Unexpected phone call yields missing piece of AMC history
August 27, 2014
The best information often comes from unexpected sources, and a recent phone call to the Army Materiel Command's Historical Office yielded some significant finds.
The caller was Donn Descoteau, a former government employee who worked in AMC's Inspector General's office while the command's headquarters was located at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Descoteau worked there until the day AMC turned its facilities over and completed its move to Redstone Arsenal, Alabama.
"I planned on retiring here in the north Virginia area," Descoteau said. "I told my supervisors in the IG Office that I would turn out the lights -- and I literally did just that."
But Descoteau wasn't calling to rehash his days as an AMC employee.
Instead, he was calling about his late father, Col. Rudolph "Deac" Descoteau, who was the aide-de-camp to AMC's first Commanding General, Gen. Frank S. Besson, Jr.
"My dad worked for General Besson when (Besson) was the chief of the Transportation Corps as a major general," Descoteau said. "He followed General Besson to start AMC in August 1962."
As many Soldiers do, Col. Descoteau saved uniforms, artifacts, and photographs from his career. Donn Descoteau wanted AMC historians to assess the collection.
Command Historian Michael "Mule" Baker said in his 35 years as a historian, some of the most valuable information has come from unforeseen events, like this call.
Beyond the vintage possessions historians examined was a treasure of sorts -- something that was missing from the AMC historical collection: Besson's final command portrait.
"It seems strange that we didn't have the first commanding general's final command portrait in the archives," Baker said. The only official command photo in the AMC collection was one taken early in the general's command with Besson smoking a pipe and wearing a uniform dating back to the 1950s. Historians estimate the photo on file was taken in 1963, shortly after Besson was promoted to a four-star general.
Besides Besson's final command portrait, AMC historians also found hundreds of photographs covering much of AMC's early history.
Baker said Col. Descoteau had what might be among the most unusual career tracks with AMC.
"Besides serving as Besson's aide, Col. Descoteau was the commanding officer of the USNS Corpus Christi Bay, AMC's floating aircraft maintenance ship that provided aviation support in Vietnam. He was a project manager for what would become the Black Hawk, then years later, Col. Descoteau returned to AMC and served as the command's Inspector General. That was all in addition to being a master aviator. It's just amazing," he said.
Baker said he hopes some of the uniforms and photographs will be used in various displays in the AMC Headquarters Building at Redstone Arsenal.
Col. Descoteau retired from AMC in 1981. He died in May 2011. His wife, Ruth, died last month. They are both buried in Arlington National Cemetery.