did way back then." Okay, when you enlisted for six years, did you receive some sort of payment or bonus?
Joseph Kinzer: Yes sir, I got a bonus of $1062.00- a big bonus in those days. I guess 1062 bucks was a lot of money in 1962.
Zarbock: How old were you?
Joseph Kinzer: I was uh..- let's see, 22.
Zarbock: Not bad.
Joseph Kinzer: No.
Zarbock: Do you remember what you did with the money?
Joseph Kinzer: I did, I bought a car. I bought a- a uh..- I'd never owned a car before in my life so I bought a car. And uh.. it wasn't long after I arrived at Fort Myers that we uh..- let's see, the following June I guess it was, June of..- it was- no, it was that- that particular June, June of '62. I was married- I got married in 1962, to my wife. She was goin' to school at the University of Virginia when I was in West Point Prep School, and instead of studying on the weekends, I was going down to see her. So. You know and that kinda- that kinda pulled at me as well because, you know, you can't be married and go to West Point. So I- I would have to have waited four more years- I was getting on in years. I would've made the cutoff by one day. You cannot have reached your 22nd birthday by the first Tuesday in July, of the year you enter West Point- that's the Federal rule, regulation. So I had one day to play with there, if you will. But anyway, I uh....
Zarbock: Let me probe a little bit about--.
Joseph Kinzer: Sure.
Zarbock: Fort Myer, Virginia has got a very distinguished and interesting history. Again for the purpose of recording it here on the tape, tell me a little about Fort Myer. What's there and why is it there?
Joseph Kinzer: Uh.. Fort Myer is the home of the uh.. 3rd U.S. Infantry- the Old Guard it's called. Uh.. General Winfield Scott in the War of 18- uh.. 1846, Mexico named it the Old Guard. He told them- when they were on review he said, "Gentleman, take your hats off to the Old Guard of the Army"- the 3rd Infantry, 3rd U.S. Infantry, have a unique hat they wear. Their crest is a cockade- you know they trace their lineage back to the Revolutionary War. So they're- they're there, and it's a very uh.. complex organization in some ways and yet uh.. its quota- sort of repli- replicates what the Army's all about. It uh..- it has regular infantry companies that do ceremonies and they're also uh.. qualified infantrymen who uh.. have the secondary mission of defending the capital in case it's needed to be defended, and they have a salute battery that fire cannons for various ceremonies- they conduct ceremonies throughout the uh.. Greater Metropolitan area of Washington, especially at the White House, and uh..- and at Fort Myer for the Chief Staff of the Army, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs- do a lot of joint ceremonies at the Pentagon, and so on and so forth.
Zarbock: And we mentioned off-camera the Army Band is there, isn't it?
Joseph Kinzer: The Army Band- yeah, I was getting to that. The Army Band is there, and several of the uh.. personnel commands of the Army have some uh.. detachments there as well. And of course Fort Myer headquarters uh.. is part of the greater military district of the Washington area. The headquarters of the military district is over at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C.- it's across the river.
Zarbock: Are there still some horses stabled at--?
Joseph Kinzer: Yes we still--. And that's the other piece that I was gonna say- mention, the uh..- the Caisson Section. There are six- three sets of horses, six each- blacks, grays and whites- uh.. that are part of the Old Guard that- that are used in funerals, in the ceremonies.
Zarbock: Why different colors?
Joseph Kinzer: Well they- the horses are all donated by various uh.. organizations and people around the country. And so they- they uh..- they have three different colors. Uh.. I'm not sure why but, you know, I know in one case the uh..- a family, I think it was from Virginia, that donated the six grays, and they're all beautiful animals and they're well taken care of. They have their own blacksmiths, their own veterinarians and everything there, and- and they have their own harness makers and uh.. everything.
Zarbock: That's somewhat of a pampered existence.
Joseph Kinzer: It is, yeah- matter of fact the uh..- the guy who'd been the uh.. furrier there for 20-some years has just retired this past year, in 19- in 2005, in this- this past spring.
Zarbock: Sir, what was your duty there?
Joseph Kinzer: I was a squad leader of an infantry squad. I had nine soldiers plus myself as- in a routine-type uh.. daily activity infantry business, if you will, of training infantrymen. From a ceremonial perspective, I was in charge of a firing party. We fired the volleys at the funerals in the cemetery, and we also provided uh.. other kinds of support for ceremonial duties, like flag bearers and things like that.
Zarbock: Were you also responsible for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?
Joseph Kinzer: I was not directly responsible. It was part of our company but I never served on the Tomb. Uh.. I did, in fact, as one- I was selected and served on the- the uh.. White House Color Guard for President Johnson for about 18 months, and was uh.. one of three teams that would go over to the White House in various and sundry ceremonies, such as State Visit and things like that.
Zarbock: Is this generally thought of as being good duty?
