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Veteran Stanley Disorda poses for a portrait in his home on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Disorda served in the U.S. Army's 196th Light Infantry Brigade in Vietnam and in the Gulf War with the Tennessee National Guard.

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BIO

Name: Stanley Disorda

Age: 73

Branch of the military: U.S. Army

Years of service: October 1965-July 1967; July 1980-February 2003

 

 

 

 

 

Stanley Disorda grew up hunting in northern Vermont, so wielding an M-14 in the jungles of Vietnam wasn't a difficult transition. The weather, on the other hand, stumped the now 73-year-old U.S. Army staff sergeant.

"The first day was hot. So hot. I'm not used to being so hot. And all confusion. Nobody knew what was going on, but that was typical military," Disorda said.

If anyone understands typical military, it's Disorda. For most of his adult life, he's either been fighting in wars, working as a contractor in them or sitting ready on the sidelines in the National Reserve.

It started in 1965. Disorda, the son of a school maintenance man and stay-at-home mom, said he couldn't afford college and received a draft notice for the Vietnam War.

Along with his company, Disorda rode a boat to Vietnam and was transported to his base camp on Aug. 14, 1966. At the time, base camp was an old cow pasture.

"We had to take sandbags, build up bunkers, then we had personnel come in and train us and learn combat situations," Disorda said.

Most days followed a pattern. They either chased "Charlie," or "Charlie" chased them. On combat missions, Disorda said, his company learned to pinpoint explosive booby traps. There might be dead trees in an area, or the sunlight would glint off a string and alert them.

Though the 196th Infantry Brigade regularly encountered gunfire, Disorda said he never took a bullet. He often had the responsibility of calling in artillery strikes. Otherwise, most nights ended the same: The soldiers headed back to base camp for a meal and some beer.

Leaving Vietnam and returning home wasn't easy. At first, Disorda said, he hung around the house with his mother, confused about what to do without the regimented, highly activating routine of battle life.

"They didn't give me a chance to get back to normal again," he said. "You had to find it on your own. In '67, you didn't have [post-traumatic stress disorder] like you got today. When the Army was finished with you, that's it. Here's your money, your plane ticket, here's a meal."

When his neighbor, an electrician, asked for help, Disorda found a purpose again. He said he became a machinist for GE Aircraft before a friend prodded him into joining the Vermont National Guard in 1980. He moved to Tennessee in 1990, where he again joined the state's National Guard.

Even though he was pushing 50, Disorda had no qualms about returning to war when Operation Desert Storm broke out in 1990. For the most part, Disorda said, his artillery unit was on standby in the desert while other infantry divisions handled the bulk of combat.

But when he went to Bosnia in 1998 and saw the graves of people killed in the country's violent ethnic cleansing, Disorda said he didn't want to be a soldier anymore.

Instead, when U.S. troops returned to Iraq following 9/11, Disorda said he helped oversee military contractors for KBR, a subsidiary of former Vice President Dick Cheney's Halliburton firm. Disorda said he finally returned home to Tennessee from the Middle East in 2010.

Now, his military memories live in scrapbooks. But even at 73, he hasn't retired from the idea of providing security.

"I work for a security company in town," he said recently. "It's cheap money, but I stay busy and it helps me pay for gas, food, bills."

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.

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