Ada — Two of the soldiers who attended Monday’s Veteran’s Day breakfast at the Walter Wise Hut No. 70 American Legion Hall recounted their experiences in Vietnam. More than 100 veterans enjoyed pancakes and a time of appreciation.
DEAN ROARK, SPECIAL FORCES
When Dean Roark, a foster child, first joined the U.S. Army back in 1969, he was a short, bony kid of 5-7, 125 pounds.
At 17, he had just graduated from Enid High School and had been emancipated from foster care.
The Army knew just what to do with a soldier who was anxious to fight and could fit into small holes.
His job in Vietnam was to go into those tunnels armed with a .357 Magnum seeking to find and destroy the enemy before the same could be done to him — in a split second.
“My chances were about 50-50, if that,” he estimated on his chances of surviving such assignments.
Even as a teenager, he knew he wasn’t going to win the coin toss forever.
Before he could suffer the fate of almost 59,000 of his fellow soldiers, it was discovered that Roark was an accurate shooter with his M-14 rifle.
It didn’t take him long to earn his way into Special Operations. His job was to take out the enemy from long range or to spot the enemy in plenty of time to warn others.
Sometimes he got too close. Twice he got stabbed. Once he got shot. Always, he survived.
He proudly calls Special Forces “the best of the Rangers.”
It nearly got him killed, but in the end, he had three Purple Hearts, was a Green Beret and later trained 200 Green Beret candidates.
Not that he was through with combat.
He made a career out of the military, fighting in Desert Storm, Grenada, Panama and Somalia.
He earned his education between battle assignments, first with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Hawaii, then a master’s from MIT.
Standing outside the American Legion in Ada on Monday, he knew how fortunate he was to be standing at all.
Those who served him breakfast Monday morning knew how lucky they were to have Special Ops people like Roark looking out for them.
Nowadays, his excitement consists of riding his motorcycle with other veterans on special occasions.
He lives in Vanoss — and that’s where he wants to stay. “It’s nice and peaceful,” he said. “I can step out into the backyard and just listen to the crickets.”
“That’s the only thing that saved me,” he said. He doesn’t mince words when he speaks of war. “I hate war,” he said. “All wars. They’re stupid.”
He said the first thing he saw when he landed in Vietnam was another plane with large letters on the side saying, LBJ Construction.
“Some people made a lot of money off that war,” he said.
After retiring from the military in 1992, he went to work for Enviro in Seminole working in electronics. He remembers the insults Vietnam veterans were often greeted with when they came home. “I believe in their right to protest,” he said. “I’m just not a protester. I think a lot of those people should come to where I was and see what I saw. They might come away feeling a little different about things.”