Gordon by bookshelf

What it Means to Be a Patriot: Gordon

For Mercy Housing, Marion Housing Center resident Gordon, Wisconsin, has always been home. Growing up in the small town of Williams Bay, Wisconsin, Gordon was surrounded by family who served in the military. Both his father and uncle served in WWII, with his dad stationed in the Mediterranean and his uncle assigned to the 101st Airborne in Europe. His father received two bronze stars on his battle ribbon, and his uncle was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received at the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne, Gordon looked up to them and, like them, wanted to serve his country.

He describes the first five years of his life as “precious years of peace” until the start of the Cold War in 1947. “The hard part of growing up was the constant threat of nuclear war,” he recently shared. He and his classmates were taught to “duck and cover,” which were referred to as “storm drills,” by the school to calm fears. “The Korean War and the McCarthy era combined to create a very dark atmosphere,” Gordon added.

Finding Inspiration

The Milwaukee Braves and Green Bay Packers were a highlight for Gordon during his teenage years. “I would listen to their games, and the announcer would tell us when a player had returned from his military service.” He noted.

He shared the story of Paul Horning, star running back for the Packers. The team was getting ready for the 1961 NFC Championship, but Horning was doing his military service. Vince Lombardi, head coach of the Packers at the time, got on the phone and called President John Kennedy, asking for Horning to be granted a weekend pass so he could play in the championship game. Kennedy issued a pass, and the star running back was allowed to play.

“The Cold War raised the question of, ‘do we take our place in the line or do we refuse to serve?’”

The Military Draft

“You can’t look at your family and see the sacrifices they made and say, ‘well, I don’t think I want to do this,’” Gordon explained about his decision to join the military. “That wasn’t a part of the conversation for my generation.”

The draft was a factor as well. “We were going to serve ‘now’ or ‘later,” he added. Because of the draft, he knew that he was going to do military service, “We could serve either before or after college.”

August 16, 1961. This day is significant for Gordon because it is when he joined the Navy. Sent to Camp Berry for Boot Camp, he was later assigned to the 6th Fleet in the North Atlantic. He calls his time in the Navy “a privilege. My service in the Hospital Corps trying to heal rather than trying to harm people,” Gordon reflected.

And that’s what he did. As a member of the 6th Fleet, Gordon was stationed aboard the aircraft Carrier USS Randolph and worked to care for the needs of his injured shipmates.

Gordon also had a brush with history while on the Randolph. When John Glenn returned to earth following his historic earth orbiting flight. He was transferred to the Randolph for debriefing. Gordon recalls, “Dr. Cochran, who was the senior medical officer in charge of Glenn’s examination, asked me to get Colonel Glenn a glass of ice water. When I handed the water to the astronaut, I mumbled, ‘well done.’” Glenn smiled and said, ‘thank you.’”

Williams Bay monument
Williams Bay veterans, including Gordon and his father, are honored by the small Wisconsin town.

The Later Years

Following Gordon’s honorable discharge, he returned to Wisconsin and taught history for 10 years in the Oconomowoc School District, followed by 25 years working in marketing and sales. His deep love of history and his military service continue to be a source of inspiration and pride.

Gordon on Mercy Housing

“I spent 15 years at another HUD property, and I’ve never before seen the level of involvement and care that the residents receive at Marian,” Gordon said.

“In our building, we enjoy a level of compassion, concern, and interest in all aspects of resident life – insurance, physical well-being, food distributions…you name it,” he continued to share.

“Everyone works very hard on our behalf, and that’s a very different experience than I had before.”

Gordon's Honor Wall
Gordon proudly displays his military journey on the wall in his home.

With help from Resident Services Coordinator Jo Ann, Gordon started a discussion group called “American Affairs” at Marian Housing Center. The group met and talked about history, with Gordon acting as a discussion leader. Unfortunately, the group was suspended due to COVID. But he and Resident Services Coordinator (RSC), Jo Ann Rodriguez, hope to resume the conversations in 2023.

In the meantime, Gordon has stayed busy writing books and contributing articles to local newspapers, highlighting the influence of history on current events.

The Honor Flight

Earlier this summer, Gordon was invited to the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight. This program works with Independent Hubs to honor U.S. veterans with an all-expense paid trip to visit historic Washington D.C. “I was just thrilled to go,” he said.

“Apparently, there was a doctor who was seeing more and more WWII patients, and they were less able to get around and do things,” Gordon explained when talking about The Honor Flight. “The doctor was concerned that the veterans who had given and sacrificed so much could not see the memorials and the places in Washington that were created for them.”

Gordon was taken aback when his name came up. “It was totally unexpected,” he said. “I was honored to go.” He had spent four years in the D.C. area previously and visited several memorials. This time, however, he saw those dedicated to soldiers who fought in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

He went on to describe his experience by saying, “I was overwhelmed by our trip through Arlington National Cemetery, a journey in which we were surrounded by 111 acres of row upon row of white markers, attesting to the enormous sacrifice of American men and women who fought and died to preserve, protect and defend our way of life.”

John McCain said, ”those who take advantage of the benefits and opportunities their country provides and does not honor their obligation to serve in the armed forces live only half a life.”

The Honor Flight provides veterans with the chance to share this memorial experience with other veterans as they honor the friends and comrades lost and receive their unique stories and their tours of service with each other.

Mercy Housing thanks Gordon for his service.