Interview with Kevin O'Brien, 05/02/2017

UW Oshkosh Campus Stories
Adam Messerschmidt, Interviewer | uwocs_Kevin_OBrien_05022017_uc.mp3
Campus Stories Oral History Project (UWO Audio Series 51) |

0:00

´╗┐Adam Messerschmidt: My name is Adam Messerschmidt, I am at the alumni welcome center here at UW-Oshkosh, and will be conducting an interview for the campus stories oral history project. Just to get things started could you please introduce your name, the date, and time.

Kevin O'Brien: My name is Kevin J. O'Brien, the date is 2 May, 2017, and it's 10:30 in the morning.

AM: Okay, thank you that was perfect, and just to get things started we'll start with a little bit of your background. Could you please tell me where you grew up?

KO: I was born and raised in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. I went to grade school at St. Peter and Paul Catholic School. My dad moved us to Sheboygan when I was 13 years old, I went to high school at Sheboygan North, graduated from there. I went into the air force for 2 years, I was a law enforcement K9 and I was stationed in Thailand. On what they call a bright light team. We were looking 1:00for POW's and MIA's shortly after the Vietnam War and I stayed 2 years there. I went to Germany for a year and then I got out early on a program they called bootstrap after Vietnam. I was required to go back in to the military as an officer whatever service I picked though. While here at Oshkosh, I got out of the Air Force and came to Oshkosh, spent three and a half years here I had already had credits from the Air Force for physical education and basic studies, so it only took me three years to go through here. I was here from 1978 to 1981

graduated in 81 and I went into the Navy as a naval aviator. I graduated from aviation officer candidate school, and after that I went through flight school, 2:00I got hurt. Rehabbed for about 6 months I went through naval surface warfare officer school. So I wound up with two warfare specialties. After that I went through special operations school, and after special operations school I wound up having an interesting career in the Navy. For about 20 to 22 years on an off. I wound up retiring as the commanding officer of seal team 3. Left the military, went to work for Eaton Aerospace, I was the sales manager for navy, marine core, coastguard sales for 14 different manufacturing sites for Eaton Aerospace. It's a fortune 500 company based out of Cleveland. I was based in Los Angles California. At the same time I was still a reserve officer, it's called training 3:00admiration of the reserves. I still had to do my two weeks a year and my weekends once a month. Twice I was called back to active duty for extend periods of time for Afghanistan and Iraq. Went back to Eaton finished my career there after I was there about 10 years, and I opened up my own Aerospace business. It was a manufacturing facility in Corona California. We called it Milicom Aerospace because I was doing parts for military and commercial aerospace. What I did was, I have a master's degree in mechanical engineering from UCLA. And what we did was we identified parts that failed on original equipment quite a bit and engineered out the obsolescence and rebuilt the parts and sold them back into the military and they lasted a lot longer. Military liked the idea I wound 4:00up getting sick, from injuries from years past on active duty. I wound up having a kidney transplant in 2016, and I had open heart surgery in 2010. I was on dialysis for about 6 years before a kidney transplant. I had to sell my aerospace business which I didn't like. But I wound up retired for the last 6 years, and that brings us to today.

AM: Wow, you definitely have quite the built up resume there. And actually my dad was in the navy, so I do have some prior knowledge of what goes on there. And joining the air force, was that tough decision right away or did you have some family support for that.

KO: My dad and my uncle were in the air force, I wound up becoming the first officer in my family.

AM: Really?

KO: Long history of army and air force people, my grandfathers were both in the 5:00army in World War II. One served in the pacific in New Guinea and my other grandfather served in Germany.

AM: That's pretty cool that that's a family kinda thing there. So tell me a little bit about your family more? Specifically when you were younger, did they value education much?

KO: Well my father's a teacher, he was an English teacher for about 45 years. Let's see he coached football, basketball, and track at Wisconsin Rapids Assumption Catholic High School. I was looking forward to go the school at Assumption because in grade schools there I did pretty well in most of the sports so I wanted to go to school there and he moved us here. My mother passed away when I was 12, and he moved us to Sheboygan. Just after that time I wound 6:00up going to my freshman year at Urban Junior High at Sheboygan and then I went to North High School for 3 years. I lettered in 3 sports there, cross country, swimming, and track. My father, when he went to North he wound up winning a state championship in track. The team I ran on my senior year we wound up third. He won state championships in women and men's golf while he was at north as well. He was also the state teachers champion three years running for golf, he was a pretty good athlete himself. I have three brothers that are teachers, I have 2 nephews that are teachers one is a stem teacher, the other is a astrophysics. And then I have a sister that's a first grade teacher. So I would 7:00say yeah, my family they are pretty strong on education.

AM: That's good, and were you close with, you said you mentioned you had three brothers how close were you with them growing up?

KO: I have 3 brothers that are teachers, I have 4 brothers and 2 sisters.

AM: Oh, okay, so big family then. Do you think that was an important thing for you was having a big family while you were growing up?

KO: yeah, I was the oldest of 7. And I have 14 nieces and nephews. And all of us have graduated, well my brothers and sisters all of us had graduated from college. And all except one had advanced degrees and I have a sister that's an attorney.

AM: That's pretty impressive, and did they all go to Oshkosh like you or did they go to other places?

KO: No, I'm the black sheep of the family.

