Floyd C. Cornelius, U.S. Army
Editor’s note: This is the second of two parts
With school behind him, Floyd Cornelius knew it was time to enter the work force. With some experience working local farms while in high school, Floyd knew he couldn’t live on the 75 cents per hour he was making on the farms.
A break came when he landed a job at the Randolph State Fish Hatchery in 1963, a job that paid about $100 a week. It was a great job and Floyd enjoyed the work. A new job popped up at the Bordens Food Co. as a machinist.
Putting in an application, it wasn’t long before the call came and Floyd started his new job as a machinist. Loving a job that he enjoyed, Floyd also enjoyed his first paycheck that now was $150. Work was going fast and great and so was the calendar. The year was 1965 and our country was in a jam. Being the world’s protector and guardian, we put ourself in a position to commit all our young men to travel 12,000 miles to help defend the people of South Vietnam, a country most Americans never knew of or heard of. It was our obligation to stop communism no matter the cost. As the year progressed, the draft was instituted.
It wasn’t long before Floyd had to make a decision. In order not to be drafted and being at the mercy of the country to determine what job or what country he would have to serve in, Floyd enlisted in the United States Army in September of 1965. It was an enlistment that promised Floyd a Military Police job.
Basic training sent Floyd to Fort Dix in New Jersey. After graduation, Floyd received his promised orders, which sent him to the U.S. Army’s Military Police school in Fort Gordon. With graduation from M.P. school came his first set of official M.P. duties. Floyd was on his way to his first official duty station located at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. With the war in Vietnam in full gear, it wasn’t long before Floyd received his orders. It was in July of 1966 when Floyd left to join his new outfit, the 188th MP Company Vung Tau Det. New duties were ships’ security.
In October of 1966, Floyd was given orders to report to the 716th M.P. Battalion in Saigon. His duties there were security with the exterior guard. In January of 1967, Floyd, because of his outstanding service, was given a special assignment. His new assignment was embassy duty at the US Embassy in Saigon, an assignment that lasted until his tour of duty in Vietnam was completed in July of 1967.
It was such an honor to be assigned as a protector of one of our country’s Embassies. Saigon was the former capitol of South Vietnam at that time. With the entire country at war, there was no way to tell who the enemy was. Destroying the American embassy would have been the enemies’ number one goal. Keeping it safe demanded 24 hours a day of constant protection.
With his tour of duty almost completed, Floyd was marking off the days on his short-timer’s calendar. With the last spot filled, Floyd was now counting hours, not days. He was so excited about boarding that plane that was to take him back home that he couldn’t believe that he may have actually missed the plane with his name on the manifest. Floyd recalls that he actually slept through a formation that announced the names of the soldiers that were going to return home, and yes, his name was on that list. Had someone not told him about the announcement, Floyd may have had to wait a few more days before he received a seat on a government contracted 727 that was headed stateside.
Returning home, Floyd still had time left on his enlistment. Luck was on his side when his stateside orders read: report to Commanding Officer, 220th M.P. Detachment Army Support Center, Niagara Falls, New York.
At the Niagara Falls duty station, Floyd’s duties involved processing military A.W.O.L. Those were military personnel who were listed as absent without official leave. Floyd’s duties were in the processing area. In September 1968, Floyd was officially discharged. He was now a civilian. With the military behind him, Floyd was now ready to decide which way he wanted to live his life. It was only three days after his discharge, and Floyd was attending his first class at Paul Smiths College. Later, Floyd transferred to Syracuse Environmental Science & Forestry College. Here Floyd had the honor to graduate cum laude in May of 1972. With his education behind him, Floyd was proud to announce that all his education was paid for by his uncle. It was his Uncle Sam. The V.A. had picked up his education, all paid for under the GI bill.
It wasn’t long before Floyd landed a position in 1972 with Caledonia State Fish Hatchery. He was employed as an assistant manager. From there, in 1976, Floyd went to work as a Senior Habitat Technician in the Watertown, N.Y. state Department of Environmental Conservation. He worked there until he was offered a job as a fishery biologist in Olean with the state DEC. The job in Olean lasted until 1980, when Floyd landed a job that was to take him to his retirement. In 1980, Floyd was given a job as the Sr. Aquatic Biologist (Lake Erie) in Dunkirk. The job here kept Floyd happily employed until his retirement in 2000.
Retirement made time for Floyd to hunt, fish, and do some RV camping. Along with that, Floyd finds time for woodworking. In the summer months, he loves to grow vegetables in his garden. When it comes down to the number one thing Floyd enjoys about retirement, his answer is simple. It’s being a grandpa and enjoying all his grandchildren.
Another story of a local veteran who, when his country needed him, enlisted and served. He served his country while in Vietnam and guarded our most valuable possession: our embassy. After his service, Floyd came back, used the benefits he earned and turned them into an education that kept him employed until his retirement. Vietnam was a hard war to fight. It took its toll not only on the men and women who served, it also took a toll on our country. Not a day goes by without the price of that war that affects people in our area. When we left Vietnam, the last photos of that 10-year war were taken from the roof of the same embassy that Floyd so proudly defended.
The building, which once was our embassy still stands today, no longer an embassy, yet it still holds within her walls the bravery and dedication of those who served there. Today, even the city in which so many Americans served no longer carries the name Saigon.
It was renamed Ho Chi Minh City, yet as long as all Americans who proudly served in her T.A.O.R. are still alive, the city will always be called Saigon.
Floyd Cornelius is our hero of the week. Welcome home, Floyd, and thank you for your service.