Joseph Kinzer: It is- oh yeah, absolutely good duty, yeah. But, you know, by- by the same token we did all the ceremonial stuff in and around Washington. Every year we went to Fort Meade and we did all of our weapons qualifications. We had to maintain our proficiency. And then every January we spent 30 days at Camp AP Hill in Virginia on field maneuvers and things like that, to maintain our proficiency in infantry tactics and things like that.
Zarbock: So you weren't just chocolate soldiers, you were--.
Joseph Kinzer: So we weren't- we weren't just uh.. palace guards- that's correct, yeah. It was a very comprehensive uh.. training program and uh..- but good duty.
Zarbock: I'm going to wedge into kind of a personal thing. You were now married. Washington, DC can be a very expensive place. Where did you live?
Joseph Kinzer: We lived in an apartment off of Columbia Pike and Greenbrier Street. I can't recall how much it cost but the Army reimbursed us some number of dollars each month for a cost of living allowance. And we had one child in a year's time, and- and uh.. it was pretty tight but we managed. My wife's a registered nurse. She graduated the University of Virginia School of Nursing; has a Bachelor of Science and Nursing, and so when she got finished with her education, she went back- she got a job in Northern Virginia, at the Northern Virginia Doctors Hospital, about six blocks from where we lived. So she could catch the bus to work, and the hours were pretty decent. And uh.. so that helped, a little. That's when I realized and I said "Hey, you know, I'm not sure--." I- I got promoted very quickly. I was- I was in the Army for 39 months and I was a sergeant, a staff sergeant- unheard of in most organizations now, uh.. to be promoted uh.. to staff sergeant in three years' time. And I looked at the future and said, it's a long time till I get promoted to sergeant first class, sergeant major, so I better go to OCS, if I'm gonna make the Army a career. And I- I did. I uh..- I looked around at other- at some of the lieutenants--.
Zarbock: Whoa, just a minute now. So you decided to go to OCS- how do you go about doing that?
Joseph Kinzer: Yeah, well I just--.
Zarbock: You got to fill in some papers.
Joseph Kinzer: I had to fill out the application- sure- and uh.. take a couple of aptitude tests and things like that, and then get the recommendation from the company commander and first sergeant- and the leadership of the organization that I was in, the Old Guard, the Outer Guard Company, and then I had to go before a Board of Officers for a interview, much like we're doing here today, where they would ask questions and you'd kinda sense uh.., you know- get an assessment, if you will, about potential to be a leader. And it was about a two-hour- uh.. about a two-hour interview.
Zarbock: At the end of the interview did you have a sense of confidence that you had been accepted or did, were you--?
Joseph Kinzer: I felt like I had done my best. I didn't uh..- you know, didn't try to say anything that wouldn't be apropos and all- you know I gave them my honest answers to questions, and two days later I found out that I had been selected.
Joseph Kinzer: So.
Zarbock: Where did they send you?
Joseph Kinzer: Uh.. Fort Benning, Georgia, back for the third time to Fort Benning to Officer Candidate School. I was in 53rd Company- uh.. that's 8- 8-(dash)64.
Zarbock: How long did it take?
Joseph Kinzer: Six months. It was a great course. I loved it, I--. A lotta guys hated it but I'd do it all again, it was--.
Zarbock: What did you like about it?
Joseph Kinzer: I liked the discipline, I liked the routine, I liked the- the spit and polish, I liked the leadership challenge, I liked the fitness programs they had. I loved the academics- uh.., you know, we shot our- we fired every weapon the Army had and uh.. just- you know, it was just great fun uh.. gettin' to know your buddies and coming to- to grips with this idea of being a platoon leader responsible for 41 soldiers, and I really uh..- really enjoyed that.
Zarbock: Did your wife stay in D.C.?
Joseph Kinzer: She- no, she moved from D.C. to her mom's house in Virginia, in Danville, Virginia. Uh.. it- there's an interesting twist to this interview you had mentioned earlier. The day that I was to go for the interview was the 22nd day of November 1963- that was the day Kennedy was assassinated. The Board of Review was to go at 2- 3 o'clock that afternoon, and he was- uh.. we got the word around 1:30 in the afternoon that the president had been assassinated. So we went into our train-up for the Presidential funeral. And uh..- we- everything stopped and we started working all of the detail of- of the uh.. funeral preparation and support and all that kind of stuff. So we spent the next four or five days doing that. And the one set was behind us. Uh.. we're now on to- into Thanksgiving and then the holiday season, and so I didn't go to- before the board until January of '63, thinking that I may not get in- or '64 rather- and I may not get in that year. But- but as luck would have it, two days later I got the word and I was off. I left the Old Guard on the 31st of March in 1964, took my wife to- down to Southern Virginia, to Danville, and reported to Fort Benning on the 12th day of April.
Zarbock: Were you in the funereal cortege?
Joseph Kinzer: I was in the Honor Guard around the casket, at the White House and at the Capitol. I was the Army- one of the Army sentinels. And my firing party, I mentioned that I was a squad leader and had a firing party for the funerals- my firing party fired its three volleys at the cemetery. I was off that day. Uh.. my assistant squad leader, Bill Malcolm, was the guy in charge, of the firing party. I still have the pictures of it.
Zarbock: What a moment in history.
Joseph Kinzer: Yeah.
Zarbock: Okay, OCS. You are now commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, is that correct?
Joseph Kinzer: Commissioned 2nd Lieutenant.
Joseph Kinzer: First Duty assignment, 82nd Airborne Division.
Zarbock: You volunteered?
Joseph Kinzer: After Jump School. Right, I volunteered for Jump School out of OCS and uh.. my wife says, "You can come home, can't you?" I said, "Well for two days and then I got to come back and go to parachute school." "I don't want you jumping out of airplanes." I said, "Oh, it pays $110.00 extra a month." She says, "When you goin'?" So uh.. off to jump school- got injured in the second week, dislocated shoulder, had to wait a couple of weeks to go back and uh.. mend, if you will, and then uh.. finished up uh.. 15 November and reported to the 82nd Airborne Division three days later.
Zarbock: You are now assigned to the 82nd?
Joseph Kinzer: I'm assigned to the 82nd- brand new 2nd Lieutenant, with uh.. five years and eight months enlisted service and uh....
Zarbock: And your duties are what, platoon leader?
Joseph Kinzer: I was a platoon leader of the reconnaissance platoon, 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment- 2nd Brigade.
Zarbock: Let's pause just a moment here. Again, for the sake of history, the recon group, that's somewhat hazardous isn't it?
Joseph Kinzer: It is, and it's a plumb job and I was just uh.. taken aback.
Zarbock: Whoa, whoa. Why did you say plumb? That's supposed to be one of the most dangerous--.
Joseph Kinzer: Well it's the job that every- every lieutenant that's worth his salt wants in the regiment, in the battalion. You know, they want to be on the leading edge, they want to be the eyes and ears of the battalion, and- and I was just uh.. in awe that I got the job because there were two 1st lieutenants who had been in the battalion for about a year or so, waiting in line. And I reported in, met the executive officer, and he says "You're gonna be assigned to Company C as a 2nd uh.. platoon leader." So I went down, met the company commander that day, and came- he said, "Come back to see the battalion commander tomorrow, he'll be in for duty tomorrow." So I went back to see the Old Man, and he said uh.., "that assignment in C Company's off, you're gonna be a scout platoon leader."
Zarbock: By the way, again for the sake of history, the phrase 'Old Man' is not a pejorative, it's really what--.
Joseph Kinzer: No it's--. It's respectful.
Zarbock: It's an intimate--.
Joseph Kinzer: Of the guy in charge, he's the Old Man, he's the man that's--. He's all-inspiring, he's all-wise, he has all the answers.
Zarbock: And it is not a putdown.
Joseph Kinzer: No, no, oh absolutely not- no, no, this is a mark of respect- when you say 'the Old Man', that's- you know that's like putting him on a pedestal.
Zarbock: And that's always followed by the phrase, 'yes sir'.
Joseph Kinzer: Right (laughs).
Zarbock: Okay. Now why would a nice guy purposefully and willfully jump out of a--? You know the phrase as well as I do, 'a perfectly good airplane'.
Joseph Kinzer: 'A good aircraft'- yeah. Well, it was definitely--. I've often asked myself that question but it's a method of getting from Point A to Point B, and that's basically what it is. There's a little macho with it, it takes some courage to defy the law of nature, uh.. to hook up to that anchor line cable and put your knees in the breeze, as we say, and uh.. exit that aircraft that's flying at 135 miles an hour.
Zarbock: The paratroopers whom I've interviewed in other interviews have said they loved it.
Joseph Kinzer: Yeah. Once you do it, uh.. no goin' back. I was scared to death the first time. Uh.. I can remember my first jump at Fort Benning like it was yesterday, and I was the first- I was number three guy in the door- in the stick rather, and one- the two guys in front of me just disappeared that quick and the next thing you know I'm out the door. And I remember looking up and seeing the aircraft, and my first conscious thought was, it's too late to get back in the thing now (laughs). And so I started to remember everything I'd been taught for the previous two weeks. And I'm coming down and I'm looking and checking things out and, you know, doing the things that they teach you to do. And I recall very vividly the noncommissioned officers, one of the trainers, the cadre, on the ground with a bullhorn, coaching, telling everybody what to do- you know, pull up, tutorize [ph?] your slip, prepare to land feet and knees together, relax from the waist down, all that- I hit the ground like a sack of potatoes. He came over to me and he said, "Lieutenant, you're gonna break your neck, you make another landing like that, you're gonna kill yourself." I said, "Sergeant, I'm so glad to be on the ground, I don't know (laughs)- I don't know what to say." (laughs) But it became uh.., you know, not routine but it- you got more confidence the more you jumped- you know, you got confidence in yourself and your buddy and in your equipment, because it's- it's not a- they say it's just you and the parachute but it's you, the guy flying the airplane- it's the parachute, it's your buddy, it's the other jumper in the air, and uh.. there's a lot to it. And it- it's so ingrained in you, the procedures, the jump commands, the uh.. what they call five points of performance, you know, when you exit the aircraft, your body position and count- you check your canopy, you look for jumpers left and right, you prepare to land and you land. And parachute landing fall, you never forget that, it's so ingrained.
