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Halfhill recalls time in U.S. Navy during Vietnam War

Published: Friday, April 11, 2014 11:31 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, April 11, 2014 12:19 p.m. CDT

Lowell Halfhill had just graduated from Iowa State University in 1968. He had a world of opportunity before him, a promising career to look forward to and plenty of prospects ahead barring one simple problem.

“I would go in for a job interview, and they would ask me what my draft status was,” Lowell said. “I’d tell them that I was a 1-A, and they’d say they’d be happy to talk to me once I got back.”

He already had a brother who was serving in the Army as an officer in Vietnam, and his father-in-law had served during World War II.

Lowell knew the Army wasn’t the branch for him, and he wanted to keep charge of his destiny as much as any young man facing the Draft Board can. So, he met with a Navy recruiter and was able to arrange his enlistment before he his draft notice arrived.

By October, just a few short months after his graduation, Lowell was starting boot camp in San Diego, Calif. His training there continued through December, after which he was posted to Norfolk, Va., for the commissioning of the USS Durham.

The Durham was a military cargo ship, specially outfitted to be able to haul Marines, and all of their equipment, for beach assaults.

When the ship’s captain was picking his personal staff from members of the crew, he sought out enlistedmen who had college educations. Lowell was an easy pick to serve as a yeoman, performing administrative work.

The ship’s first full Pacific cruise took it to Da Nang, Vietnam, where it was responsible for picking up Marines to bring home. Afterward, the ship returned to Da Nang, ferrying troops and supplies between Japan, Vietnam and the U.S.

“It was easy to forget that we were still in a war zone when you’re out on one of the ships,” Lowell said. “When we were in harbor, they would drop concussion grenades into the water around the boat to make sure we were clear.”

Once he was back stateside, Lowell was assigned to Whiting Naval Air Station in Milton, Fla. His duty there was quiet, helping to type up wills and witness signatures to legal documents throughout the time.

His father-in-law helped to find him a job with the bank in Mingo before he was out of the service. The bankers flew him home, interviewed him and promised to hold the position until he mustered out of the service in October of 1972.

Lowell and his wife, Diana, moved back to Mingo once he was out of the service and Lowell began his work with the bank while selling insurance on the side. His career continued through several different banks and insurance agencies in Mingo, culminating with his purchase of a neighboring agency to launch Halfhill Insurance, which he still owns and operates.

Looking back on his service now, Lowell still has a hard time pinpointing the impact that it has had over the years.

“I wouldn’t want to do it again, but at the same time I wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to do it,” hew said.

Lowell plays trombone in the Iowa Military Veteran’s Band, which does events ranging from Memorial Day services and the Iowa State Fair to booked out concerts at the Civic Center.

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