EDITOR’S NOTE: Historian Joe L. Todd interviewed Martin Garber, on May 23, 2018, in Bartlesville.
Martin Garber was born in Enid on Dec. 3, 1943. His father was also named Martin Garber. His mother was Thresa Pearl, and her maiden name was Thompson.
JOE TODD: Did you go through school in Enid?
MARTIN GARBER: Just north of Enid in a one-room school house called Spring Valley — five miles north of Enid. There were a total of 38 students in our school. Mrs. James was our teacher. She taught all six classes, and then you had to go into town for the big school.
T: How did she handle all the grades in one room?
G: One hour at a time, there was a big long bench up front by her desk, and all the people in each grade got to come up and talk about whatever she wanted to talk about.
T: Did you go to Enid for high school?
G: No, my father was asked to be the assistant secretary of agriculture by President Eisenhower, so I transferred to Bethesda, Md., and went to a junior high school in Bethesda, Md.
T: You graduated high school what year?
G: I graduated in 1961 from Bethesda Chevy Chase High School. I played on the golf team in high school, and we were the [Maryland] state champions.
T: What did you do after high school?
G: Dad was still there, and about that time was a major election. Kennedy was running against Mr. Nixon and Mr. Kennedy won, so all the Republicans were kicked out of office, and my family went home.
I started college at Wake Forest in North Carolina. I went there one semester, and since mom and dad had moved back to Oklahoma, I transferred to the University of Oklahoma.
T: What did you study?
G: Generally, you had to start in the basic classes, but I knew I wanted to be in the business school. … I graduated from OU in the business school, and I had minors in economics and marketing. I was also very good in ROTC.
T: What year did you get your degree?
G: [In] 1965 I graduated as a distinguished military graduate. That is kind of a funny story. … I was fortunate to be selected as a distinguished military graduate. They never tell you what that means. After they gave it to me, they asked where I wanted to go — what branch? … What they didn’t tell me was the distinguished military graduate gets the first selection of branch and first selection of location. …
I was married. … I was fortunate, I got adjutant general corps to Sixth Army Headquarters in Presidio of San Francisco. It turned out to be a very interesting and important assignment.
T: You were commissioned after ROTC?
G: Yes, I was commissioned a second lieutenant and went off to an assignment for two years.
T: What did you at the Presidio?
G: I was in the adjutant general corps. First they send you off to school to learn what you are going to do. I went four or five months to Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, and they teach you how to be a pencil pusher. My area was more personnel operations. I was in the personnel operations division of the Sixth Army Headquarters. That doesn’t really tell you what I did. During Vietnam, there were only three lieutenants on the entire post. Everybody else had gone to Vietnam. I reported directly to a colonel. The thing is you didn’t have to have was weekend duty. On occasion we did, but it was rather an emergency situation.
My job was to send troops to Vietnam. In a year-and-a-half, I sent over one hundred thousand troops to Vietnam and at least a hundred units to Vietnam, where I personally selected and my sergeants that worked for me, we selected people all across the United States, enlisted people to go into the units or to replace people in Vietnam.
T: What criteria did you use to select the people?
G: It wasn’t what you could use, it was what you couldn’t use. It changed over the two years. You had to allow people a period of time if they rotated out of Vietnam. You had to give them at least a year before you could send them back. Also, if they had a brother or sister or family member in Vietnam, they were pretty strict on saying you can’t send somebody over there with more than one family member at a time. But that changed — that was more 1967. The first year and a half I was there, they didn’t have that restriction at all.
T: What was your average day at the Presidio?
G: The first year, Karen and I lived in the city, we had an apartment just outside the gate on California Street. Karen had a job at Bank of America at the corner of Haight and Ashbury Streets. I would generally get up at six or seven and drive her to work; then I would go down to the office. I had three sergeants that worked for me and about half a dozen enlisted people. We had access to personnel rosters all over the country, and there was no such thing as computers in those days, so it was hard copies of things. We had to go through by MOS and decide who would be qualified to fill the various positions. We had about one hundred thousand troops we replaced, but we also had a hundred units to include the Forth Infantry Division out of Fort Lewis, Wash. We spent six months getting them up to speed with 15,000 troops with the various military occupational specialties — getting them ready to go.
T: Who was in your office?
G: There was a sergeant major, a first sergeant, a staff sergeant and about four clerks. There were about ten of us in charge of shipping most of the enlisted men to Vietnam over a two-year period. We worked six days a week. Saturday wasn’t a day off for us. On Sundays I would come in too. The last year was easier because we moved onto post into a duplex, and you could throw a rock from my office to our house. I could walk across the street and I would give Karen the car and she would drive to work.
After work, a lot of times I would go for a run or go to the gym or go play golf. My golf helped me in my career, it always has. …
There was some down side too, because being on the West Coast, all the bodies came back through Sixth Army, and the Army depot was at Oakland Army Depot; and the bodies came through there.
One of my best friends was the first lieutenant there, and he was in charge of the mortuary division and had to find people to take the bodies home. Over a year-and-a-half period, I probably took ten bodies back to their home to their family to arrange a military escort. That was a duty you never really wanted.
