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November 13, 2013

Vietnam veteran leads other vets at Troy store

By Terry Oparka
C & G Staff Writer

Bernie Dave, 64, a U.S. Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War from 1969-1970, said he would start Veterans Day as he usually does, with the Walmart cheer on the job at store No. 2873 at Maple and Coolidge.

He also plans to visit the grave of his father, Bernard, a World War II Army veteran who served under Gen. George Patton. Dave and his father both took basic training in the same building at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Dave, a Fraser resident, has worked at Walmart, which he says is a company committed to hiring veterans, as a shift manager since 2007. He has worked at the Troy store since February and at other Walmart stores before that. He worked 40 years for Farmer Jack, starting there before he went into the service.

“Retail is a funny business,” he said. “It’s not for the faint of heart. Holidays are our busiest time. It’s not for everybody.”

He is one of five veterans who work at the Troy store.

There’s greeter Carl Grosman, 97, from Southfield, who is a World War II vet.

And Sandie Curney, who lives in Troy, has worked at different Walmart stores around the country for 15 years, depending on where her husband was stationed.  Her husband is on active duty for the U.S. Army at Selfridge Air National Guard Base as a recruiter. She’s worked at Walmart stores in Alaska and Kentucky.

“Walmart is very dedicated to military spouses,” she said.

Dave figures that vets are a good fit because military training instills ethics, discipline and routines.

“You don’t get a lot of questions (from vets) about why or how. They want to know what end result you’re looking for.”

“Walmart doesn’t care about age,” Dave added. “It never came up in the interview.”

Anne Hatfield, Walmart director of communications, said Walmart projects to hire even more veterans in the future. 

“In Michigan, as of November, more than 300 veterans have been hired by Walmart since our Veterans Welcome Home Commitment began on Memorial Day. Nationwide, more than 21,000 have been hired, and those numbers grow every day.  We are offering a job to any honorably discharged veteran within 12 months of his or her active duty, and we project to hire more than 100,000 veterans over the next five years. Our veterans risk their lives to fight for our country; they should not have to fight for a job when they come home,” said Hatfield via email.

Dave was a technical communications chief, or as he explains it, “the guy who
carries the radio,” as a sergeant attached to the 3rd Marine Division near the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone — the line dividing Communist North Vietnam from South Vietnam — and was close enough to see the North Vietnamese training.

“We lived in bunkers when we weren’t out in the field,” he said.

He was hit by mortar in the back, but put off having a spinal fusion until his legs gave out on him at work in 1987.

Classified Ia, fit for military service during the draft, he asked Army officials on Aug. 5, 1968, if they knew when he would be called up because he didn’t want to go through basic training in the winter.

“So they scheduled my physical, and I never went home,” he said. From a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Roseville, he got on a bus to Fort Wayne in Detroit for processing and then boarded a jet for Fort Campbell in Kentucky.

“I talked to my dad on the phone and asked him to bring clothes to the VFW
post so they would ship them to Fort Wayne,” he said.

He also asked his dad to tell his employer, Farmer Jack, that he wouldn’t be reporting for his midnight shift for a while.

Reflecting back, he said he was “gung ho” about serving in the Army when he was 18. After he got to Vietnam, he said, “You just want to survive.”

He said the names of deceased friends are inscribed on the Vietnam Veteran Wall Memorial at Freedom Hill County Park in Sterling Heights. He’s also visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

He said a lot of veterans from the Vietnam War “tore their lives up. I hated Vietnamese people for quite a long time. In my dreams, I’ve put this to rest.”
 
He said one of the pharmacists at his store is Vietnamese, with a father in the
U.S. Air Force and who married a Vietnamese woman.

His favorite part of his job as shift manager is teaching and training someone who wants to be promoted. His three sons work at Hollywood Market, Walmart and Kroger stores.

And Dave plans to stay on the job for at least a couple of years, ending the Walmart morning cheer with “2873, we’re the store you want to be.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Terry Oparka at toparka@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1054.