Our First Veteran Interview Of The Year – With Colonel Jon Ker – We have an amazing program for you today! Veteran Col. Jon Ker joins us to talk about his amazing military career from Vietnam to Iraq, serving in the special forces. Tune in to hear more!

Air Date: 01/26/2018

Guest: Colonel Jon Ker

On-air Personalities: David Barton, Rick Green, and Tim Barton


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Transcription note:  As a courtesy for our listeners’ enjoyment, we are providing a transcription of this podcast. Transcription will be released shortly. However, as this is transcribed from a live talk show, words and sentence structure were not altered to fit grammatical, written norms in order to preserve the integrity of the actual dialogue between the speakers. Additionally, names may be misspelled or we might use an asterisk to indicate a missing word because of the difficulty in understanding the speaker at times. We apologize in advance.

 

Rick:

Welcome to the intersection of faith and the culture. This is WallBuilders Live. Thanks for joining us today. We’re here with America’s premier historian David Barton, and Tim Barton, national speaker and pastor and president of WallBuilders.

And my name is Rick Green. I’m a former Texas legislator and America’s Constitution coach. And a very cool program for you today, and in fact, David and Tim, I was just looking at our schedule for 2021 so far. This is our first veteran interview of the year, we usually have a lot more than that. So kind of cool, we’re finally getting to one. And Tim, you had the chance to interview this Colonel, looking forward to our interview today.

Tim:

Yeah, it’s always great when we have a chance to talk to a veteran, certainly, when you talk to a veteran who served in the military for nearly 40 years and had multiple, multiple engagements in different theaters, there’s a lot of interesting stuff that you know they experienced in their life that, you know they were around they saw they did.

And so in the midst of already being a fan of the military of wanting to respect and honor those who serve, who are giving of themselves to help our nation be free to help us be free, it’s just greater or even more fun, maybe we need to talk to someone who has been a part of so much. And in this situation, Colonel Ker starts in Vietnam toward the beginning of the Vietnam conflict, and he serves all the way through in the war in Iraq. And so in that span, he served under a lot of different leaders, a lot of different presidents, a lot of stuff that he saw in his lifetime.

And he actually was also Special Forces. And when you’re in the military for nearly 40 years, and you do that in a special force capacity, you got to be a pretty special person to be 40 years in the Special Forces. So certainly, he was somebody fun to talk to.

David:

You know, I think of somebody like that, particularly in the early years of Vietnam, and it takes me back, I recently re-watched the movie 12 Strong, and if people haven’t seen that, it’s a great movie. It’s based on a true story that happened right after 911, some of the first guys into Afghanistan, and what they did as Special Forces guys and the kind of missions they went on.

And it strikes me that that’s probably a whole lot of the way that it was in the early stages of the Vietnam War where Special Forces guys were the first ones in and had to try to organize stuff on the ground and find the enemy and take the enemy down. So that’s got to be amazing across that period of time to have the armaments and the weapons and technology we had in Vietnam in the 60s. And then to move forward 40 years later to the type of technology and armament and weapons that we had 40 years later, and still being Special Forces. That says something about the guy to be able to adapt to that kind of change over that period of time.

Rick:

Well, let’s jump into that interview right after the break. Stay with us, folks, you’re listening to WallBuilders Live.

BREAK:

This is Tim Barton from WallBuilders with another moment from American history. Many today assert that religion is something private, that it has no place in the public square, and that it is incompatible with government. But the Founding Fathers believed exactly the opposite. They held that religion was absolutely necessary in order to maintain our free system of government.

For example, John Adams declared, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.” And signer of the Declaration, Benjamin Rush, similarly affirmed “Without religion, there can be no virtue, and without virtue, there can be no liberty. And liberty is the object and life of all republican governments”.

The Founding Fathers understood that limited government required public morality from the people, and that public morality was produced by the Christian religion. For more information about the Founding Fathers views on religion and public life, go to wallbuilders.com.

Tim:

Welcome back to WallBuilders Live. This is Tim Barton. And we are joined with special guest, Colonel Jon Ker, who has been part of the military in many different aspects. And we want to jump right into this interview. And so first of all, Colonel Ker, thank you so much for being with us today on the interview.