Zarbock: How long were you in the 82nd?
Joseph Kinzer: Uh.. I was in ten years, all- altogether. I was there four different assignments. I went there as a lieutenant, I went back as a captain, went back as a lieutenant colonel and I went back as a brigadier general. So uh.. all and all around 9 1/2, 10 years.
Zarbock: Well not bad for a kid from Maryland that--.
Joseph Kinzer: No, who wanted to beat the- beat the Draft. Right, yeah.
Zarbock: Let me skip ahead because in terms of the interviews I've done you're certainly unique. You were a colonel. I'm going to leap ahead that far. You were a colonel.
Joseph Kinzer: I was a colonel in 1986.
Zarbock: And why were you promoted?
Joseph Kinzer: Well the Army, in my judgment, promotes people because they have the potential to perform at the next higher grade, accept the responsibilities and everything that comes with it.
Zarbock: How significant--? What was the great difference? This is- to me it would be a substantial sea [ph?] change from being a colonel to being a general- am I correct in that?- a tremendous difference.
Joseph Kinzer: Right. I think uh.. being a colonel- I was told by the guy who promoted me, uh.. Major General Bobby Porter, at Fort Bragg in uh.. March- I'm sorry, August of 1985, not '86, it was March- August of '85- and he said, "This is the last promotion that you'll get based on what you know. The next one will be made on who you know, and who knows you." So there lies the difference. Uh.. it was beyond my wildest dreams to get promoted to Colonel, much less a General. And then to retire as a 3-star General was just unbelievable. Uh.. and I credit all of that to the people that I've worked for, from the First Brigade Commander who still lives in Fayetteville, North Carolina, uh.. Robert C. Kendrick- we called him Butch, that was his nickname, in World War II and Korea and Vietnam. And I remember like yesterday when I reported to the Old Man, he came out from behind his desk and he put out his hand and he said, "Hi, I'm Butch Kendrick, welcome to the best outfit in the whole Army." And uh.. just- just an amazing guy, and every leader that I've worked for since then have been almost the same model, the same mold, if you will. Never worked for a loser in 40 years in the Army- actually 39 years, 7 months and 16 days.
Zarbock: Who taught you to be a General?
Joseph Kinzer: Uh.. soldiers, I think.
Zarbock: But there are social skills involved in--.
Joseph Kinzer: I had- I had some role models. Uh.. Butch Kendrick was one, uh.. Burton D. Patrick was another one- he's a retired 3-Star, lives down in Thompson, Georgia. Uh.. there were several, but by and large it was the NCOs and the soldiers that- you know, that kinda- that responded to my style of leadership, and I said, "I must be doing something right," and somebody had recognized that I was doing something right.
Zarbock: But as a Brigadier General, what was your- how much involvement did you have with a squad, a platoon, a company?
Joseph Kinzer: As much as I wanted, really. But- and that's a great question. Uh.. everybody- most people ask me, "What's the best job you ever had in the Army?" And without hesitation, I say Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel. And they say, "Why is that?" Why is because it's the last station in life in the Army as an officer that you can affect soldiers one on one. You live with 'em, you sleep with 'em, you eat with 'em, you fight with 'em, you train with 'em. And that's the last echelon of command, if you will, that has that- that absolute touchable influence on soldiers, to want- for want of a better word. When you get to colonel, now you're- you know, you're three echelons away from the platoon, the platoon company battalion. You see 'em now and then. Yeah, you- you work with company commanders and your focus is on training companies, and you see the battalion commanders from time to time, but you don't have that- that intimate relationship. You're kinda- or you're away from soldiers, first names, family and that kind of thing, and I made it a point to try to do that. Everybody says I got a memory that- you know, like an elephant, I never forget a name and all. But- but I try to do that as part of the job because a lot of soldiers don't give a damn about 'em- and care for 'em, family too. When you get to be a general--. Uh.. I've got 253 letters of congratulations when I got promoted to Brigadier General, or selected. I was at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, I was commanding 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division and these letters started coming in- several were handwritten, most were kind of typed up, you know. And they said everything from congratulations or this, that and the other thing. But most of 'em said, don't forget what got you where you are- and that was the soldiers- don't change anything you've done to get to where you are, as you pin that star on; don't become something you're not, don't become a phony. And that was great advice. And I- you know, and I'm still the guy today that I was when I reported into recon platoon of the First 325.
