Veteran endured years of separation to serve

Photos by Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald
Eugene Demotte of Huntingburg poses for a portrait on Nov. 29. Demotte served in the U.S. Army form 1971-1991. 

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com 

HUNTINGBURG — Eugene DeMotte is glad he served 20 years in the U.S. Army.

“You have good times. You have bad times. But it’s actually because of her that I got my 20,” the Holland native said, nodding to Janice, his wife of 47 years.

But it wasn’t easy. There was a lot of moving around for Eugene, who spent the majority of his 20 years overseas.

“People don’t realize, they really don’t realize, what it takes to defend this country,” he said. “There are a lot of good things. But there are an awful lot of bad things. And you miss out on a lot of family things, because you’re gone.”

For instance, the first time Eugene saw his oldest son, Jeffrey, was when he was 9 months old; the next time he saw him, Jeffrey was 5.

“There’s a lot of give and take,” Eugene said.

He joined the Army while in high school and went on active duty in 1971.

“I enlisted because I wanted a certain education that I couldn’t get around here,” he said. “So I went in, intending to do my three-year term and get out.”

His plan was to be an over-the road truck driver when he turned 21. But he found out that companies wouldn’t hire anyone under age 25. “So I decided to re-enlist and stay in,” he said.

He still got to do what he loved; he was a truck driver in the military.

Eugene volunteered to go to Vietnam. He went to basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and graduated and attended truck driver training.

His first duty was Fort Carson in Colorado. In 1972, two days after he and Janice, a native of Huntingburg, got married, Eugene got orders for Vietnam.

At that time, the war was winding down.

He got to Oakland, California, and prepared to go to Vietnam. “But me and four others were called off the plane,” he said.

Eugene Demotte of Huntingburg holds up his jacket for a photo of a rifle qualification badge, left, and a drivers and mechanic badge pinned below ribbons earned throughout his time serving in the U.S. Army. Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald

According to the military’s computer, Eugene’s brother, Lloyd, was still in Vietnam. So Eugene was going to be sent to Germany instead.

“I gave them my dad’s address and phone number in Indianapolis. I told them, ‘If you call that number, you can talk to my brother Lloyd. He was sitting there on the couch when I left to come to here to go to Vietnam.’”

But the officials said that since the computer stated that Lloyd was in Vietnam, Eugene was going to Germany.

So he went to Baumholder, Germany with an engineer battalion as a truck driver, and stayed there from 1973 to 1975. Janice stayed in the United States.

“We worked all over,” he said about his duty. “We laughed about it, because when you were in one of those trucks for two hours, you couldn’t hear anything; after you got out, you could hear people again. The trucks were that noisy. But you weren’t allowed to wear hearing protection.”

He liked Germany. “I saw 13 separate countries and 300 different places while I was over there, in 21 months,” he said. “I traveled over 15,000 miles.”

In 1975, he went to Fort Meade in Maryland. This was the first time Janice was with him. He stayed there until 1977, and then was sent back to Germany, to Berlin.

“Of all the places I’ve been in the world, that’s the only place I’d love to go back to,” Eugene said. “When I was in Berlin, the Wall was there. I would love to see what it looks like now, now that the wall is gone.”

The Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961 by the Communist government in East Germany to separate it from West Germany. It was demolished in 1989.

In 1978, Eugene was reclassified as an engineer mechanic, which was a new job for him. But close to the end of the year, Eugene’s younger brother, Charlie, was killed in a car accident in Otwell. “I was scheduled to come back to the states in January 1979. But they sent me back 30 days early because of that,” Eugene said.

His next station was at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, where he served two years in the engineering sector. “Fort Leonard Wood had the last active duty oil pipeline in the Army,” he said. “The rest had been transferred to the National Guard.”

He went to Wiesbaden, Germany, in 1980. A year later, he got a call from Janice. “She told me that I had better find a place for them to live because she was on her way over,” Eugene said.

Eugene Demotte of Huntingburg holds a portrait of himself taken in 1980 at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.

So Janice and their two sons, Jeffrey and Michael, moved to Wiesbaden to be with Eugene. The family stayed here for three years.

“I was tired of being away from him,” Janice said.

“It goes to shows you the kind of stress and strain this has,” Eugene said, “not only on the individual, but on the family, too.”

When they all got back to the states in 1984, Eugene was sent back to Fort Leonard Wood, where he taught new troops to be engineering mechanics.

“At that time, it was called the Million Dollar Hole. Now it’s called Normandy training area,” he said. “The reason why it was called the Million Dollar Hole was that they had so much equipment out there, over $8 billion in equipment. You had cranes, jeeps, trucks, cement mixers, whatever it took to do our jobs.”

In 1985, he considered getting out of the Army. “I was mad as hell about something,” he said.

But Janice reasoned with him by asking him a bunch of questions. “She asked me, ‘What have you always told people? You’ve always told people that everybody should always give back to the country. If you stay over that but not 20 years, you’re just throwing your life away,” Eugene said.

And then his wife asked about his future plans and tallied up costs with him. “I was going to drive a truck, like I was doing in the Army. She asked, ‘How much is it going to cost you to buy a truck on the outside? What’s it going to cost for fuel, or if it breaks down? We battled back and forth,” he recalled. “‘How much does the truck cost now [in the Army]? How much does it cost to put fuel in the truck? How much does it cost you when it breaks down?’ I said nothing.”

“And she said, ‘Then what in the heck are you getting out for? You like what you’re doing. If you stay (in longer than the original three-year enlistment) but (less than) 20 years, you're just throwing your life away.’” So Eugene agreed to serve the last six needed to reach 20 years.

“And she was right. I can’t remember what made me so mad,” he said with a chuckle.

In 1988, Janice and the children were sent to North Dakota as part of a military contract for Janice to work at Burger King as a manager. And in 1989, Eugene was sent to Camp Stanley in Uijeongbu, South Korea, and was in charge of the engineering shop, and also delivered goods to the de-militarization zone.

“That year in Korea opened my eyes to a lot of things,” he said. “The DMZ basically has a lot of nice buildings there; that’s where the bigwigs go to sign treaties and things like that. And there’s a bridge that goes across. You have your armed guards on both sides looking at each other. Sometimes North Korea will shoot at them, and South Korea would shoot back. It didn’t happen very often.”

What really caught Eugene’s attention was the waterway under the bridge and the open land separating the countries.

“You walked out there and start looking at that water, and all you see is mines,” he said. “And a South Korean guard told me that a lot of the open area between was a mine field. And it’s the same thing on the other side coming toward us.”

He returned to Fort Leonard Wood in 1990, retired a year later and moved to North Dakota to be with his family.

The couple’s sons are still in North Dakota with their families, including the DeMottes’ three grandchildren. The couple moved back to Huntingburg to take care of Janice’s mom but they intend to go back to North Dakota someday.

All the noise he endured in the military has contributed to Eugene’s severe hearing loss. And he has bad knees from all the running he did in combat boots, which was required at that time.

But “I don’t regret it,” Eugene said of his military service. “I’d do it all again.”

He held on to a philosophy that got him through the 20 years.

“There’s going to be some good times, and some bad times,” he said. “The good times take care of themselves. But when you get to the bad times, you have to take it one second at a time. Next thing you know, that’s a minute. And then it’s an hour. Before you know it, the bad times are gone and the good times are back.”

He looked over to his wife. “She taught me that.”

It is The Herald’s goal to preserve the stories of Dubois County’s military veterans. If you are a veteran who would like to tell us your story or know a veteran whose story you’d like to share, please contact the newsroom at news@dcherald.com or 812-482-2626.




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