George Dunaway, who served as sergeant major of the Army at the height of the Vietnam War, died earlier this month at the age of 85. I got to meet Dunaway through my father, whom the spit-and-polish soldier had invited to join the Special Forces Alumni Association out in Las Vegas.
I write in the online version of The Weekly Standard: “During our lunch, Dunaway, who spoke in the accent of his native Richmond, Virginia, regaled me with his stories of military life. Looking for steady work near the end of the Great Depression, he enlisted in the Virginia National Guard; he left the military, 30 years later, as the top NCO-aide to the chief of staff of the Army, General William Westmoreland.”
Dunaway also helped my father. “My father, Gerald Gitell, had served in Vietnam as a Special Forces officer and had even played a role in creating Barry Sadler’s iconic number one hit, “The Ballad of the Green Berets.” But as a loner who preferred reading to socializing, he eschewed military alumni organizations or groups of any kind. Dunaway discovered my father in a local Las Vegas coffee shop wearing a cap with a Special Forces insignia and asked him if he had served in the unit. When my father answered that he had, Dunaway invited him to a monthly meeting of the alumni group, and my father, for the first time in his life, agreed. By making the invitation, this spit and polish sergeant major helped provide a troubled veteran a place to feel at home. My father arranged for Dunaway and me to meet.
When I attended a Chapter 51 meeting with my father, I learned that the group begins each session with “The Ballad of the Green Berets.” As the notes wafted out of an old stereo box, the men sang along–even my father, who has never been known to sing anything. Helping my father–and scores of other former veterans–was another of Dunaway’s less well-known, but equally important, achievements.”