Gilbert J. (Gil) Altom, resident of Kaufman, served in the United States Army.
Upon graduating from Seagoville High School in 1951, Altom enrolled in a small military school known as Arlington State College (later became University of Texas at Arlington). During his two years there, he was promoted to Captain (R.O.T.C.), commanded an infantry company, and was selected for a military drill team known as the Sam Houston Rifles. After graduating from Arlington State, Altom enrolled at Texas A&M College then graduated in May of 1955 as a Distinguished Military Graduate and received an offer to be Second Lieutenant in the regular Army.
Altom met and dated Carol Travis and they later married in April 1957; Carol and Gil had their first child, Venetia, in August of 1958.
Gil, Carol, and newborn daughter, Venetia, packed up and went to Ft. Benning in Georgia for Altom’s infantry training. During his time here, he also attended parachute school where he obtained his “jump wings.”
After, the family moved back to Texas in Fort Hood; Altom spent two years in Fort Hood serving as a infantry officer in the first ARB, 51 Inf. 2d. Armored Division. Altom said he was fortunate enough to command a 4.2- inch mortar platoon while also mechanizing the infantry company, 51st Armored Rifle Battalion. He also volunteered for jungle training in Panama where he was awarded the “jungle expert’ patch as well as designation.
During the time in Fort Hood, Altom’s wife gave birth to their second child, son Gil Jr., inside the military hospital. The following summer, the four moved to Fort McClellan, Alabama so Altom could attend the nine months of Chemical Officer Career Course. Upon graduating from the course, Altom was assigned to the Chemical Corps School and worked at the Commanding Officer of the School.
In the summer of 1963, after being promoted to Captain, Altom was ordered to Heidelberg Germany to command the 48th Chemical Detachment (Tech. Intelligence) to work for the Chief Chemical Officer, U.S. Army, Europe as his executive officer. During this time, he flew all over Europe working with the U.S. troops and NATO allies.
Around this time, the Vietnam war was raging. Altom believed he would be sent straight from Germany to Vietnam with a 30 day leave in the States. Instead, he was sent back to Ft. Benning, Georgia to help train and prepare officers to head to Vietnam. He also prepared senior infantry officers on how to plan for and select the correct nuclear weapons during war. This was a challenging time for Altom, preparing officers for Vietnam as well as prepping for a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
While Altom was teaching the Infantry Center and School, he filmed a series of training videos … these films were still being shown when Altom retired in 1978.
While still in Georgia, he was sent to Pathfinder School that required multiple parachute jumps during night and day out of every type of aircraft in the Army inventory.
Following these trainings, Altom was promoted to Major and selected for a 10 month course at Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth Kansas. Upon completion, Altom was designated as a Honor Graduate and then ordered to Vietnam. He moved his family to Seagoville at his mother-in-law’s home where his wife and his children stayed for the year while Altom was away in Vietnam.
While Altom was in Vietnam, he was assigned as the Military Assistance Command as the staff officer responsible for all herbicide and chemical operations in the southern portion of Vietnam (the delta region). He was challenged to clear all targets through the American Embassy as well as other agencies. During his time there, Altom’s aircraft, both C-123’s and helicopters were hit many times by small arm ground-fire. Altom even had to make two emergency landings resulting from the ground-fire and landed both times without a scratch.
“My hope is that we played a role in the death of communism and the demise of the USSR,” said Altom. “Freedom is not free, it requires constant vigilance.”