AM: Oh okay.

KO: Actually, every one of them and a couple of my nephews right now have gone 8:00to La-Crosse, my dad went to La-Crosse, So my brothers and sisters were legacies. I would have been too but I decided on Oshkosh. First of all, I wanted to stay a little close to home, after I had been in the air force. My father he was getting on in years and I wanted to stay close to him. So I came here to Oshkosh and that's about it for that.

AM: Okay, yup, and going back to high school, you said you did play 3 sports, and did you continue to play sports in college?

KO: I have a letter here at Oshkosh in swimming.

AM: Okay.

KO: And I played baseball here. I was on the same team, my freshman year Jimmy Gatner was our second baseman, and then the team that I played on we had Jeff 9:00Carl who went to the Blue Jays. Jimmy Gatner wound up on the Brewers. Jeff Carl went to the Blue Jays, Steve Erickson was our catcher he wound up I think in the Texas Rangers organization. And we had 2 guys in the outfield I can't remember their last names right now, it's been a long time. Tommy Lechnir was the baseball coach here for a long time, He was our second baseman. So

AM: That's a pretty impressive team then.

KO: Well we won NCAA division 2 at that time 2 out of the 4 years I was here and we wound up second the other 2 years.

AM: Well that definitely is an impressive resume then. Going back to high school, what were really your big goals or aspirations you wanted to achieve?

KO: I wanted to go to college, I had been accepted to Notre Dame but as the 10:00oldest of 7 and having a dad that was a teacher that was kinda out of possibilities because of the cost.

AM: Right.

KO: So I wound up going into the air force. My guidance counselor challenged me, she said you're never going to college because your dad can't afford it. And I said well I am going to college and I'm going to afford it. So I did I went into the air force.

AM: And that was your way of paying for college then.

KO: yup, I wound up on the GI bill and by the time I graduated from college I owed nothing. So I had my GI bill while I was here, I worked what we called em community advisors back then. I think they now changed the name back to resident assistant.

AM: yup, one of them

KO: And I was at Fletcher Hall.

AM: That's interesting, that's actually where I lived my freshman year of college was Fletcher Hall.

KO: Really? Well back then it was the senior dormitory.

AM: Wow, really?

KO: Well not for seniors but it was for people who decided to go to college a 11:00little later in life.

AM: And it actually is, I don't know if you saw driving in but it actually is being remodeled now.

KO: Yeah, Chris Gantner told me that, it's about time.

AM: yeah it is

KO: Cause the first hall I lived in isn't even there anymore.

AM: Really? What hall was that one?

KO: I was in. Let's see Evans, Nelson, and Breeze. And Breeze was the one I lived in first then I moved to Nelson. And that was during the summer, I moved twice. But now the 3 of those are all torn down, they have a big monstrosity over there now. It's there next to the reeve union.

AM: Oh yeah okay.

KO: Breeze was right across the street from Fletcher Hall.

AM: Oh okay, and where was nelson then?

KO: Right next to that and then Evans was right next to that.

AM: Oh okay, now I'm starting to get a picture of where it all fit into.

12:00

KO: Scott and Grunenhagen were brand new at that time.

AM: they were both brand new?

KO: yup I'm a lot older than you are.

AM: Right, so in high school you played a lot of sports, obviously which took up a lot of time, but what did you do in you spare time besides that, did you have any activities, friends, or?

KO: I was a nurse's aide, at the hospital just down the street at Sheboygan memorial. And that was kinda interesting because I work on a heart ward. I got used to the patients there and then they started dying they'd be there a long time and you'd get to know them and their families and they die. So I didn't like that, so my best friend at the time from Wisconsin Rapids, actually Rich Gastner his dad ended up being the administrator from the hospital cause they moved here later on. And then my best buddy at North, Marv Cox. He and I were 13:00hired there as nurse's aides, in the orthopedic ward to be able to help lift people who had total hip replacements or ankle or whatever, because the nurses weren't strong enough to lift them. So we went through special training we learned how to do that. That was good training for me for later on.

AM: So let's go back to your first days, day at Oshkosh I should say. What was your first impression of campus?

KO: I was scared. I had come out of the air force and it was new to me because I was used to being in the military. And I always felt like I needed to be somewhere else, back in uniform. We've had some experiences in South East Asia when we were bright light teams that weren't exactly fun. I lost a couple of 14:00teammates. This is after the Vietnam War but, that didn't matter to the laoshan border guard. When we ran into those guys and had some interesting experiences but. I was always looking around, I always knew where an exit was, I was always looking around to see if there was somebody who was threatening or something and it's kinda in your head. But it's not really a threat but you perceive it to be. At least until you get comfortable with it. Plus, having been to the military I was a little older than the other people that were in my class. But eventually I had found a couple guys who I had graduated with from high school. They were on the 6 and 7 year programs, and I was on the 4 year program cause I knew I wanted to go back to the military as an officer, so I didn't screw around academically. But one of my buddies he went to Fond du Lac Goodrich, we were good buddies 15:00because we use to compete against each other in high school. He graduated the same time I did in 198, but I had the time in the air force that they didn't have. They were in college. I guess they were searching for their majors, I knew what I wanted to do when I came here so it didn't take me long.

AM: That's nice just to get in and get out then.

