I was the second born of eight children in the Canal Zone, Republic of Panama. So was my father. His father, my grandfather, a United States citizen, worked on the construction of the Panama Canal and was a recipient of the Roosevelt Medal, a medal only given to those that work for at least one complete year. My mother of pure German lineage was brought to the Canal Zone at nine months of age and remained there until my father's retirement from the government.
The Canal Zone was run by the Panama Canal Company, a government owned enterprise. Everything to include housing, schooling, commissaries, plus cutting our grass was controlled by the Company. The one controlling stock was passed from one Secretary of the Army to the next until everything was finally returned to the country of Panama. I grew up amongst the military, I spent time on all the bases on the Atlantic side of the Isthmus. Military service, duty and belief in the federal government were revered subjects as we grew up. Everything was positive in supporting our lifestyle.
Being so close to an actual jungle environment, it was not uncommon to spend a complete day playing such things as soldiers, cowboys and Indians, hide and seek and such. We all knew and loved the jungle along with our secret trails and hidden forts we built. More importantly we got to know what was dangerous, what bit or chewed and how to identify them.
My school system and its teachers were second to none and were rated at one time as seventh best in the Middle States Teachers Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges. It was an accepted fact that each of us was a potential college graduate. I graduated 33 rd out a class of 94 students. Knowing that after college I was probably going to Vietnam, I researched small colleges with a Reserve Officers Training Course (ROTC). Knowing that my knowledge of my own religious faith (Catholic) was weak, I wanted a Catholic university too. The Vincentian Order of Priests ran Niagara University. This was the same group that did missionary work in Panama. Niagara was also a small university located on a bluff outside of Niagara Falls, NY and had mandatory Basic ROTC (Freshman/Sophomore). I only applied there and was accepted. My overall plan included the taking of Advanced ROTC (Junior/Senior). Within Niagara University, every one of my goals was accomplished.
In my sophomore year, I met the woman that I later married at the end of my junior year. Marriage, which has lasted over thirty-seven years now, was also good for my college education. I was graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education with a strong minor in the sciences and in coaching philosophies. Commissioned in December 1966 as a Military Police Officer. I was however, a Distinguished Military Graduate so I had a Regular Army Commission pending that was to the Quartermaster Corps with a two-year detail assignment to the Infantry. Ordered to active duty on 6 February 66, I completed Military Police Officer Basic and Airborne School. Because of delays in obtaining my Regular Army Commission, I was assigned to the Basic Training Center at Fort Benning, Georgia. Did some problem solving and learned a lot about the mental state of the young Infantry soldier.
Then I came down on levy to Vietnam, only it asked me to go as a Military Policeman. Since I now had my Regular Army Commission, the levy was returned to the Pentagon. A month or so later, I came down on orders again, only this time as an Infantry Officer. My training however was not Infantry.
I was placed on orders to complete the Infantry Officer Basic Course-Counterinsurgency right there at Ft. Benning. Eleven total weeks devoted to learning how to conduct war in Vietnam. Graduation was a fast moving period. First I moved the wife and kids (one girl and one on the way) back to Niagara Falls with her parents near by. Then it was off to the Jungle Operations Course in Panama. Yes, it is true, the Army sent me back to my home for three weeks. Got to visit my parents for a few days while there.
All of this is to give you some background in the causes and events that shaped my life and brought me to the beginning of my tours in Vietnam that are still part of my memories today.
To read more of LTC Dockery's writing, visit the Vietnam Veterans website www.vvi.org to find his article Agents Orange, White & Blue - New Disclosures - A Combat Soldier's Research