Generations Of Nebraska Warriors: War


August 20th, 2014

Lincoln, NE – Greg Holloway and Jim Cada talk about what it was like to be in combat in Vietnam. “Mud and the blood,” said Holloway. “And fear,” added Cada.


They’re friends who work together on veterans projects. Both were drafted into the Army in the late 1960s from small-town Nebraska.

“But the problem is that most of the time, things are okay,” Cada said, “and then all of a sudden, all hell breaks loose and you think oh, this is not good.”

Cada and Holloway earned Purple Heart medals for combat wounds. In Holloway’s case, three times in five months. The last, and worst, came from an enemy grenade.

“Blew the back of my head out, shattered my face, my right side, blew a hole through my left foot, tore me up pretty bad,” Holloway recalled.

Kevin Barret was also wounded by a grenade in the 1990s as a Marine fighting in the Middle East. “My body flopped in the air, from the concussion,” Barret said, “and then, I don’t know if I was knocked out or not, but I turned around and returned fire. I stood up and I didn’t know I was hit.”

Barret, Kevin Phillips and Cody Sparks are Marine veterans from different eras. Barret and Phillips from the first Gulf War and other conflicts in the 1980s and 1990s, Sparks from Afghanistan in recent years. They share membership in an organization called the Marine Corps League, and share a description of combat.

“It’s the most terrifying thing in the world, until a bullet flies over your head, and then after that, it’s fun,” Sparks said. “It’s like taking a jump off a high dive and you’re scared. Then after that, you’re not scared anymore. That’s just me.”

“He’s right. Exactly that way,” Barret added.

“The first one you hear go by your ear you think, oh, oh, and then you think, hey, this is what I’m trained for,” Phillips said. “I’m trained for this. I’m still alive, and I know I’m a better shot than that guy is cause he just missed me.”

Barret and Phillips say it was harder for younger soldiers like Sparks because now it’s not easy to tell friend from foe in a combat zone. Jenny Bos and A.J. Bloebaum would agree. About a decade ago their Nebraska Army National Guard unit was running supply convoys through the cities and streets of Iraq.

“I know there were multiple times that we were stopped on the side of the road and you’d have people walk up to your convoy,” Bos recalled. “You didn’t know how you should treat them, if you should treat them with respect or if you should point your weapon at them and tell them to get back.”

“It’s hard to trust just because of all the incidents of people blowing themselves up to kill the Americans,” Bloebaum added. “It’s hard to trust them.”

Bos and Bloebaum say “something” happened every other mission, including one major ambush where they were attacked with roadside bombs, mortars and rocket propelled grenades. They escaped unscathed, but several members of the unit were wounded.

Dave Spry understands what it’s like to be under fire. He was a Marine in Khe Sanh during a months-long battle for that base in Vietnam. Spry says U.S. troops were surrounded and shelled with hundreds of bombs daily.

“You’re always are scared,” Spry said. “Is that next round that’s coming in that’s just landed 20, 30 feet from me, is that next one going to be the one that’s going to land on me?”

Spry’s friend, Army veteran Dennis Pavlik, was holding a hill in Korea when artillery barrages started.

“It started about nine o’clock at night and it was continuous until the next morning,” Pavlik recalled. “Just one right after the other, and I was in a fox hole and they just marched them in and they exploded all around you. I was covered with dirt. Our last order was stay at all costs. Form a new line.”

A few hours later Pavlik was captured by the Chinese and marched through dead and dying soldiers to a prison camp. He was released several weeks later as part of a prisoner exchange. When asked what people who haven’t been there should know about war, Pavlik answered with a simple phrase, words that combat veterans, regardless of where and when they fought, likely agree on.

“War is hell,” Pavlik said.

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