The rules were such that you had to be of the same rank or higher to take one of the soldiers. They generally called me to take the lieutenants back. So, I went everywhere from Tulsa, to Michigan, to Los Angeles, to Alabama. Wherever the bodies were going, I took them home and arranged the funerals. That was a sad type of duty. You knew you were going to get one or two of them a month. There were other types of things, I went to Vietnam three times on various assignments to check on the troops that we had sent there.
Once, I went as a messenger, taking some top-secret documents. The other times, I went to the Fourth Division to make sure they were getting supplies to the troops they needed. It was an interesting assignment. Then, when there were not many lower ranking officers, I was on the inspection squad for all of Sixth Army depots — every place from the tank group down in the desert to the signal people in the Los Angeles area. I went to all the posts under the Sixth Army. I would go for a week at a time to inspect and make sure their operations were being run appropriately.
T: When you took a body back to the family, what would you say to the family?
G: Everyone was different. I took a young guy up to the shores of Lake Michigan and that family was the nicest. They wanted me to stay in their home. Obviously, I made all the funeral arrangements, even though they had their own funeral director there. You knew who to call to get an honor guard. I would generally stay about three days because that is how long it would take. With some of the bodies, they suggested the casket not be opened. There were an awful lot of helicopter crashes where bodies were burned beyond recognition. …
T: What was the attitude of the people in San Francisco to you, being military?
G: That was 1965 to 1967 when I was there, and it varied. I would go down to Haight and Ashbury, which was right in the heart of the hippie movement. Karen could talk to you about the hippie movement all day. I would go down and sit on the front of the car and wait for her to finish at the bank. I would visit with these people. They would see me in uniform and come up to me. They were very nice. You could tell some of them were stoned. They would come up and ask me questions, and I would talk to them. Some were just young kids who [had] dropped out of school and come there.
San Francisco State was just up the street, and these young people would come by and we would visit. But, at the same time, [people were] becoming much more vocal of the opposition to the Army, or the Vietnam conflict.
We were on call practically every weekend in the 1966-1967 time frame. The Oakland Army Terminal was so important to the Army. That is where the bodies came back but that is also where they shipped people out of the Sixth Army to go to Vietnam. This is where they shipped supplies out to go to Vietnam, both on ships and planes.
You will recall the picture in the news where the soldiers were standing at guard with their gear and weapons with bayonets on, and one of the flower children came up and put a flower in the end of a rifle. I was there. I was one of the lieutenants in charge of that detail. …
I had my detail and we practiced to get ready in case something bad happened. It just happened that I was there that day when the guy took the picture of the gal with the flower. It was also interesting that Karen and I had some very good friends from Oklahoma that were going to school at Berkeley. A lot of times, we would go over on Friday or early Saturday morning and pick them up and bring them back to the city. They knew they were going to have a demonstration. You go to that square in Berkeley, there by the college, and there had to be two hundred police and sheriff cars there getting ready to handle the mobs.
As a young person, it was an exciting time but at the same time, it was not right for America. You just had to understand that. Probably the most important person I met was just by chance. I was walking from one of our buildings to the next and here comes our commanding general who I knew. I stopped to salute, and I didn’t realize who was with him — but it was Gen. Westmoreland. They stopped and my commanding general introduced me to Gen. Westmoreland. He asked me a lot of questions about what I did. I told him what I did and told him that I am the guy no one hears about because I am the one sending all the troops over. He told me I was doing a bang-up job and to keep it up.
T: How long were you at the Presidio?
G: A long year-and-a-half. I left the first of August 1967, and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after my two years mandatory service.
I had gotten orders from the Pentagon to go to Vietnam but one of the rules was, that if you had less than sixty days, you don’t have to go. I thought about it and decided that I don’t really need to go to Vietnam, so I thought I would go back in the reserves. I had a choice. I could have stayed in the Army, and I was adjutant general, and they want you to have two assignments to go regular Army.
I was given the choice of quartermaster or infantry. I had suggested adjutant general and tanks. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I got out and stayed in the reserves, because I did like the Army.
I went to work for Phillips in their personnel office here, and I was offered the commanding slot here in the reserves in the 801th Personnel Company here. …
Phillips sent me to Denver, and I was in a unit there for a year. Then Phillips sent me to Washington, D.C., where I was a federal relations officer for the company.
I was looking around for a unit and I got a notice that I was on the major’s list. They said my assignment was going to be Cleveland. I was sitting there with a wife and three young kids and working 14-hour days, six and seven days a week. I just didn’t see how I could go to Cleveland. So, I resigned my commission. It was getting very difficult to do both. I could have gone and begged and borrowed and got an assignment to the Pentagon with some of my political friends helping me but I had had enough.
T: When did you resign you commission?
G: It would have been 1974. I was with Phillips Petroleum in Washington from 1974 until 1981. I left Washington the day after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated. I stayed for the inauguration because I wanted me kids to say they had been to a presidential inauguration. I knew I could get them pretty close to front row seats. We went down as a family and we had already packed our bags and everything and left after that.
T: How do you want to be remembered?
G: That is a tough one. … I was very well regarded within Phillips and did a lot of good things with Phillips, we had some tough times. [There were] two takeover attempts that we beat. We beat Boone Pickens and Carl Icahn. I was part of that effort. People don’t know what we really did. When Bill Douce brought me back to Bartlesville, we worked on getting state approval to four lane our highway from Bartlesville to Tulsa, and that road should be name the Bill Douce Highway. We did some good things.