Jon:

My pleasure, I assure you.

Tim:

Well, knowing that you have a very long military career, at least some very interesting details of this career, let’s just start with how did you get involved in the military in the first place?

Jon:

Well, when I was in high school and early college, this is 65-66, the song The Ballad of the Green Berets, was popular. And I decided that I wasn’t doing real well at East Texas State University. So I decided I was going to join the army and go to the Special Forces. And so I did. I was about private, but I took some tests. They offered Officer Candidate School to me and I took that. And after OCS, they selected me for Special Forces training, Green Berets training, and I took it. I was happy to go.

Tim:

So maybe you can help refresh my memory. So for me, growing up in Texas, I have grown up in the country, we had a farm and ranch, and so part of growing up as a Texan, as a country boy, John Wayne is part of your childhood growing up, right? So we saw all these John Wayne movies. And most of the early knowledge I had of the Green Berets was from John Wayne Green Berets movie.

Jon:

Yes.

Tim:

So, help me understand context. Was that around the time that you joined when this movie was done? Or did that inspire you at all?

Jon:

Actually, no. The movie was while I was already in the army. In fact, I was an Officer Candidate School and John Wayne was filming the movie while I was in OCS. Because of the limitation of what candidates can do, I sing in the choir. Being a Christian, I wanted to sing in the choir anyway. Well, one day John Wayne came in and heard us singing, said, I want to film you all tomorrow. So I got to spend all day with John Wayne and they cut every bit of that out of the movie.

Tim:

Oh, no. But I still feel like that already gives you a different level of credibility in my mind that you got to be with John Wayne and film with him. That is awesome. Okay, so you were already in the military, you’re already officer candidacy training, and so after that you become a Green Berets.

Jon:

Yes.

Tim:

Do you get sent quickly to go be part of the conflict with the Vietnam War?

Jon:

Yes, I’ve spent a year in training. In Special Forces, there are a few, well, they call Military Occupational Specialties of the Enlist. Its weapons, heavy weapons, light weapons, intelligence, operations, communications, and medical and engineer. And so in my training, I got a bit of all of it, so I could know what to do when I got there. So the January of 1969, I arrived in Vietnam, and I went to a camp called Dak Seang D-A-K S-E-A-N-G, which is where Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam all come together. And I’m the 10th American at that camp.

Tim:

Wow!

Jon:

Yeah.

Tim:

So, I would presume that you’re working with people that English is not their primary language. So you’re now also presumably having to conduct operations with other units who don’t speak English, what was that like in Vietnam, and knowing also that your experience is probably going to give context for many people. So my generation, I’m 38 years old right now, and I was born at the beginning of the millennial generation. So even people, the generation before me, there’s a perception of the Vietnam War that there was a lot of negative perception surrounding it.

And one of the things I’m very grateful for today, I have a couple brothers in the military is that Americans are certainly a lot more appreciative of the military today than my understanding of what was going on during the Vietnam War when people were coming back from Vietnam. So first, if you would give some context of what maybe were operations are like working with other nations, and then what was it like when you came home after this? How was life for you?

Jon:

Oh, those are real good questions, Tim. First of all, in Special Forces, our job in Vietnam was to train the local communities, the local soldiers. We call them CIDG, Civilian Irregular Defense Group. And we equip them, train them, led them, fed them, all that. So that’s different from a regular line unit, such as like the 4th Infantry Division, or the 82nd Airborne.

We were right out there with the people. And so you’re right, a language was a barrier. But we had interpreters. And our CIDG were mostly the mountain tribal people. We call them Mountain Yards. The French word is actually Montagnard, but we changed that at the Mountain Yards. And they were comparable to what like the American Indian was here in the early stages of America. They were not really considered citizens of South Vietnam, but we led them and they were very good fighters. They were our men.

And when I came home, it was different. You know, I also was in Iraq in 2003. When I came home from Iraq, landed in Bangor, Maine, and there was a lot of people welcome on us clapping frankly, being old man, I just cried. But when I came home from Vietnam, it was as though like I had cooties.

