News: Retired commanding general shares his story with the VHP
Story by Sgt. Jennifer Spradlin
FORT BLISS, Texas – In a small corner office of the 70-year-old building which houses the Fort Bliss chapter of the American Red Cross, a former Fort Bliss commanding general is sitting down to share his story and add to the more than 75,000 first-hand interviews, letters, and photographs spanning from World War I to the conflict in Afghanistan collected as part of the Veterans History Project.
Retired Maj. Gen. John B. Oblinger, Jr., the 78th commanding general of Fort Bliss, commissioned into the Army in 1953, and enjoyed a variety of command positions throughout the Army and the world. In 1979, he became the commanding general of Fort Bliss and commandant of the U.S. Army Air Defense School. Oblinger said this was his proudest moment while serving in the military, because of his love for ADA, his original branch.
Oblinger was approached by Ann Broillet, his longtime friend and former secretary, to participate in the VHP. The VHP was established in 2000 by Congress to create a living record of personal accounts of service during American conflicts. Civilians who participated in supporting service roles, such as volunteer medical workers or USO workers, are also welcome to submit their accounts.
Specific guidelines, requirements, and paperwork are available online at www.local.gov/vets. Although interviews for the VHP can be recorded by anyone, the Red Cross directly supports the project, and at Fort Bliss, the head of the program, Broillet, has taken the project to heart.
Broillet has more than 47 years of combined civil service, a majority of it spent right here, as a secretary for the leaders of Fort Bliss. Retired since 1992, she began volunteering with the Red Cross two years ago and was soon selected to head the program because of her level of connection to the local veterans, many of whom she had worked with. The first interview she conducted was with her son-in-law, who served in Vietnam, and she realized not only how important the project was but how eye-opening it was.
“The veterans have stories to tell. The future generation should know that not everything was so ‘hotsty-totsty,” said Broillet, talking about Vietnam. “They might have heard about the USO and celebrities going over there to perform for the troops, but they don’t realize these guys were in danger 24-7.”
She said the VHP is much more compelling than reading about war in a history book. “I don’t care for comic books, but a lot of people love comic books because they have pictures. If you go see a comedy in the movie theater, you come out roaring laughing – it’s because you absorbed something. Which is what happens with video.”
Broillet’s passion for the project is so great that she finds herself approaching veterans in the grocery store, at church and even the doctor’s office. Broillet was recently able to convince Oblinger, who is not overly fond of being interviewed, to provide his story to the VHP.
“I learned a long time ago never to say no to her,” said Oblinger of Broillet. During the interview, Oblinger described his entry into the service, important assignments, the spicy food in Korea, the changes he has seen at Fort Bliss since his time as commanding general, and what his life was like after leaving the Army. Some of his most colorful anecdotes were reserved for Gen. Omar N. Bradley, the last American five-star general, who lived during his retirement at a special residence at the William Beaumont Army Medical Center here.
“It was known Gen. Bradley would be available to speak with troops and he would go and make a presentation at the basic officer course. One time he gave a vignette about leadership and what it meant to be a leader and he asked for questions. The Patton movie had just come out, and all the hands went up, and what they wanted to know was if he knew Gen. Patton,” said Oblinger.
“So then he would tell stories, and this is my favorite one. ‘One day during the war in the later days, we were across France and into Germany, and I had my headquarters in a large chateau and my office was on the second floor and of course, we had an armed guard at the front gate. I was working on some papers, and I heard the armed guard at the front snap to attention and then I heard commands being barked out, and the heavy footsteps on the stairs, and then pretty soon there was a rap of a riding crop on my door, and I continued writing and the figure stomped in and stood in front of my desk and I finally looked up and said, Oh, is that you George?’”
When Bradley passed away in 1981, Oblinger and his wife accompanied Mrs. Bradley on Air Force II with the general’s casket to Washington, D.C., and when his widow’s travels made it impossible to care for a beloved cat, Oblinger and his family adopted it.
At the conclusion of the interview, Broillet said she was surprised how much she hadn’t known about her close friend’s service and that it underscored the relevance of the VHP.
To become involved with the VHP, call the Fort Bliss Red Cross at 915-568-4898.