APPRECIATION FOR EDUCATION: Army veteran grateful for G.I. Bill

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the first of a three-part series featuring local veterans of the U.S. military from different, recent eras, being published near Veterans Day. It will focus on both the era in which they served as well as issues they faced before and after their service. The Pioneer hopes to turn this series into a monthly feature. If you or someone you know has a story to share, email trath@pioneergroup.com.

BARRYTON — Don Foreman is grateful for the discipline instilled in him by the U.S. Army, which he served in for three years in the 1950s, as well as the experiences he had while traveling abroad.

But, the 83-year-old said Oct. 31 during an interview at his Barryton home, he is most grateful for the G.I. Bill — a law that allowed Foreman the benefit of going to college when he came back home, practically for free.

Most likely due to the cost of tuition, only a couple members of his class of 44 students in Coleman went to college right after graduation, said Foreman, the son of a farmer and a school secretary. However, thanks to the G.I. Bill, Foreman attained two degrees from Central Michigan University, which he parlayed into a 30-year career in high school education and athletics.

“The G.I. Bill is the greatest thing that could have happened to me,” Foreman said. “I probably wouldn’t have gone to college at all if it wasn’t for that. I would’ve worked someplace like Dow Chemical — that’s what a lot of us from Coleman did — or the Midland County Road Commission, and I didn’t want to do that. I had a very fulfilling career teaching. I consider myself lucky.”

Perhaps Foreman’s luck can be chalked up to good timing. After graduating from high school in 1953, he worked for a year at the road commission before being drafted. The year previous, the United States had elected a new president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had a goal of ending the Korean War. By the time Foreman was drafted, an armistice agreement had been signed and the fighting had ended.

Regardless, in March 1954, Uncle Sam came calling, and Foreman took a ride to his local Veterans of Foreign Wars post. From there, he said, he was bussed to Fort Wayne, in Detroit, where he was sworn into the military, and then immediately taken to Fort Chaffee, an Army base in western Arkansas.

“You weren’t really looking forward to it, but you knew you had to do it. You were too young to think about anything besides that — you just had to do it,” Foreman said. “But I do remember it was jarring to wind up in Arkansas like that, this place I had never been before. It was real ‘boom-boom-boom.’ One day I was home and the next day I woke up there.”

That summer, at Fort Chaffee, Foreman underwent basic training and then studied as a radio operator, learning Morse code. He remembers the blistering heat, with temperatures that climbed as high as 105 degrees, and taking showers several times a day just to cool off.

He also remembers being given advice from an uncle, Bill Mitchell, who was in the military service: Regardless of any extra pay the Army might offer, Mitchell told his nephew, do not volunteer to train in risky programs.

If you do, he said, you’re likely to end up in a combat zone, which is somewhere you don’t want to be.

“There would be training for paratroopers or how to operate a howitzer,” Foreman said. “At the time, the fighting in Vietnam was just picking up, and some of those guys ended up fighting. I didn’t want to fight — so I didn’t volunteer, and they made me a radio operator.”

In the fall, Foreman received his orders. He got on a boat with the 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, nicknamed “Big Red One,” and headed to Europe. After more than a week, after crossing the Atlantic Ocean and the English Channel, they finally stopped in Bremerhaven, a port city in what was then called West Germany.

From there, the young recruits boarded a bus for Aschaffenburg, a town southeast of Frankfurt with a U.S. Army base. Their job was to guard the border that had been created between the east and west portions of Germany.

Luckily for Foreman, the border there was in a low-key, rural area of the country, and it wasn’t considered a hot spot of controversy — a far cry from “Checkpoint Charlie” and the divide between East and West Berlin, to the northeast.

Don Foreman

“It wasn’t stressful. You just went out to the field — that’s what we called it. You wouldn’t know any difference between this and the (American) border with Canada,” Foreman said. “There were some communists. I don’t think they were angry at Americans, but I don’t really know what they were thinking. You didn’t really communicate with them.”

To pass the time, Foreman bonded with fellow soldiers from his company over sports — pretty natural for the former four-sport athlete at Coleman — especially bowling, boxing and softball. Foreman also traveled extensively with his company, visiting popular tourist destinations in England, France, Holland and Italy, among other countries.

“That was one wonderful thing the Army did for me,” Foreman said. “I was able to get out of Midland County and see the world. I think that’s important. I see so many kids today, they never leave Mecosta County. It’s too bad. They have a lot to learn.”

Foreman came back to the United States in March 1956, leaving the military with the rank of corporal. While some members of his company reported to the Army base in Fort Riley, Kansas, for further training, Foreman wanted to go to college. He traveled back to Michigan and enrolled at Hillsdale, where he played football for a year but couldn’t get off the bench. Seeking a chance to play baseball, he moved back home and enrolled at Central Michigan to study education.

Foreman’s athletic career eventually faded due to injuries, but a new focus had taken over — a girl he met, who was three years behind him at Coleman, named Linda, who was working in the office at Clare Manufacturing. They fell in love, and the two married in 1958.

Foreman graduated a couple of years later with a bachelor degree, completely paid for by the U.S. government.

“I didn’t owe a nickel when I got out with my bachelor degree,” Foreman said. “It gets me that college costs so much now. When I went to college, it was $110 per month. That’s $990 per year. How much is it now? I don’t know how you can start a family with so much debt.”

The Foremans settled in Barryton, where Don got a job teaching history and industrial arts at the high school (which in the 1960s became Chippewa Hills). He also embarked on a long, successful career coaching multiple sports, which eventually culminated in his admission to the Michigan Coaches Hall of Fame in 1991.

The Foremans had three daughters; Sally, Sue and Sara, two of whom became teachers. Following in her father’s footsteps, Sally (Schafer) got into coaching at Chip Hills, and is now considered one of the most decorated track and field coaches in the school’s history.

“Of course, I’m very proud of all of them,” he said.

After 30 years of teaching, in 1988, Foreman retired. He coached in the college ranks for a couple of years before deciding recruiting wasn’t his bag, then became a Realtor and a home-builder. Foreman said he has built 17 homes in the Mecosta County area, including his current digs, on Coolidge Road, in 2000.

While he and Linda made time to travel extensively, Foreman said, he also kept working through his golden years. He only recently decided to stop working all together.

“I think 82 is old enough to quit, don’t you?” he said with a smile.

Linda passed away in 2012 due to a heart attack.

“She didn’t suffer,” Foreman said.

Today, Foreman remains active by following the activities of his five grandchildren, some of whom are also athletes. He likes hunting deer, maintaining his vegetable garden, mowing his grass and visiting the family cabin in Manistique. He also maintains involvement at the American Legion Post No. 473 in Barryton.

His feelings on the military today are complicated. On one hand, he said, he is undoubtedly proud of his service, and supportive of all veterans, including those on active duty. He believes youth of today should be forced to volunteer for a year or two out of high school, like he and his classmates had to, in order to better the world in some way. He also thinks they should be compensated, as he was with the G.I. Bill.

That being said: “I don’t want anybody to get shot at.

“But when you think about the wars of today, with the suicide bombers who aren’t wearing uniforms … it’s hard. In my time, the fighting was more black and white. You knew who the enemy was. You don’t know any more — it could be a 12-year-old kid.

“But I’m glad I served. I’m proud of my service.”

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