After completing basic training, St. Ivany’s first assignment was Fort Knox in Kentucky, where he would spend several months in radio operator training. By September of that year, St. Ivany was on his way to Vietnam.
EDITORS’ NOTE: From Wednesday and through Friday, the Lake Sun is proud to feature the brave accounts and courageous histories of local veterans who’ve served our country with honor and distinction. We not only thank them for their service, but also for sharing these personal stories and photographs with us.
It certainly wasn’t where young men expected to find themselves, but like so many thousands of others during that era, Gary St. Ivany found himself leaving basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in the spring of 1971 knowing that at some point, he would be packing up for the jungles of Vietnam.
It has just been a few years before, that St. Ivany graduated from high school in Granite City, Illinois and was accepted to Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville. When the draft notice arrived, St. Ivany decided it was time to enlist.
After completing basic training, St. Ivany’s first assignment was Fort Knox in Kentucky, where he would spend several months in radio operator training. By September of that year, St. Ivany was on his way.
From September 1970 through July 1971, St. Ivany found himself working as Radio Operator in the Army’s 159th Transportation Battalion. The company was responsible for moving supplies through the Mekong Delta region in the southern portion of Vietnam.
“I was stationed in Vietnam on a base that was previously a French Plantation for 10 months. Working in a communications hut, my job consisted of keeping in contact with mike boats, very small barges, which were moving supplies into the MeKong Delta,” St. Ivany said. “I did little work on the river itself. It was a small base with little to do and nowhere to go.”
Depending on the day, he worked a six to 12-hour shift. Most nights were spent listening to gunfire. St. Ivany said an artillery unit stationed on the same base would fire guns until all hours. Not only was the base isolated with little to do, there was no communication with the outside world except by mail.
More than the isolated location, the nearly constant barrage of gunfire at night was the loneliness. He missed home and not being able to communicate with his family and friends was hard, he said.
In late June, St. Ivany found out he was being sent stateside. He was headed home back to the United States. He didn’t hesitate. Looking forward to seeing his family and friends, he arrived back in the U.S. by way of San Francisco and unlike others who found some stateside resentment, St. Ivany said he had no hassles from civilians.
It was until he was getting ready to leave San Francisco that he finally called his family to tell them the good news… he was coming home. He remembers flying the red eye flight to St. Louis, on military standby, but had managed to get seated in first class by the airline.
After months in the Delta, St. Ivany said eating real food once he was back home was difficult. The first time, when he arrived back in St. Louis, he got sick.
“The next couple of days, July 3 and 4, were hard. All the fireworks were reminiscent of the last 10 months, except it was a different meaning then. I still had eight months military time left,” he said. “This was actually a benefit because I could re-adjust to normal life in a controlled environment.”
The remnants of his time in Vietnam were hard to put behind him. He spent the next several months back at Fort Knox assigned to Armor School where he spent his days training tank officers. Just shy of two months before he was scheduled for an early honorable discharge St. Ivany found himself facing yet another challenge.
He was given a temporary duty assignment for two months as the head pallbearer for military funerals for the state of Ohio. For 10 young men who had lost their lives in the war, St. Ivany was there to make certain they were laid to rest with honor and dignity.
“That was the hardest part, performing 10 military funerals,” he said. “They were fellow soldiers, my age, who had been killed in Vietnam.”
By January of 1972, he had received an honorable discharge to continue his education. Four months prior to the end of his enlistment, he was back in school and would later that same year, meet his future wife, Nancy, at a friend’s wedding. The two had lived next door to each other in elementary school and had attended kindergarten together.
Their paths continued to cross over the years even attending the same high school and university but it wasn’t until after his time in the Army that the two found themselves dating. They married in 1973. He graduated from college with a degree in Environmental Studies in 1974.
“I used the G.I. Bill and Illinois had a military scholarship for college if you attended an Illinois school and were an Illinois resident,” he said. “We then moved to San Diego and had a working vacation for two years.”
In the fall of 1977, the St. Ivany’s moved to central Missouri and in 1996 to Camdenton for their daughter to start high school at CHS. Nancy was a School Counselor at Dogwood Elementary and he worked for the Missouri Geological Survey as an Environmental Geologist.
He retired in 2003 and went to art school before becoming an artist. Nancy retired in 2008 and George went to school with her on her last day just like he had on their first day of kindergarten.
These days St. Ivany can most often be found in his studio creating works that have gained him a reputation as a well-known artist or traveling with his wife.