Tim:

Yeah. So knowing obviously, gratefully, that America has transitioned some of that appreciation, we recognize there’s a lot of politics involved in Vietnam. Did you sense the politics when you were in the middle of that conflict? Was there pressure on you in that regard?

Jon:

Yes. On one of my operations I was on, we would go out on a week to 10 day combat operations. And on one of the operations, we received a message and it was the time that they was trying to start the talks and, you know, the parties, America and Vietnam were arguing over the size and shape of the table when it was just a mess. But in an effort to, I don’t know what the reasons were, but I got a message that said, if make contact with the enemy, break contact, but don’t break visual contact. What that means is, if the bad guys are going to shoot at me, don’t shoot back, but you know, just kind of keep an eye on them. Well…

Tim:

That sounds like a terrible rule of engagement to not fight back.

Jon:

That was a terrible and I signaled back, I said, you know, that came through garbled, I don’t understand and I shut my radio off.

Tim:

Wow. Yeah. So not to get involved in the politics necessarily, and certainly, if you would like to, we can. But, obviously, I mean, we’ve seen with different presidents, with different leaders, they have had different perceptions of what war should and shouldn’t look like, of maybe even what the American military should or shouldn’t do. There’s even conversations today about the American military being used as a police force for the world. And there’s some give and take in that. But even I’ve had a couple brothers in the military and one’s been in for now 19 years. And he’s seen in different presidents, many different rules of engagements. He’s had several deployments. He’s been in many firefights. And so we know that that is a very real thing that that can be a challenge and a difficulty for soldiers. Can you maybe address that of what it’s like when you have different leaders who have a different perception of if we’re trying to win a war or defeat an enemy or not be bad guys, can you address that a little bit?

Jon:

I’ll try. You know, when I was in Vietnam, Johnson was the president. And one of the political fallouts from that, it was a political operation that fell out onto the military. And that was, they were trying to control war from Washington, DC. And that just doesn’t work. The only way to win a war is to fight it and win it, period. You know, you bring all your power to bear, you defeat the enemy, and then it’s over. But playing a political side such as what Johnson was and McNamara were doing, on the ground, we felt it pretty hard. Because if the ground commander doesn’t have command over that particular part of the ground that he’s operating in, it’s going to cause difficulties.

And now compare that with in Iraq, now Iraq, we had different rules of engagement there, but we had a president that was wanting to win, and that’s in George W. Bush. And so, General Sanchez, for whom I was the liaison for Special Operations Forces, he was a fighter. And he was given command and we went out and we won, essentially won. So that’s the comparisons I can give you on that. Whenever the leadership puts restrictions in the military that would actually have the effect of preventing victory that’s wrong.

Tim:

That’s a really good point. So if we can, let’s back up, and let’s continue maybe wrap up some of the story of you in Vietnam, because then I know there’s a very long journey that even led you to Iraq. So one of the battles understanding Vietnam you were part of and I’m hoping I’m saying this right is Ben Het, is that correct?

Jon:

Ben Het.

Tim:

Can you tell us a little bit about that encounter?

Jon

Sure. Ben Het was the Special Forces camp immediately south of Doxy Hang. It came under siege in early March, I believe it was in 1969, and the siege lasted through June. And so I was sent down to Ben Het as to plus them up, and that was the first operation where the South Vietnamese were in command. Usually, we were in command in the South Vietnamese war. So it was testing of their resolve and their effectiveness.

At Ben Het, we were under siege by two North Vietnamese Army regiments of infantry regiments and one regiment of artillery. The siege lasted a long time. In fact, they came at us with three tanks, but each of those tanks got totally destroyed. But before the siege was lifted, the enemy had really approached our outer wire, and had constructed fighting positions there. Ben Het had three hills of North Hill, Main Hill, and West Hill, and they were even trying to dig underground to get underneath us. But what saved and what broke that battle up was the B52 strikes that came in there, and that over time just decimated them. So that was a terrible, terrible battle.