Zarbock: Am I correct that in your career you have people who have changed in the direction of being a phony?
Joseph Kinzer: Sure, yeah, you run across those. But, you know, uh.. they're quickly identified. You- you find the guys that are on ego trips. I remember when I had a friend of mine who was a Battalion Commander, a fellow Battalion Commander for Campbell, Kentucky, and uh.. he was on the verge of getting relived, you know, because of whatever reason. And I- you know, he- I was kinda his mentor, 'cuz we all were tight and most- mostly new. And uh.., you know, I said, "I told the Brigade Commander that when I took the job as a Battalion Commander I said I don't need to do this job, I'm doing this job because I love it. I don't have to be a Battalion Commander to be successful. I'd like to be but if you don't want me to be, that's okay with me, but I'm doing- I'm doing it for the love of the job, not for getting to the next grade, which is Colonel," and so on and so forth. And I felt like if people recognized potential and saw the good things you were doin', the word would get around that this is the kind of guy we want leading soldiers in echelons above 'em- a brigade. So, and it happened in my case. I had a lot of- I had uh.. again several great mentors that kinda- that kinda, you know, shaped the battlefield, so to speak, uh.. shaped the battle space and shaped this road to being a General. And uh..- and I thank 'em for it. And of course when you get to be a General, it's a different ballgame, but uh.. I never- always carried my own hat and always opened my own doors, and uh.. that kind of thing, you know.
Zarbock: And that was noticed.
Joseph Kinzer: Yes.
Zarbock: It was noticed by some.
Joseph Kinzer: Yeah. But uh.. I never worked- never had a job I didn't like- had some tough jobs, had some tough teachers; great coaches though. Thought I was gonna get fired a couple of times. The first guy that I worked for, Butch Kendrick, I told you that one. He gave me a Company, as a 2nd- or a 1st Lieutenant. I was a Company Commander, 1st Lieutenant. And uh..- and I screwed up a training schedule one time and he came to look at the training and there wasn't any goin' on. And the Old Man put his arm around me and he said, "Son, you make sure you check things out like this. Don't let somebody like a Colonel come down and find it's scheduled but it's not happening." He said, "Lesson learned, isn't it?", and he--. "Yes sir, it is." And that's the kind of coach you want- you know. When you fumble the ball, here it is- "Here son, this is what you did wrong." He was a master.
Zarbock: Who mentored you into your second star?
Joseph Kinzer: Uh....
Zarbock: By the way, I've got to applaud and congratulate you- and again thinking over your shoulder about history years from now, that the first star was the function of your capabilities and abilities. After that it's not luck.
Joseph Kinzer: No, it's who knows you and--.
Zarbock: How did you get to be known?
Joseph Kinzer: Uh.. well I- I uh..- I asked myself a question when I was Colonel, coming out of Brigade command, I said, "What happens to me if I don't get selected for General?" And I said, "Well, I've been most of my time in the 18th Airborne Corps- parachutes, helicopters, C130 aircraft. There's a big army out there. I need to go see some of that Army." So I said, "Well, why don't you get on the IG Inspection Team, the traveling team, and go see the rest of the Army?" So I wrote a friend of mine, Ben Marsh, he was Commander of the Berlin Brigade in Berlin, Germany. He had been in the 80- in the 101st, was one of my mentors there, as a brigadier. And I asked him that question, I said, "If I don't get selected for General, what do you think I oughta do?" His response to me back was, "Go train soldiers because that's what you do best." And he said, "What it'll take to get you promoted to Brigadier General are two other generals that are on that Board of Selection, that want you to be a General." And I had two guys on there that I knew intimately. I'd served with 'em in the 82nd Airborne Division- they were both two-stars. Ralph Halliday was one and Calvin AH Waller was the other one. Calvin Waller was from Louisiana, a black officer, a super soldier, retired 3-star general, retired about a year and had a heart attack in Dulles Airport and died- less than 60 years old- finest soldier to ever put on a pair of combat boots. But Cal Waller and Ralph Halliday were the two guys that uh.. saw potential in me and checked my block for me. And the selection process is brutal, it's hard. Take 400,000 colonels--.
Zarbock: Say that again, 400-?
Joseph Kinzer: Okay, I'm sorry, they take 4900- in my case there were 49 colonels eligible for promotion to Brigadier General. They will look at those files and they'll do a vote on all 4900 files- yes, no, yes, no, yes, no.
Zarbock: How many slots were available?
Joseph Kinzer: Uh.. 32.
Zarbock: So you start off with a population of 4,900.
Joseph Kinzer: Right, and you boil it down to 200.
Zarbock: And then shrink it to 32.
Joseph Kinzer: They- they hard vote 200 files, and they shrink it down to 32. So the competition gets pretty steep.
Zarbock: I'm going to ask what may be a somewhat embarrassing question. How much does political influence occur at the time of that shrinking of the potential population?
