90-year-old WWII, Vietnam veteran prepares for first Army Ball
June 14, 2012
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FORT JACKSON, S.C. (June 14, 2012) -- He spent 30 years in the Army and fought in two wars. This weekend, Melvin Bryant, 90, will attend his first Army Ball.
"I was always busy overseas somewhere, either coming home or leaving," said Bryant, a veteran of both World War II and Vietnam. "For 30 years, I never had a chance to go."
An Alabama native, Bryant has lived in the Columbia area since retiring as a sergeant major at Fort Jackson in the early 1970s.
"I was all over the world, but came here for my last tour," he said. "I got my 30 years in and called it quits. I served everywhere -- Fort Benning (Ga.), Fort Bragg (N.C.), Fort Gordon (Ga.) -- but never near home. I guess that's why I made this my home. I love Fort Jackson."
Bryant joined the Army in 1942 and fought in Europe during World War II. He was among the Soldiers to take part in the Anzio Beachhead in 1944, where troops of the 5th Army swarmed a 15-mile stretch of an Italian beach near Anzio and Nettuno.
Bryant declined to elaborate on his combat experiences.
"You're asking me about things I don't talk about," he said, but revealed he later met his wife, Marta, in Italy.
"I picked that young lady up right after World War II," he said.
When he returned to the United States after the war, he decided to leave the Army. It wasn't long before he realized he'd made a mistake, though.
"There was a short break," he said of his 30-year career. "I wasn't sure I wanted to stay in and got a job with the state. It lasted for 30 days before I told my wife it wasn't for me. I went to Fort McClellan (Ala.), signed my name and cut a trail. I've served just about everywhere. I served in Alaska, Iceland, Germany, Italy and Africa."
He also served from 1968 to 1972 in Vietnam.
"I was in Germany and missed Korea," he said. "I was waiting for my name to come up, but it never did. The good Lord was looking out for me."
In Vietnam, Bryant was part of a Combat Engineer Battalion in the 5th Division.
"I was there 13 months. Ku Chi was headquarters, but we were scattered all over the jungle," he said.
Bryant will be accompanied to Fort Jackson's Army Ball this Saturday by his daughters, Lucy and Sandy.
"They're buying gowns in Greenville for the ball," he said. "They're spending all my money, but what the heck ... you can't take it with you."