Tim:

Well, and we’re then very grateful that you survived. And obviously, you’ve had a long military career outside of that. But certainly, that was one of those massive firefights that you were a part of, and we appreciate you willing to share some of your story in details. And so if we can jump forward now, so after your active duty when you finish up in Vietnam, you’re now back stateside, what happens from, I guess, I know you go reserve for a little bit, what is the story of you being reserve and then you actually get called back up to active duty?

Jon:

Yes. When I came back from Vietnam, I stayed on active duty for a year and a half. And then my oldest son got very ill, had double ammonia when he was like three months old, so the doctor said we needed to move to dry climate. So I decided to go back and finish my college at Texas Tech. But they happen to have a Special Forces reserve unit there. So I took command of one of the Special Forces A teams through the time that I was at Tech. Well, I had a short break in reserves, but that I came back in and stayed a long time, because they’ve missed up what would call you mandatory removal date. And I didn’t tell him about it, and I stayed a lot longer than I was supposed to.

But I was the commander of a Signal Battalion in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and was at Fort Gordon, Georgia on 911. And when that happened, my wife was with me. I was there making a command inspection and so my guys who are working as trainers. And I told her, I said, well, I’m going to be going to war again. And so I knew right then I would, so I called Fort Bragg that were the Special Forces headquarters is and I told him I wanted to go and they put me back on active duty, and I went…

Tim:

And Colonel, to clarify, this is 30 years after you first enlisted?

Jon:

Yes.

Tim:

So you serve your term active duty, you went reserve, although obviously, with you being in command over so many senior things along the way, you’ve not been disengaged in the process, so to speak. But we’re talking now, that’s a very long career. So you’re now back in the process and you actually were part of maybe the story is the best way to phrase, the capturing of Saddam Hussein, you were part of that engagement. Can you give some details about that?

Jon:

I was not at the capture side. I had participated in the workup, the intelligence gathering, the intelligence analysis, the discussions, the figuring out, though, what was what. But the night that he was captured, I was actually in Jordan debriefing the Jordanian Special Intelligence General, because we had some Jordanian officers working with us to, because they are part of the Arab community. And so that night that Saddam was captured, I was telling the Jordanians what was going on. And so when I came back the next night to our safe house in Baghdad, one of the guys that was with me had brought his Saddam’s car, that taxi car back to our safe house. So that was pretty interesting.

Tim:

Well, there’s not many people that when they tell the story of Saddam and those details, they can talk about a vehicle that he used that they got to be a part of or see or surround. And so maybe allegedly, was there a souvenir as well?

Jon:

Well, there was, of course. You know, when they captured him about a [inaudible 19:45], the CIA and their defense all goes through, but there was some papers when I opened the door and looked at it that I tell my family, I says that could be his laundry receipts, but I got them.

Tim:

That is great. So Colonel, if we can wrap up just some of these details, so how long were you in the military before you officially retired?

Jon:

From the time I joined to the time I retired was 39 years and 7 months to the day.

Tim:

So, nearly 40 years of a span that you were engaged in serving the military. So first of all, let me just say, thank you so much, the things that you did to help fight for freedom for people around the nation, obviously, for protecting our rights as Americans, recognizing those God given rights that we know that we only get to enjoy those as long as they are protected and our military does such a good job, helping protect Americans keep us safe, and for 40 years, you did that. And so first of all, we want to say thank you so much for that.

With that being said, in your 40 years of experience, there’s a lot of life lessons I know you learned along the way. Right now, there are people listening to us that some of them are active duty, some of them are retired. We are very supportive of the military here at WallBuilders. And we pray for them, we love them. And so two things: if maybe there’s something that that you would even encourage military, whether it’s active duty or retired, and then what would you even say to American citizens? Obviously, you serving for 40 years have a sense of probably a level of patriotism of the necessity of what Americans need to do, how they should get involved or what we can do to help protect and defend freedom, what would you say then maybe to military members and to civilians?