Joseph Kinzer: Uh.. I'm not sure politics really figures into it. I mean, they look at duty performance more. They look at the Efficiency Report. They've got a picture and they got your record right there, and it takes about- they look at- each record gets about 60 seconds scrutiny.
Zarbock: And it's a yes/no.
Joseph Kinzer: Yes/no. And they get it- they'll do the yes/no vote, try to get it down to about 200 potentials, and they'll do what they call a hard vote on 200 files.
Zarbock: What is a hard vote?
Joseph Kinzer: A hard vote is everybody goes through and looks at it in detail, and checks off- and you- there's a- there's a numeric score that they use in the selection process, it's foolproof basically, it's- it's probably as fair as anybody can make it.
Zarbock: This is no beauty contest.
Joseph Kinzer: No.
Zarbock: This is capability.
Joseph Kinzer: That's correct.
Zarbock: I'm sorry, documented capability.
Joseph Kinzer: Right, exactly. Is there potential for somebody to get selected that probably shouldn't be? Yeah, there is, and that happens from time to time.
Joseph Kinzer: But not very often. Uh.. the- the system is such that if we need quality officers and we need- we- we have room- General Officer ranks is a put and take proposition, dictated by Congress. Uh.. we can only have so many generals in the Army- National Guard, Army Reserve- that is the Active Army Reserve and the National Guard, and it's a put and take deal. So you can't exceed your quota, except by Act of Congress. And so we need- we're, you know- 32 people are gonna retire, so there's 32 vacancies, and we need 'em in these group- uh.. these branches of service, with these qualifications. Now granted a General is supposed to be able to serve anywhere. A General Officer doesn't necessarily have to be an infantry officer or whatever. But normally they will select by category- infantry, armor, artillery, uh.. the combat arms, if you will, engineers, and then they'll get into military intelligence, special operations forces, uh.. signals, finance, chemical- very low density though, maybe one or two guys in this whole signal corps will make it, and maybe some years there won't be a chemical selectee, the next year maybe two or whatever. But uh.. it's- it's fair as it can be and uh.. having uh.. been president of several Selection Boards in my latter years in- as three or four years before I retired, when I was Army Commander of 5th Army, I sat as President of- of the Board. And there are 21- there are three panels of 7 officers, 7 generals each, and each panel votes the record, and the numbers are tallied by- there's a cut line, you got plus and minus, and you've got from +1 to +6, 6- +6 being, you know, the top, and -6 being the very bottom, and you can vote the file anywhere between here. And it's ironic how people look at the file and they'll come out within one point, across those three panels.
Zarbock: So the inter-rater reliability is very high.
Joseph Kinzer: Yeah, it's very, very high, yeah, it's really- the results- the reliability of the results is just phenomenal.
Zarbock: General, one of the things I've told other interviewees was how much I would have wished I could have interviewed General George Washington's cook. I would have been interested in where did he get the grub for the General? With whom did the General interact and invite, et cetera? So within that interest of mine, I'm going to ask a couple of- seems somewhat trivial but I think it'll be fascinating, again, years from now, for people to hear. Focusing only on your years as a general officer, what mistakes did you make? Or what are you proudest of, when it came to acting as a General?
Joseph Kinzer: Hum, a quest- good questions.
Joseph Kinzer: Mistakes. Oh, I don't know, I guess- I didn't really make any mistakes that caused undue harm to a command or caused people to get killed or anything like that. I guess the one mistake I made was uh.. when I was being reassigned, after Operation Just Cause in Panama, I was the Deputy Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, and I had been, unbeknownst to me, selected to stay in Panama as part of the residual force. Uh.. prior to that I had been told I was gonna go to Pakistan, as- to run the military Office of Cooperation in Pakistan. This was back when we had a relationship with them. And uh.. I found out through the grapevine that I was gonna be reassigned to Panama. And I went to my boss and uh.. I had a few choice words for him about why he hadn't told me, or nobody had informed me. Uh.. he said a hell- that's a helluva of a way to treat generals- you know, you get it through the grapevine. And in retrospect that was probably a mistake (laughs). Uh.. I went to the 3-star corps commander and said basically the same thing to him, and he said, "Well"- in his country way, you know, Carl Steiner, a great soldier, from Lafollette, Tennessee, "Now Joe, take it easy, it's okay, you know, I only got two days to move from Fort Bragg to Lebanon way back in the sixties- or in the eighties rather. It'll work out, don't you worry about it." That was probably a dumb thing to do. It worked out fine. What am I proudest of? Oh God, uh.. like Phyllis says, "How many children do you have? Which one are you proudest of?" Uh.. I think it won't go down in history as being a proud moment in the history of the world but uh.. in my judgment uh.. I think- as Commander of the United Nations and US Forces in Haiti from 1995 or '96- I'm the first and only American General Officer to command a UN Peacekeeping Mission. And MacArthur had the- the UN Headquarters, an operation in Korea- it wasn't a peacekeeping operation, it was war per se. But uh.. I feel like that was probably uh.. one of the highlights of my military career. Unbeknownst to me I was selected again, off of a habeas gravis list, hey, grab this guy, bring him to Washington. I remember the phone call like it was yesterday. I got a call from a fellow I just worked for in Washington- I was sitting in San Antonio, Texas, at 5th Army Headquarters, as Deputy Commander, and uh.. he said "Come to Washington for some number of days." So I went to Washington, and I said, "What's this all about?" and they said, "Well you're gonna go to Haiti" and I thought, well, okay, I'll go down there for a couple of months and see what needs to be done and come back and tell the chief. And they said, "Wrong answer, you're goin' to stay, and here's what you're going to do." Shalley Koshfield [ph?], he's already taken your name to the president, and it's already at UN Headquarters for Butros Ghali to sprinkle Holy Water on. Madeline Albright was the Ambassador and then she took it over to Butros Ghali and uh.. lo and behold, I am the Military Force Commander, UN Mission in Haiti.
