OKEECHOBEE — When asked to tell his story for this series, Joe Glossup was hesitant. He considers himself an advocate for peace and found himself pondering the events that shaped his world view. Like so many of his classmates in Giles County, Tenn., Glossup volunteered to join the military. In his case, it was the Army, although he is not exactly sure why he chose the Army over the other branches.
There were an even dozen children in his family — three girls and nine boys. Eight of the nine boys joined the service — Navy, Marines, Army. One brother did not go, but he’d had a wreck and had a pin put in his knee, so he had a deferral. Two of Glossup’s brothers died overseas, one in Vietnam, one in Germany.
Giles County in Tennessee was the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, he said, but the founding fathers were ashamed of that fact. The town Glossup lived in, Pulaski, was not like the rest of the county, though, according to him. They were not racist and did not like it when the KKK came to town. By 1963, the schools in Pulaski were all desegregated, and the transition was smooth; no riots, no fights. Glossup grew up believing all men were equal.
Glossup did his basic training at Fort Hood, Texas, then went to Fort Knox, Ky., for tank turret mechanic school. After completing the training and returning to Fort Hood, he shipped out to Baumholder, Germany, and was placed with the 68th Armored Tank Battalion. Glossup traveled to Germany by ship on the USS Darby. It carried about 1,200 troops and another 300-500 supporting personnel. It took about eight days to get there, he said, but on the way over, he had no trouble at all with seasickness.
Laughing, he said, “They put us to work on that ship!” But on the way back, he had obtained some rank — E-5 (which is equivalent to a staff sergeant). Because of this, he was able to volunteer in the kitchen where he could delegate the work and eat just about anything he wanted. Well, this backfired, because he ended up sick as a dog. They were coming back at a time when the ocean was more rough, too, he said, so that might’ve caused some of it.
Baumholder, a small city in central-southwestern Germany east of Luxembourg, is notable because around 1938 after Hitler’s rise to fame, the Germans cleared out 12 towns and villages around it to make an enormous training camp for the German soldiers.
So many things were happening during this time. “During my time in the service (1960-1963), the U.S. had the Cuban Missile Crisis,” and though he was in Germany still, “we were put on full alert in case Russians tried to come across the border separating East and West Germany. By negotiating instead of fighting, this threat went away, and we were told to stand down. In the 1960s John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the Beatles rose to fame, the ‘Hippie’ era began, many changes were going on.”
When Glossup got out of the Army, he spent many hours reflecting on the havoc caused by war, and many years later, in 2016, he and his wife read about the POW camp established by the Confederate States of America (CSA) in 1864, known as Andersonville, in west-central Georgia. This camp was supposed to detain about 15,000 union Union Army POWs but held as many as 45,000 at times, he said.
Glossup and his wife decided to take a trip to go see this camp for themselves. Andersonville, officially known as Camp Sumter, was the South’s largest prison camp and well-known for its unhealthy conditions, he said. “The lack of purified water, sanitation, proper food and care for their wounds and ailments caused sickness, disease and dysentery resulting in over 12,000 deaths. They were dropping at a rate of about 40-60 a day.” Andersonville’s commandant, CSA Maj. Henry Wirz, was brought before a military tribunal in 1865, found guilty of murder and hanged at the gallows. The Glossups visited the cemetery, now a national park, and were horrified to see the grave markers almost next to each other, row after row after row, he said — some with no names and some with names that might not necessarily have been their own.
Andersonville is home to monuments dedicated to those who died there. The monuments were placed there by various states around the country. New York placed a monument to honor the 2,200 New York patriots who lost their lives in the camp. It’s now the Andersonville National Cemetery, administered by the National Park Service.
In the memorial building, they read about similar camps all over the North and South. Some, such as the one in Rock Island, Ill., were almost as disgraceful as Camp Sumter. That one also has been memorialized, as Rock Island Confederate Cemetery, a U.S. national cemetery on the grounds of the former Rock Island Arsenal in northwest Illinois, on an island in the Mississippi River east of Davenport, Iowa.
“The Geneva Convention is supposed to prevent things like that and many countries recognize it, but WAR IS HELL, and we should take every method to prevent it.”
“The Bible says, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.’ The older I get, the more I realize how true that is,” Glossup said.