OKEECHOBEE — Veteran Mike Ochy was born and raised in Delaware and went into the service in 1960. He was sent to Fort Jackson, S.C., for basic training and AIT (advanced individual training). He was then sent to jump school at Fort Bragg, N.C., and began Special Forces training, but there were things about it he did not agree with, so he terminated jump school.
Two days later, he had orders to go to Korea. In Korea, he was in the 9th Cavalry. He was a security guard on Freedom Gate Bridge. “It was the best duty I ever had. I worked six on and 12 off. After every four shifts, we got a 36-hour break, and nobody messed with us. I asked to work up there.” The bridge was called Freedom Gate because that was where they released the prisoners at the end of the Korean War, he explained. “No one could cross into the DMZ (demilitarized zone). Anyone going up to the joint security area, had to have a pass. It was our responsibility to make sure no one got up there without that pass.”
When he finished his tour in Korea, he went to Fort Lewis, Wash. He was a scout. When he left there, he went to Fort Stewart, Ga. “They were overloaded with scouts, and they had a new position for scouts in radar, so 12 of us went to radar school and became radar operators.”
After that, he was sent to Germany, where he patrolled the east/west German border. He got to Germany as a senior radar operator/scout, but when he arrived, they had no idea what to do with a radar operator as a scout, so they used him as a scout on border duty. “That was interesting, because we worked right on the border. There was barbed-wire fence and everything, and on the other side of the border, they would have dogs chained to a wire. People would try to sneak across the border, and the dogs would get ’em. There wasn’t nothing we could do about it. Some of ’em still got across the border, though.”
When he finished his tour in Germany, he was sent to Fort Campbell, Ky., where he went through drill sergeant school. He became a drill sergeant, which was a two-year tour. Afterward, he went back to Germany, where he was put in an infantry battalion, the 15th Infantry. He was in Audie Murphy’s unit. It was an isolated post, so isolated that they would send a bus every month to Amsterdam and to Paris, because there was nothing for the guys to do anywhere nearby. So each month, 30 guys would get to go for the weekend to one of those places. They did ski patrol up there, he said, and he skied nine months out of the year.
After that, he went to Vietnam. He was in the 1st Cavalry and was a platoon sergeant there. He was medically evacuated back to the States after being wounded.
He wound up back at Fort Campbell and went to drill sergeant school again, but when it was time for his annual physical, he was not able to pass the exam. He couldn’t hear. They told him he couldn’t be a scout anymore. They gave him a choice, and he was reclassified and went to finance school.
After finance school, they sent him back to Fort Campbell, and for the next 12 years, he worked at Fort Campbell and Nashville. He was chief of finance. They paid the Army Reserves and National Guard throughout the United States. “We still paid in cash back then,” he said. “Every two weeks, our payroll would run anywhere from $4 million to $10 million. We would pick it up, put it in the trunk of a sedan and bring it back to count it. We had the sheriff’s department with us and helicopters flying overhead while we drove back to the base. State police were there. We were the only ones who didn’t have a weapon.
“When we got back to the base, we had to sit there and count it all out. We would separate it out for each unit. About 4 a.m. on payday, the paymasters would come in, and we would give them each a bag. They would sit and count it out to make sure it was right. Every once in a while we made a mistake. We’d have $100 left over. They’d ask me what to do with it, and I’d tell them one of the pay officers would turn up asking for it, and they did.”
In all those years, no one was ever robbed delivering the money, he said, but one time, a major cashed two checks and claimed he was robbed on his way from the bank to the car. In reality, he robbed himself. He was found out real quick, said Ochy. “Last time I heard, he was in prison somewheres.”
Of all the jobs he did in the service, he enjoyed finance the most. “It was air-conditioned!” he said.
Germany was the most interesting country he visited during his time in the service, he said. “By the time I got there, the war had been over about 20 years. I got there in 1964. There was still a lot of war damage. People were still hurting, and our money was worth a lot. He was able to rent a five-bedroom apartment for about $60 a month. In Tennessee, he paid about $180 for an apartment, he said.
He felt the Germans were the nicest people, and the French did not seem to like Americans at all.
Ochy was in the service for 25 years before he retired. He earned a Purple Heart, four Army Commendation medals, two Bronze stars and many other commendations during his time in the service.
After he left the military, he did many unusual things, including owning a carnival and delivering body parts for transplants. “I transported mostly bone marrow and stem cells for 13 years,” he said. “I went all over the world.” He went to Taiwan, South America, Paraguay, Uruguay, Germany, Italy, Sweden and all over the United States, picking up and dropping off donated organs for transplants. “I never did go to Canada. I don’t know why.”
In 1998, he bought into a carnival, and in 2001, he went to work for the carnival as well. He was in charge of the money, ticket sales, things like that, he explained. He retired from the carnival and transporting medical parts just a few years ago and now is completely retired but is involved with Vietnam Veterans of America and Sons of the American Revolution and with his church, First United Methodist Church.
His parents were the ones who originally came to Okeechobee, he said. They started coming in the ’60s. They were renting a lot to put their trailer on, but in 1979, Ochy bought them a lot so they wouldn’t have to rent. After they passed away, he kept the lot, and when he eventually retired, he moved down here for good.