KO: Get in and get out I felt a little bit more comfortable but the first day was really scary to me cause it was a totally different world then what I was used to.

AM: Yeah, and what grade wise, how were you in college compared to how you were in high school?

KO: Exactly the same. I have an excellent memory and I learn a different way than most people. If I see it on a blackboard, and I write it down, I hear it, and I see it, I memorized it.

AM: Really?

KO: So I don't really study. I'm pretty lucky that way. So I went through high 16:00school with working at the hospital and with the 3 sports I had, I wound up with a 3.0 grade point average. And getting out of the military and coming back I wound up with a 3.0 grade point average in college because I had 2 sports and I worked as a CA and I also worked as a campus security here because as a veteran they liked hiring guys like me and that was a good way of making some extra money.

AM: Right, and I have here on my sheet that you are a history and policy major, what made you decide that?

KO: Well I've always enjoyed history and having been in the air force I've had a chance to see a couple places I've never been before or ever would have gone before. Eventually, throughout my career I've been to 32 countries that I can 17:00talk about and I've seen some things that have kind of disappointed me and some things that have been pretty cool. And history to me as a society today know better where we are going to if we remember where we came from. And a lot of people tend to forget the where we came from part and think today is it and all I'm gonna worry about is the future. They're not gonna learn from the mistakes that we've made as a society if we do not remember history. I'm writing a book right now and what I'm learning in studying the book is our politicians are still dealing with issues today that we were dealing with 30 years ago, when president Raegan was in office. He fixed a lot of them but over the process of time we've screwed those up and now we got to re-fix them again. It's ridiculous 18:00how we usually go we go one step forward and two steps back.

AM: From your major, can you remember any classes or professors that really stuck out to you that influenced you?

KO: I can't, well the biggest professor that stuck out to me was actually my swimming coach and my baseball coach. And I didn't have either one of them in class. But my swimming coach was Jan Moldenhauer, and she passed away a couple of years ago 2013 I think. And she was kinda like a mother to us. If we had problem academically she would sit down and work out the problems with us. And she wouldn't let us swim either, we couldn't even practice. If we had problems with grades she made sure we took care of those first. My history professors were all pretty liberal, and I'm not liberal. Having been in the military I grew 19:00up democratic because all my family are teachers. But, I became pretty conservative once you get to see life from the military's point of view you start to become conservative whether you like it or not, it just kind of happens. And I feel more comfortable conservative anyways. The other one was coach Titeman, he was our baseball coach. And what I learned from his, we didn't have scholarships. But we could take on any team in the country division 1 or division 2, and beat them because of his method of he taught me something I've never forgot and I use it in my book. If you can think of it, it can happen. That was one of his favorite sayings. So he basically gave us for me anyway that 20:00helped me a lot when I was a special operations officer. Cause some situations we got into, we didn't think we were gonna get out of. But all we did was I stayed calm and my senior chiefs and I we would just stay with the program and figure a way out of whatever situation we were in. And I learned how to do that owning my aerospace business and then selling parts in the military for Eaton. I always used that precept, so that stuck with me ever since I was 21. That's almost 39 years now.

AM: And you keep bringing up your book, tell us a little about that?

KO: I'm writing a book right now it's the similarities and differences between Ronald Reagan, who most of the kids nowadays don't even know, and President Trump. President Trump is basically using the same playbook and Ronald Raegan 21:00did, not only to get elected but to move forward with his programs and policies. They're both actors and a lot of people look at President Trump and don't like what he said during the primaries. Well he was playing a part, if he didn't play the part he would have not gotten elected. He's never been a politician so he' saying things that are outlandish, but guess what? He didn't have to pay for any of the advertising he was getting. He was getting followed by the media all over the place, he took a lot of time away from secretary Clinton, and he kept himself in front of the cameras and in front of the people and eventually the people understood what he was doing, and he talked to the same people president Raegan did. They called them the Raegan democrats back then. It was the blue collar middle class that elite and the pundits and the liberal media forgot. And 22:00a lot of those elite republicans forgot. Same thing is happening right now, he won in Pennsylvania, he won in Michigan, he won in Wisconsin because he started talking to people who had been forgotten and have been taking home the same wage for about 10 to 15 years, they have not gotten a raise. And they have not elevated themselves or moved themselves up at all. So he speaks to the common man. The millennials today only know president Obama, they don't know any more president. So when you hear them complaining that this guy isn't an actual president they've only got Obama to look at. Well Obama is not going to go down as one of our best presidents. He apologized for how we ended World War II, he apologized for issues that we've had in the Middle East, he gave 150 billion 23:00dollars to Iran who's the largest state sponsored terrorist in the world. He gave them money back that we had sanctioned so they couldn't have money to build nuclear weapons or their nuclear program. A lot of us older guys, we look at that as treason. He should have been tossed out of office. These are not things that make the United States look good in the world's eyes. And you're starting to see that because President Trump was gonna focus on domestic issues to start with, the world's situation now North Korea is not. That's a scary place, I've had to deal with them personally a couple of times because of what we were directed to do around things this father was just as much of a nut as he was. But he has to focus on international relations right now or ya know millennials 24:00don't understand just how the world is out there.

AM: Right, which is something you feel strongly about, because you've been there you know.

KO: I know how bad our military is kept up right now. It's been depleted over the last, one and a half administrations. And we need to rebuild it they need spare parts out there. We have guys out there getting killed because they have crappy equipment. But if we don't have them, we call it the point of the spear, if we don't have them there is no worry about what us is. If this guy gets ballistic missiles and can hit the United States, he's crazy enough to use them. You even see China working with us now, that hasn't happened since World War II. World War II that's before I was born. The reason that it's important for him to 25:00do this is because if you put a ballistic missile that can hit Seattle or Anchorage Alaska. Number one starts a war, and number destroys a city. 8 to 10 million Americans can go poof just like that. And millennials I don't know why, I don't know what it is that you are being taught right now, but unless they've been in the military or they're veterans coming back to school they really have no clue of what we are facing out there. And it's not your fault you're just not being taught that in school. There are two sides to every issue and you guys are just being taught one, that's why we see the riots right now. It's not the millennials fault it's the educators fault. And I'm not getting off topic am I?

26:00

AM: No, no you're fine, it was about the book which was my question. But I guess, going back to college, you mentioned you were a CA or a RA they call them now.

KO: They were community advisors then, almost every university called them residents assistance back then.

AM: They are still called Community Advisors here, what made you want to become one?

KO: I wanted to work for the university, I was already working for campus security. And I found out that there were a couple of benefits. One I already had my GI bill so I had books and tuition payed for. The CA position payed for my room and board. So I had no bills. I had a car, I was one of the only ones on campus who had a car back then. So I had some buddies that we wanted to go out somewhere we could, if we want to travel up to Appleton or down to Milwaukee we could do that. I could get back and forth between home, here and Sheboygan. But 27:00I needed to keep the car up and having to get it maintained I wound up getting 100 bucks a month from here, plus I had money I was getting payed by the GI bill.

AM: You mentioned going out of town or whatever, but what did you really do in your spare time here for like weekends or just spare time/down time?

KO: I studied, I was one of the few guys around that went to interim. So I went to school during the semesters and hit every interim we had. So winter, spring, and fall interims I was in all of them. Summer I was in school all the time.

AM: Wow, so is that how you got out in 3 years.

KO: yup, 3 years, I got here in 78 and I left in 81.

AM: Wow, that's impressive, and what do you remember about your dorm life, did you have a roommates?

KO: No, well I was a CA, and actually one of the other CAs and I became really 28:00good friends. His name was Mike Bitner. He was a hunter and I use to help and go out with him because I was an outdoors man too. But he trapped snapping turtles, and we would sell the shells and sell the meat to restaurants around here for turtle soup and stuff like that. We trapped huge carp out in the lake and Mike had a process for smoking them that was really good. If you ate the smoked carp you would think it was trout. But, we had to tell people what it was they didn't believe us, but we did. Then he had a coon dog named Queenie, and we used to go out in farmer's fields we'd set up times ahead of times and we'd go out and we would go out and clear farmer's fields of raccoons at night. And funny story 29:00back then was, Mike was gone for a weekend and we started smelling something really bad we were on second floor of Fletcher Hall. And we started smelling something really bad and couldn't figure out what it was. Well about 8 hours after we started smelling this thing emanating, we found out it was coming from Mike's room. So Dennis Kennedy was our dorm director we got the key to Mike's room, we open it up and it was terrible. We had to open the windows we had to basically we had fans in the hall way to just get the smell out and we couldn't figure out what the source was. Well Mike was my best friend and I knew he wouldn't care so I started going through his closets, I started throwing stuff out of his closet and I found a dead raccoon in one of his hunting coats. He had forgotten to take it out of there.

AM: Wow, I bet that wasn't a pleasant smell for the week he was gone or whatever.

30:00

KO: We had Danna Gurga who was a good friend of mine, most of the CAs were really good friends of mine. Danny Kennedy was best man at my wedding, the summer after I graduated, and he was our dorm director. I was good friends with all of them, I had a lot of friends in sports on campus. Mike Schully form the swimming team wound up going to the navy with me we both became pilots. So that was interesting.

AM: And did you enjoy being a CA overall?

KO: I did. I wound up losing my job, housing fired me. I was in the advanced titan, big picture drawn of me I had my suitcase and my head down. I didn't leave with my head down, I supported my floor, which they told me my job was. 31:00They wanted to have a wapatui party, so we went and we had a wapatui party. And these are all adults, and at that time the drinking age was 18. Well we didn't have any 18 year olds in Fletcher. But we ended up having this wapatui party down in the basement of Fletcher. Do you know what wapatui is?

AM: yeah, I am familiar.

KO: Well we had a couple of science majors, chemistry majors that made the everclear. 200 grain alcohol that went into this fruit juice and everything and we wound up getting about 400 people drunk that night on 2 gallons of everclear and a 55 gallon drum of wapatui. Campus housing didn't really appreciate that too much. And they felt I let it get out of hand and there were other CAs there. 32:00But the guys that wanted to start it were on my floor. They said I should have stopped it before it started, and I talked to my hall director and he didn't have a problem with it as long as we made sure nobody was ya know breaking things or being dangerous to other people. And I felt very strongly, and I got to tell you I don't drink, so it was I was letting them do something I myself would not do but I supported my guys. I allowed them to do what they wanted to do as long we put some restrictions on it. Housing eventually fired me because of that.

AM: And were you the only one who go fired?

KO: Yeah

AM: Even though there were other CAs there.

KO: I didn't appreciate that. There were actually people on campus after the 33:00story came out. There were a lot of people on campus that put a lot of heat on the administration to rehire me. But they didn't do it, it was kinda my begging year of senior year anyway so I just moved off campus. I moved over to Cherry Street.

AM: Did you feel like you had it under control or did you kinda see it getting out of hand?

KO: The party?

AM: yeah.

KO: It never got out of control. There were a lot of people who wound up sleeping in the basement that night, but we didn't think I got out of control. I'll tell ya what did get out of control, my senior year, no it was my junior year. The campus we had spring break was different than the rest of the campuses in the UW system. They generally all descended on Oshkosh for the weekend that 34:00they had spring break. Our numbers we had about 15,000 people at Oshkosh at that time, it's about 1500 more than we have now. We went from 15000 and this is a city of 50000 right. Our campus went from 15000 to just over 50000 students. There were people sleeping all over, in cars, in vans, six people to a room on campus, it was crazy hotels all over the place. All of the breweries brought trucks. And they would tap their trucks and you would pay 50 cents for a 16 ounce plastic cup of beer. Well they started using the high schools as temporary jails. They started filling them up. The kids threw a police car through the window of a burger king, across from Kelly's. The burger king was over there at that time. Back then the street lights were those old yellow street lights that 35:00stood straight up. Well they had somehow bent those over and then painted them white and red to look like candy canes. They called the National Guard in, the National Guard came in and locked that campus down. They made a bunch of people go home. We had to stay in our dorms unless we were going to Blackhawk commons to eat and come back. So they totally locked campus down or they made people that weren't in jail go home. Alright, Johnny Carson had us on his television show one night, he did a monologue on UW Oshkosh. And he said playboy magazine had UW Oshkosh as the number 1 party school in the country for 15 years running. He said this year they didn't even rank Oshkosh he said the reason they didn't 36:00rank Oshkosh was cause it wasn't fair to rank professionals with amateurs anymore.

AM: That's funny.

KO: Well the next year, Wisconsin, or UW Madison had the world's largest toga party with over 60000 students swinging from street lights up in the air, dressed in bedsheets. Things got crazy that year, so they learned from us.

AM: Well that's funny, so I guess overall did you enjoy your time at UWO?

KO: oh yes, it was some of the best times of my life. Ya know high school you really don't have a choice you go where you go cause that's where you live. College you have a choice where you want to go and I came here because I wanted to have direct contact with the professors. I did go to Madison for a little while about 3 months before I went here. I didn't like Madison because you wound 37:00up in a pit class, your basic studies you'd be in a pit class where there would be 1000 students in the class room. The professor was somewhere as a little dot down there walking around the room, and it probably wasn't even the professor it was one of his student teachers. And that was day one, place was packed. Day 2 you go in there and you don't know what's going on, day 2 you go in there and there is 35 to 40 people in the room and they're all taping the lectures well then they go back to the dorms and they play the lectures back to a bunch of people and not everyone has to go to school they can go out and party or do whatever they want. So I thought if I wanted to go talk to the professor there is a line that is 400 miles long to get to him. Here you are in a class room of 25 to 35 people. You have direct contact with the professor.

AM: Right, not an assistant.

KO: His assistant, usually did his paper work or grading for him, they were 38:00learning from him in that way. But we had our professors in the room.

AM: Right, Very helpful.

KO: I had a second cousin, my dad's first cousin was the head of the math department here, Doctor John Lucas. And I was having a problem, I did trigonometry, calculus, and geometry really well. I had a problem with basic algebra, I had a problem with imaginary numbers. I'm pretty logical and I can't understand how things are supposed to work if they make it up.

AM: I get what you are coming from there.

KO: So, I couldn't grasp that, so I spent a lot of time in my cousin Johns room, just going over ya know that almost kept me from graduating. I got an F the first time I had took it, and had got a C the second time I took it. But I had to spend a lot of time in John's room to do that.

AM: Wow, alright, I guess then after your Oshkosh days, what did you do after graduation?

39:00

KO: Well I graduated, I think it was May 18th, it was a Friday. May 20th, it was a Sunday I was on a flight to Pensacola Florida for aviation candidate flight school.

AM: Alright, just right after, a couple days.

KO: 2 days. Well that had already been planned cause my sophomore year we took a flight. EEA comes in every year, in the summer time. And the naval recruiter and guy named Glenn Vidgiano, he was a navy lieutenant commander at that time. He flew a T-34 up here, and there were about 8 of us that went on flights with him. And when I got up in the air I felt really comfortable. And I've never flown anything before, and he let me fly it around for a little while and he 40:00basically said okay this is what you do, this is what you do, and he says you like this don't you. And I said yeah, he says okay you've got this figured out this works the ailerons, and I said yeah it didn't take long, he said no it didn't. So do whatever you want, so I flew it around for about 15 minutes over Oshkosh. This is the EEA there's all kinds of ya know there's flying bathtubs and everything up there you need to be careful of. So we were doing visual and then he asked me to fly an instrument and I did that for a while, then he landed the plane and when we got out he said, how would you like to be a naval officer? and I said sure. So I wound up signing on as a sophomore, and as a senior I had one day off after graduation before signing on with the navy. That was all preplanned.

AM: Wow, then after that what did you really do? After you just became an officer?

41:00

KO: Well you go down to naval aviation officer candidate school, that's 16 weeks long. You don't get your wings there that was Pensacola. Then I went to Corpus Christi Texas, for basic flight training. From basic flight training I went to Washington D.C. I was the only officer in the Navy at that time that had ever worked K9s. I had dogs in the air force. So they had asked for me while I was waiting for my flight training, which can be 6 months to a year sometimes. I got sent to Washington D.C. as an insent, which was the lowest form of military life on earth. They sent me to Washington and I basically put the navy's first K9 unit together. Drug and alcohol dogs. I went to Lackland air force base, which 42:00was where I did my basic training in the air force. That's where I got my law enforcement training and that's where I got my K9 training, was all at Lackland. And this is a few years after I left the military because I had been in college. Well the head of the kennel there was Dennis Grafius. He was one of my classmates when I was K9 at the air force, he was a tech sergeant at that time. Well I walk up as an officer in the navy and Dennis looks up and says what the hell are you doing here? And I said I'm here for the navy I need to pick 18 dogs. So he let me go out in the kennel and we picked 18 dogs. And I had already selected 18 masters at arms which was a brand new program out of the navy at that time. I picked 18 masters at arms by going through navy personnel record, and picked 18 guys and they got teamed up with their dogs and I was the instructor, for the first class. I had also in the meantime gone back to 43:00Washington and appropriated 25 million dollars for the program, from congress. How many guys at 23 did that?

AM: Can't say many.

KO: That was fun. I learned at that time that walking your way through the pentagon you get a lot done with cookies and flowers. Because the secretaries are there their whole life. The generals and the admirals, they leave every 3 or 4 years. Secretaries are there all the time they have the whole place wired, they know the whole system. So I knew which ones I could give cookies to and which ones I could give flowers too, just to be nice. They knew I wasn't dating, I was happily married. So they just knew I was appreciative of what they did. And we got a lot accomplished pretty quickly.

AM: That's good, what do you say your favorite memory of the air force/navy days?

KO: Air force would have been Germany. Germany is like, I have never been out of 44:00the state of Wisconsin, until I was 17. So I lived in Wisconsin Rapids or Sheboygan the whole time. To me Germany when I got there, I mean Thailand was cool because it was a foreign country. But Germany was different because Germany was like taking Wisconsin, picking it up and putting it in Europe. The vegetation, the farm land, the pine trees. All that stuff was just like here, which makes sense that all the Germans and Scandinavian people end up here. The climate, all four seasons, it's almost the same as Germany. I got a really big appreciation for that, and the people are great. The people are really great.

AM: And what about the navy?

KO: The navy was, I had a division while I was recuperating, I had an accident 45:00while I was flying and they had to rebuild my left ankle twice and they took a disc out of my lower spinal cord. And while I was rehabbing before I went to special operations. Know they wouldn't let me fly again but I qualified as a seal, figure that one out. There's something about you that has to be superman to be able to fly, you only have to be a man to be a seal if you have the temperament and the will to want to do that. But when I got hurt I was rehabbing at Portman's naval hospital. And I was able to go back to Washington at that time and we put the navy's drug program together at that time. Drug testing 46:00program. Cause that's the admiral I was working at, Admiral Milloy, he became my sea daddy. He looked out for me, because he knew I couldn't fly anymore. So he sent me to surface warfare school for 4 months, in a New Port Rhode Island, I graduated from there pretty much with my eyes closed. I was on Nimitz flying and VF84 was the jolly rogers at that time, that squadron isn't even around anymore, but it was the skull and crossbones. I went back to the ship, when I went back to the ship I was fields officer for about a year. And as fields officer I had a division of 140 guys and we were in the shipyard and we were ready to go to sea. And our refreshing carrier scores which were 13 carriers and fleet, we were number 11. That means we were terrible, our training was bad our readiness was bad, everything was bad. But I had one of the best senior chiefs I had ever met. 47:00He eventually became an officer, and I had one of the best maintenance officers I've ever had and he eventually became an lieutenant commander before he retired. Well Dutch and Randy were some of my best friends. I had Dutch take care of the maintenance and I had Randy take care of the personnel and I took care of the people. The first day I ever showed up on the Nimitz, I showed up in my khakis. I had my wings on and that's it, it was a work uniform. I walked in and I said senior chief what's the biggest problem you guys are occurring because I've already read your division records. Then he goes well then you know we have a problem, and I go yes I know you have a problem. 140 guys and half of them aren't working. He goes well that's interesting that you figured that out but its right. Here's my plan, and he said you can't do that. I said, you see 48:00this, I had lieutenant's bars by then, and this tells me I can do whatever I want. As long as I approve it through my departments head. I've already done, that but he didn't know that. This was my first day there and I already had talked to my bosses. So I talked to my senior chief. And this is in the ship yard this a very dirty environment and we are gonna have quarters on the deck. This meant they would be in their all whites, in a ship yard, all you gotta do is stand some place and you are going to get dirty. There's dust all over the place right. This is New Port New Ship Yard and I say we are going to have quarter's tomorrow morning. So the next morning at quarters they were all in whites, all 140 of them. I came up and I had my whites on too and that's how I was going to inspect them. I wanted to see how ready they were to becoming 49:00sailors. Well that's the first time that my maintenance officer and senior chief saw my ribbons, and I had a purple heart from South East Asia and I had a silver star from South East Asia, and I had a chest full of ribbons and they didn't know that about me. So as soon as they saw that senior chief goes oohhh okay. So we ran quarters and I already had the names from the day before of the guys who weren't pulling their weight. I gave them the day off. All, I think there were 38 of them, I sent all 38 of them home. Well this kind of angered the rest of the guys. After I sent them home they were down below getting ready to leave the ship, and all these guys they tell them to close ranks, so they closed ranks. And I told these guys I said look, I have information that tells me those 38 guys aren't working here. We are going to hold quarters again in 2 days, in 50:00whites up here. If I hear those 38 guys aren't working with you as a team then they are going home again. And until you can figure out how to apply peer pressure, to make sure they know what they are doing and they become squared away sailors, I'm going to continue to do that, and you are going to pull the load for them. Now I was ex enlisted there are 2 kinds of officers; one is a mustang and one is a regular officer who has never been enlisted. A mustang is one who has previously been enlisted and there are 2 kinds of those. Those who remember they were enlisted and those who forget, those who forget are usually pretty lousy officers. The guy that remembers, good officer, because he remembers what it was like to be enlisted. Peer pressure in enlisted ranks is bigger than any order an officer can give. So about a week later I had 32 squared away sailors and 2 that I eventually discharged.

51:00

AM: That is a lot better than the 38, so your tactic was obviously working.

KO: That was one of my favorite times because it showed me that people, really can get other people to help, to pull along. And that's what we need to do in this country right now. I'm just as PO'ed at the republicans than I am at the democrats. Because we've got a bunch of people that we hire to go do a job in there and they are not. All they are worried about is their next election. You almost want to line them up against a wall shoot them, and start over. It doesn't make sense to me.

AM: Nope me either, you are hired for the job might as well do it instead of just try to get the position again.

KO: Yeah that's all they are doing and they say, well if I hear one more politician say well here's what the American people want, they have no clue what the American people want. Or they would have figure out Trump was going to beat Clinton in this last election. They would have figured out President Bush 2 was 52:00going to beat Al Gore, but they didn't because they didn't understand why people are angry. President Raegan would have lost to Jimmy Carter. The common man gets angry, history repeats itself every 30 years. And that's what we are seeing Trump is a repeat of Raegan.

AM: Like you said before.

KO: And that's what I prove in the book.

AM: That's interesting. So I guess, you're still involved with Oshkosh campus today right?

KO: Oh, heavily.

AM: So what all do you do for the university?

KO: I'm on the Oshkosh alumni board, I really appreciate what I'm getting to do here. I've requested and been authorized through the chancellor, and Chris Gantner. I'm going to be putting a program together, we started it this year and we're gonna finish it next year, along with colonel Baety. Over in ROTC department. He works with ROTC people but he wants to wants to get involved with 53:00campus vets. There's 3 kinds of veterans here; one is the vets that come out of the military that are vets and come to school; there's 2 kinds of those guy, the guys that are going to go into civilian life and work, and the vets that are going to go back to the military. He already has a group that is going to go back to the military as officers but there's another group that he doesn't get to talk to is the guys that are going to go back in as officers. We want to connect the three, chancellor Levitt is real excited about this. We want to start publishing in navy times, air force times, army, and Marine Corps times. It's newspaper that the sailors and the grunts read, in the military. We want to publish that Oshkosh will waiver any fees to come into Oshkosh, for veterans, so 54:00we want to pull in more veterans here. Number two while the veterans are here we; we have a veterans club. But we want the club to be more active on campus, and we want more veterans to join the club, and we want to screen them for PTSD. PTSD is the number one killer of veterans right now. And they aren't crazy they don't go out and kill 50 other people like some of these other weirdos we see, but there's a high suicide rate. And we don't know who those guys are until we screen them, or women for that matter. And we want to make sure they are taken care of here on campus, and I want to connect them with where they want to go in life. If they want to go to civilian jobs we want to make sure they have other veterans that own jobs, or that are seniors in their jobs to hire our veterans 55:00from Oshkosh. There are Oshkosh veterans like me, I own my own aerospace business. I think that there are guys out there that would be willing to mentor the students that are here, for getting them out of school. And then the guys that have business of their own that are looking for college graduates. We already know what the value of a veteran is I don't have to interview them, all I have to do is look at their background and I know what they are like. It's real easy, that's one thing you learn as an officer is how to evaluate people very quickly. If you do a bad job of evaluating them, people are going to get killed, even in peace time. So you got to know where to put your people and why to put them where you are putting them. To work the best they can, the best pieces to the puzzle, to make a team operate.

AM: So it does sound like your job here is actually pretty important that you still contribute.

KO: Oh yeah, well I'm going to be doing some other things with I'm setting up a 56:00chapter in Sheboygan alumni chapter, they don't have one over there. They have on in Milwaukee they got one in Green Bay but nothing in between on that side of the lake. So we are gonna kind of put it, it is basically congressional district 6. Is what we are gonna put together in Oshkosh, and the first event we are going to have is at the Blind Horse Winery in Koehler Wisconsin. We haven't picked a date yet, but chancellor wants to come over and Chris wants to come over. Probably will be this summer some time. We are going to find as many people that have graduated from Oshkosh in that area as possible and try to get them together for the first time.