Zarbock: And the deed was done.
Joseph Kinzer: Yes sir, 16 January 1995, I packed up and went to Haiti- 6000 soldiers from 21 countries, speaking nine different languages, worshipping six religions. And my guidance from the Chief of Staff of the Army was go down there and build a team. I said, "Chief, I didn't get that course in the war college." But uh.. then it worked out uh.. because of the quality of people that I had in the force, the Allies from uh.. like I say 21 countries. The major countries were Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, US, Canada, India, Jabuti, and seven nations of the Caribbean command. Uh.. and we worked it out uh.. to the degree that we provided a window of opportunity for the Haitian government to get its act together. We gave 'em an 18-month window to uh.. get their political process going, get their economy spun up. We provided security and stability, and to stand up a police force and things like that. But they uh..- they fumbled the ball, and uh.. the year after we left, the year after I left, they're into martial law and, you know, rioting in the streets and killings and one thing and another. And- and uh..- but from a military perspective it went fine. I mean, we did what we had to do and- and we- we did it professionally.
Zarbock: With all those differing nations, could you ever have a mass formation, a parade?
Joseph Kinzer: Yes sir we did, we did that.
Zarbock: Everybody carried their own flag.
Joseph Kinzer: Right. It was interesting. We had to change the command ceremony, change of authority, from the US led Multinational Force to the uh.. United Nations led forces. My good friend, George Fisher, commander of the 25th Division, from Hawaii, was leaving and I was taking over from him. And we had all the allied nations on the parade field at the palace, a platoon size formation. And I'll never forget, they had the US at the right of the line and then the Canadians and then so on down the line, and they had the Indians and then they had the Pakistanis to be positioned next to the Indians. Well when the Pakistanis came marching in and they saw where the Indians were and they saw where their spot was, they marched off the field, and they had to rearrange the flags to get the Indians separated from the Pakis. And uh.. but we didn't really have any problem in-country with the national- the- with the sovereignty thing. Uh.. what I tried to do in-country was- to get at this idea of team building- uh.. was to host a monthly Commander's Conference somewhere in the country- had 14 different camps throughout the country. So I had to ask each of the camp commanders to host a Commander's Conference, for two days, and we'd go out and pick 'em up by helicopter and fly into their camp, you know, and uh.. we'd have a conference, we'd have briefings, we'd have staff discussions and things like that, and we'd share ideas about how this peacekeeping mission was going, what's working, what's not, and I would brief 'em on the way ahead as far as the UN's concerned. And it- it worked. I mean the team came together. My Deputy Commander was a brigadier from Pakistan. My Chief of Staff was a Canadian. My Command Sergeant Major was a Canadian, uh.. my Operations Officer was uh.. an American. The Personnel Officer was from Senegal. The uh.. political- or not political officer but the Chief uh.. Civil Military Officer was from Canada, and so on down the line. And uh..- and it worked. There were some- you know, there were some differences. But uh.. out of respect for one another and uh.. cooperation, we made it work, which everybody wanted to look like the US, in my judgment. Uh.. every- every- the difference between our army and everybody else's army is the quality of our non-commissioned officers. The Brits and the Canadians and the Aussies are close, but very few others. And--.
Zarbock: You've mentioned this before. What distinguishes the NCO in the US Army?
Joseph Kinzer: Because we give him responsibility and authority to get the job done, and we hold him accountable for it. No other army does that. There are great people, there are smart people, there are experienced people. That's the difference between the 82nd Airborne Division and the 101st Airborne Division, and other divisions in our army is the quality of the NCOs. Now it's changing a bit now but when a guy joins one of those two divisions, he grows up there. He goes in as a private and comes out as a First Sergeant. He will go serve in other units but he continues to go back to that outfit because that's where he cut his teeth, and that's where he's- you know, that's where he grew, that's where he matured. And so it's that continuity of effort and that sustaining the standard and training as a standard in appearance and things like that. that makes the difference. And that's- that's the difference in our Army and anybody else's Army.
