As Memorial Day and July 4 came and went, the focus of the country seemed to be less and less on veterans and more on how we interpret history. That all changed when John-David “JD” Roberts came to East Texas recently for a surprise.
Roberts was honored with a Chevy truck from the Texas Wounded Warriors. Missing a leg, arm in a sling, Roberts has had a rough time with his health since leaving the Navy and Army. The truck was a bright spot.
However, his story and what he learned in Afghanistan and Iraq are what makes interviewing veterans the best stories.
Roberts is a motivational speaker and known as a wounded warrior. However, the first deadly incident he was involved in took place while he was in the states as a dental assistant in the Navy.
On June 20, 1994, the eyes of the nation were on Los Angeles as O.J. Simpson, just off a low-speed chase in his white Bronco, entered a not guilty plea to two counts of murder. That afternoon, Roberts was working at the Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington when Dean A. Mellberg entered the Fairchild Air Force Base hospital annex and opened fire with a MAK-90 assault rifle.
“We heard ‘Code Blue’ saw a gunman and we shot. All you could hear was ‘Code Blue’ and bullets everywhere,” Roberts recalled. “Dean Mellberg came in with a MAK-90 hammer and shot the living (expletive) out of our hospital.”
A shot whizzed past Roberts and struck a person behind him. He ran and slid on the ground into a doorway for cover. Dr. Thomas E. Brigham and Dr. Alan W. London were shot dead. Four others would die and 22 were injured before Senior Airman Andrew P. Brown, 25 at the time and on a bike, dodged one shot and struck Mellberg twice, the second one the fatal shot.
“They shipped us to the rec center, bloody, interviewed us and went home. I never thought I’d be in a shooting situation as a dental tech,” said Roberts.
He left the Navy in 1997, went to college and got a job. Then the Iraq War started.
“I told my Mama, ‘I owe the military 12 years then I can retire. I think i am young enough where I can contribute.’ So in 2006 I came back with the Army as a transportation specialist,” said Roberts.
The Army had other plans for him. “They said I was going to make a great combat engineer and I went to school. I became an engineer officer, which is basically infantry with explosions. We did border patrol and here I was, a former dental tech sharing a battle space with a lieutenant,” said Roberts.
He survived with no combat experience thanks to Vietnam War veterans and former police officers. Roberts said the Persian Gulf War was quick. Fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq was more like the Vietnam War.
“For a lot of the contractors and (administrative) positions, they were hiring guys who had background in guerrilla warfare from Vietnam,” said Roberts. “We had Steve Vines embedded with us. He had been retired border control, he had been a cop, a national pistol champion. They went down there and taught taught us guerrilla warfare. Think about it, when we were coming out of the Cold War, we were thinking about conventional warfare. The Persian Gulf war lasted, what, two weeks? So we had no experience with those types of tactics.”
Thanks to Vietnam War veterans, they were able to identify different improvised explosive device’s that were causing them to lose supply trucks.
“The first part of the war, it was really a blessing to have these guys. They they gave us the knowledge. ... They were the only ones left with that kind of knowledge and that’s what Afghanistan and Iraq has been,” said Roberts.
When Roberts received his truck from the Texas Wounded Warrior Foundation, he made another profound statement, this time fighting back tears.
“In the military we fight for each other; race, creed, doesn’t matter,” Roberts said. “The world’s kind of crazy right now. So things like this, I think is an inspiration to everybody across the U.S. ... I can’t express how I am appreciative of it.”
John Anderson is the regional editor of the Longview News-Journal and Tyler Morning Telegraph. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .