Jack Clouds

Jack Clouds of Beaver Falls, PA dropped out of high school.  Instead he got a real world education when he signed up for the Army, eventually serving with the legendary 82nd Airborne Division.  Jack spent three years in the Army during the early 1960s, just before the war escalated in Southeast Asia.  “We still carried the old M-1 rifles when I was in,” Jack says, “but most of our other equipment was the best–‘first issue.’  All of the elite forces trained with us, including the Navy SEALs and Marine ReCon.”

Most Americans wouldn’t remember the 1965 outbreak of civil war in the Dominican Republic, but Jack Clouds does.  In April of that year he and the “All-Americans” landed in the tiny Caribbean country to intervene in what President Johnson called the creation of “a second Cuba” in the region.  The invasion was called Operation Power Pack, and it cost the lives of 44 American soldiers.

A year later, the 82nd went into action in Vietnam–without Jack Clouds.

The most frequent question is, how did you get five, middle-aged Vietnam veterans into that room?  It was a tight fit.

From a technical perspective, what mattered most to us is that we had good audio.  Of course, our single video camera was rolling, but it couldn’t keep up in such a tight space.  But at least we could record a solid audio track to make up for what the video camera couldn’t capture. That’s at least what we planned for whenever Ken Thomas informed us that he was coming to his oral history interview with “some of my friends.”   At once?  “Yeah, we’ll be there at 10am.  Five of us.”

Five guys to squeeze into the room above–our makeshift storeroom-turned-recording studio on the second floor of Carnegie Free Library in Beaver Falls, PA.   Luckily for us, 19 June 2013 was a pleasant summer day–not too hot or humid, conditions that can make our little studio unbearable when we have to close the windows and turn off the fan whenever we begin recording.

But as things go, our first mass interview was a great success, but the dynamic was unlike anything that we’ve encountered before.  The men–long-time friends and admitted brothers-in-arms–relied on each other to help tell their stories.  Their narrative camaraderie and shared experiences made the interview thoughtful and interesting, and their respect for each other’s service was obvious and heartfelt.  Such was the result of our interesting experiment that crammed five guys into a small room and asked them to tell us a story.

Five close friends and veterans of the Vietnam era from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania share stories of their military experiences.  Featuring Jack Clouds (Army), Jack Damaska (Army), Steve Kisio (Air Force), Barry Campbell (Army), Ken Thomas (Army).  This conversation was recorded June 19, 2013 as part of the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh/Carnegie Free Library of Beaver Falls Oral History Project, Beaver Falls.  Interviewer: Kevin Farkas.