Zarbock: What is your observation about the importance of assignment to a regiment, a battalion or a company? Where is the real emotional commitment- regiment, battalion, company, squad?
Joseph Kinzer: Probably uh.. in the long-term I think is the regiment. Uh.. nobody's had the regimental combat team system for uh.. a long time. Uh.. right now, in 2004- actually it started in about 2000- the Army's starting to transform now from a division centric organization where you have all the division flags and you have the corps flags and the army flags, to a brigade-centric organization- independent brigade combat teams.
Zarbock: Again, for the purpose of the tape, define a brigade.
Joseph Kinzer: A brigade is a- is a formation of at least three battalions.
Zarbock: A battalion may have up to 800 people.
Joseph Kinzer: A battalion could have up to 800 people- right. My brigade taskforce that I had in the 101st Division was about 4500 soldiers. It included three infantry battalions and an artillery battalion, a military intelligence company, a uh.. engineering company, and you know a whole host of- a signal platoon, uh.. a uh.. forward support uh.. company, and those kinds of peace parts that uh.. represent the combined arms team, both from a combat- combat support and combat service support uh.. perspective. Well, what we did in those days was we would take a piece of the division base and they would snap it onto each of the brigades. What they've done in the reorganization now is make this brigade self-contained. You've got two battalions of infantry. You got a reconnaissance unit, you got an aviation detachment, you got an engineer company, you got- all that now is part and parcel of the brigade combat team, much like we had in the regimental combat team in Korea, in the- the Korean War.
Zarbock: But did you serve in Korea?
Joseph Kinzer: No. I was 40 yeas in the Army, never put a foot in Korea. Two years in Vietnam. I- but we did the uh.... Uh.. in 1965 Operation Power Pack to the Dominican Republic, uh.. was there for seven months, and then to Vietnam in '67, '68.
Zarbock: What did you do in Vietnam?
Joseph Kinzer: I was an advisor to a parachute battalion of the Army- of the uh.. Vietnamese Army.
Zarbock: How would you characterize their capabilities?
Joseph Kinzer: Uh.. in the Airborne Units, superb- uh.. always ready for a fight, uh.. dedicated, motivated, and uh.. really uh.. good soldiers.
Zarbock: What were your observations of the average line company in the South Vietnamese forces?
Joseph Kinzer: Just first rate, in my judgment. I- I can recall 71, number 71 Company and 72 Company commanders- Lo and Leung I think were the guys' name- were just tenacious fighters. Lo was a First Lieutenant, and he just loved to firefight.
Zarbock: What went wrong in that conflict?
Joseph Kinzer: We lost our political will. We couldn't sense what was going on politically. On the battlefield, we took it to 'em. I mean, I think we were successful more often that not. Uh.. they got smart in terms of their tactics. They tested us in the outer Drang Valley, uh.. in the first battle in 1965, when they figured out how we used attack air and artillery, and so rather than stand off, they got real close. The idea was to grab 'em by the belt buckles and then if they kill 'em, they kill themselves too. So, that's kinda my judgment. I spent two years there. I went back a second time, '71 and '72, worked at a Corps Headquarters. I was kinda removed from the fight. The Army had started- uh.. the Vietnam Mission had started to draw down, beginning to rotating back to the States. We only had about three divisions left in-country I think, when I got over there. And over time they all came back- '75 we finished.
Zarbock: We're just about at the end of the tape and I wonder- I'd like to leave you a little time for any reflective comment you'd like to make, including but not limited to, what did you learn from all of those years or what did you learn from all of the people?
Joseph Kinzer: Oh well--.
Zarbock: The epitome of "I'm always going to remember," or "always going to think about"?
Joseph Kinzer: First of all I think I would say what a great country we have, and it's worth fighting for, it's worth serving. And I think that's uh..- that's the message that I would give anybody who looks at this tape in the future. We've got a great country. There are people out there that want to take it away from us. But if it hadn't been for guys like George Washington and George Patten, and Eisenhower and Bradley and Pershing and all these guys, you know, who- they weren't war mongers in their own right, they were leaders, they were true blooded- red blooded Americans who saw a need to protect and defend a country. And they answered a call. So I would say when your nation calls, answer.
Zarbock: Would you include MacArthur in them?
Joseph Kinzer: Oh absolutely. I was just trying to run through 'em randomly. Yes. Matter of fact, one of the first books I read as a young 2nd Lieutenant was Reminiscences by MacArthur. My mother-in-law gave it to me and I still have it. It says 2nd Lieutenant Kinzer on it.
Zarbock: Final question, and we're just about out of time. How influential in your career was your wife?
Joseph Kinzer: Absolutely indispensable, when I became an officer. She was part of our team. She never wore my stars, never wore my bars, but she was always there. She took care of the troops.
Zarbock: Thank you very much, sir.