AM: Yeah, that is very cool.

KO: And a part of our responsibility from the chancellor is to get people to be more gifting, give back to the university.

AM: So I guess for incoming student to UW Oshkosh, would you have any advice for them? Any tips that you picked up throughout your college days that you'd like 57:00to share?

KO: It's the same advice I'd give my sailors.

AM: Okay, what was that?

KO: When you first get somewhere, keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open. Learn, listen, and evaluate. Then participate. If you want to jump in and start participating then you might not be successful in helping the way you want to, because you really don't know how things work yet. That's what I did, I waited 6 months and then I figured out how the school operated, I figured out just the simple things, the simple thing of going from your dorm to class, and from that class to another one, and figuring out your route to make sure you can make it everywhere on time is important. So if they just jump in and go wow I'm at college and I don't have to worry about my parents anymore, they may fail. 58:00The whole idea is not to have a great time, although you can. The whole idea is to graduate. We are only graduating 30 to 50 percent of your people right now. We have too many people dropping out. I'm not talking about Oshkosh I'm talking about in general across the country. Our kids need to graduate, that's what they go for. But if college isn't for them we need to get them into the right trades. I just got my nephew into a welding job. I pay my welders in California 35 dollars an hour. There are not a lot of college graduates that can make 35 dollars an hour.

AM: No

KO: Some of the trades right now; plumbing, electricity, welding, wood working, craftsman.

AM: High demand jobs.

KO: Those are high demand and high paying jobs, and nobody wants to do them. They all want to go to college and a lot of them waste their time when they could be in trade school. That how we put the United States back to work. We are 59:00not doing that. Think about that.

AM: I am, great point that you bring up. Well I guess that I am out of questions is there any stories, points that you'd like to talk about that maybe we missed that you'd like to hit. About you college days, previous education, air force.

KO: Well College, I've got one. I don't know if they still have it on campus, but in the winter we used to do ice sculptures. Do they still do that?

AM: Not that I'm aware of, no.

KO: That would be something that I think would be kind of interesting to bring back. You could get a whole dorm, it was kind of like building a float for homecoming. Well building a float is okay, but usually you end up with one or two bosses and 8 or 10 people that just help out. When we figured out what we 60:00wanted to do for an ice sculpture we had an ice carnival. And the ice carnival we did all kinds of things on campus. That got more people involved than going to a basketball game or a football game. Although now, Oshkosh has learned how to play basketball they learned how to play football. Back then our football team was like 0 and 9 every year, now they are 9 and 0, they went to the national championship for division 3 this year. Which is great, so now you have the stands filled up. You are getting participation, you got to get kids out of their rooms. Especially the nurses, I noticed that. The nurse's students studied 21 hours a day, hardly ever left their rooms. I had a couple of friends that wound up, these are women, they would go from 140 pounds to when they came in and they were 90 when they left. They wouldn't eat they would just study, study, 61:00study. That's good, but it's not healthy, they have to have some kind of participation. But the ice carnival that got more involved because when we figured what we wanted to do with the sculpture you would have 60, 70, 80 people form a dormitory out there helping with the sculpture. Bringing hot water out, forming in it, somebody was an art student that would draft up what they wanted to do, and they would figure out how to sculpt it. We got put in national newspapers, for some of the stuff we did back then. And you had over half the campus was involved in the carnival it was just something that got everyone together.

AM: And I guess besides the ice sculptures is there anything else tradition wise or even like building wise that the campus has changed since you been here?

KO: Well I mentioned the

AM: The dorms right

62:00

KO: Evans, Nelson and Breeze are gone, and Nelson and Evans were all male. Yeah we used to have kegger parties in the basement at Nelson. And that was a really good time to get females over and we'd get to know them. But there is something about having an all-male dorm that there was a commeratary there. You'd usually end up with a lot of athletes in one, and they already had something in common. But title 9 was coming around at that time. It was kind of cool to get the female athletes coming around. The girl I eventually married was a CA in one of the other dorms too. My best friend's wife wound up to be one of the girls that 63:00was on Sue's floor, Carrol. So best friends married best friends.

AM: that's very cool

KO: yeah, and there was a lot of that going on around campus at that time. It doesn't have to be ice carnival, but if there was something that would bring everyone together.

AM: Brings everyone as a community almost.

KO: Kolf is big enough to get most of the campus in it. If you could figure out something to do there that would be kind of interesting.

AM: I agree.

KO: Graduation itself, have you been to one yet?

AM: Not here no.

KO: How old, are you a freshman?

AM: I'm a sophomore.

KO: Sophomore, okay so graduation was interesting all by itself because they have all these chairs set up in Kolf, and it takes forever for everybody graduating to walk across the stage to get their diploma. But it was worth it because you felt you were part of something. You did notice there were a lot 64:00less kids graduating then what you started with.

AM: Well I guess anything else?

KO: No that's about it.

AM: Well thank you for your time it a great interview. I very much enjoyed learning about your story.

KO: I appreciate the questions. I appreciate the time, and I appreciate the opportunity.

AM: Absolutely, thank you

KO: Thank you

Search This Transcript
Search Clear