Jon:

My comment is this. Every person who serves in the military and every person who serves in governments raises their right hand and takes an oath to protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. It is the Constitution that enshrines our God given rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. It is the Constitution that establishes through the first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights, the things that we are to enjoy as Americans without governmental interference. And so that oath that I took that everybody else takes who’s in the military and government service means something. And it means it is the Constitution, not the politician that we give our oath to. So I am dedicated to the Constitution. As a Christian, I’m dedicated, first, to serving my Lord, then right after that, I’m going to serve my family and country.

Tim:

I love it. God, family and country, absolutely the way America should be. And prioritizing those things will help America, once again, restore and establish the foundation that helps us succeed, and certainly helps us be free. And Colonel, it’s largely because of people like you who have gone before, who have paid the price, who have gone through the blood, sweat, and tears, to allow us to be free. So on behalf of myself, but I know also all our listening audience, my dad and Rick, we want to say thank you for your service. We’re so grateful for all you’ve done for America. And thank you for taking time to be with us today.

Jon:

Thank you and I was honored to serve.

Tim:

We’ll be right back with David Barton and Rick Green.

BREAK

Hey, friends, if you’ve been listening to WallBuilders Live for very long at all, you know how much we respect our veterans and how appreciative we are of the sacrifice they make to make our freedoms possible.

One of the ways that we love to honor those veterans is to tell their stories here. On WallBuilders Live, once in a while we get an opportunity to interview veterans that have served on those front lines that have made incredible sacrifices have amazing stories that we want to share with the American people. One of the very special things we get to do is interview World War II veterans. You’ve heard those interviews here on WallBuilders Live from folks that were in the band of brothers to folks like Edgar Harrell that survived being Indianapolis to so many other great stories you’ve heard on WallBuilders Live. You have friends and family that also served.

If you have World War II veterans in your family that you would like to have their story shared here on WallBuilders Live, please email us at radio@wallbuilders.com, radio@wallbuilders.com. Give us a brief summary of the story and we’ll set up an interview. Thanks so much for sharing here on WallBuilders Live.

Rick:

Welcome back to WallBuilders Live. Thanks for staying with us. And a special thanks to Colonel Ker for joining us on this interview today as well. And David, Tim, like set 40 years Special Forces, you got to be a special person to make it through that. And we’re blessed to get to have his story on our program. We want people to go get more veteran interviews on our website at wallbuilderslive.com. But glad, Colonel Ker could be our first one of 2021.

Tim:

Well, guys, you already know probably one of my favorite parts of the whole interview was when I find out that he got to meet John Wayne, right? Like okay, that’s just cool, growing up as somebody who in the country and so many John Wayne movies, that was awesome. Certainly, then hearing some of his story unfold, a lot of cool details on his story.

David:

Well, I thought it was neat too that the group he was working with would be a lot like the Native American Indians. I mean, he said being with those tribes was a lot like being with natives and the old Wild West kind of days. I mean, that would have been quite an experience culture-wise, as well as strategy and tactic-wise. But I got to agree with Tim, John Wayne, and how cool would that be to be a special forces guy and acquire, no, I don’t know if the whole choir is made up of Special Forces or not, but it’s the group that he was. But how fun would that have been for him to be there with John Wayne, and spend a day taping there? Now obviously, as he mentioned, it didn’t make the final cut in Green Beret. But nonetheless, I usually don’t think of a Special Forces guy as a guy, but what an amazing thing that would have been.

Rick:

Such a cool story. Thank you, Tim, for grabbing that interview, and thank you for listening today. All of you out there that are listening, we’ve got more of these veteran interviews at our website, wallbuilderslive.com. There’s also a CD available with some of the best of those veteran interviews and a lot more information at wallbuilderslive.com as well. That’s the place where you can get archives of the program. You can go back into the previous weeks. If you missed some Good News Fridays, or Foundations of Freedom Thursday, or some of the interviews we typically do on Monday through Wednesday, all available right now at wallbuilderslive.com, and of course, that’s the place you make your contribution. We sure appreciate you coming alongside us locking shields with us, helping us to amplify this voice of truth out there in the culture. Thanks so much for listening today. You’ve been listening to WallBuilders Live.