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Powerful Living


Oklahoma Electric Cooperative CEO Max Meek (holding ball) played basketball before being drafted for Vietnam. His teammate, TV and movie star Tom Selleck, is in the front right. Photo courtesy of Max Meek


Oklahoma Electric Cooperative Trustee Bob Usry enlisted in the U.S. Navy and cruised the South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam. Photo courtesy of Bob Usry


Central Rural Electric Cooperative Trustee Len Tontz as a young U.S. Marine lieutenant before he shipped out to the war zone. Photo courtesy of Len Tontz


Len Tontz, Trustee, Central Rural Electric Cooperative Len Tontz graduated from Crescent High School in Crescent, Okla., in 1961 and was attending Central State College in Edmond, Okla., when Marines landed in Vietnam. Accepting a second lieutenant’s commission in the U.S. Marines, he was assigned as a platoon leader to the 3rd Engineer Battalion, 3rd Marine Division. His outfi t offl oaded troop ships at Da Nang in late 1966 and pushed upriver to Dong Ha in boats. Dong Ha lies six miles south of the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam. “It was so serene and peaceful,” he recalls of the journey. “Rice fi elds, water buffalo, and farmers in cone hats.” The 3rd Engineers upgraded the road between coastal Cam Lo and Khe


Sahn, where Marines later fought an epic battle, and built the so-called “McNamara Wall” of sensors and mines to slow down enemy mass attacks from the border. Three of Tontz’s Marines, including his platoon sergeant, were killed by harassment barrages of rocket fi re. “Amazing how poor they were with their pitiful, wormy babies,” he recalls of villagers whom his medical patrols treated as part of a “winning hearts and minds” campaign.


Promoted to captain, Tontz left Vietnam 30 days before the Tet Offensive of January 1968. The offi cer who relieved him was killed during savage fi ghting in the ancient city of Hue. Back in Oklahoma, Tontz taught high school, served as an adjunct professor at Oklahoma State University after completing his PhD there, and served as an admin- istrator for the Oklahoma Department of Technical Education and the Department of Rehabilitive Services until 2009 when he retired. He pursued his military career in the Oklahoma National Guard and in the U.S. Army Reserves until his retirement as a lieutenant colonel. Tontz and wife Linda live on a farm near Guthrie, Okla. and have three chil- dren: Greg, Kristin, and Brandon. He remains active as a trustee with CREC. He recently returned from Africa after climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.


Bob Usry, Trustee, Oklahoma Electric Cooperative Usry was the youngest of six reared by a single mom in Norman. A self- proclaimed rebel, he was expelled from school to subsequently enlist in the U.S. Navy in 1968 after he turned 18. Cruising off the coast of Vietnam on the USS Bon Homme Richard, the navy’s only remaining aircraft carrier with a wooden fl ight deck, Usry helped launch fi ghter-bombers to strike enemy targets. Sailors lined the fl ight deck to watch the distant lightning-like fl ickers.


Fire was a constant threat aboard a carrier with a wooden deck. A member


of the ship’s fire party, Usry often scrambled to fight blazes set by jet afterburners.


One night, an A-4 jet approached low and crashed into the fantail. Usry rushed topside with the fi re party. Flame consumed the carrier’s after deck, with pieces of jet scattered all over. The pilot’s body was never recovered. One of Usry’s most hazardous experiences occurred while ported in San


Diego when ordnance handlers dropped a 1,000-pound bomb and punctured the casing. The ship and nearby port were evacuated while Usry and another sailor kept the bomb hosed down to prevent it from exploding as they escorted it to an Explosive Ordnance Disposal truck waiting on the dock. Usry and Ellen have been married 45 years and have two sons, Bobby and Jaime, who are partners with their dad in a Norman plumbing contracting business. In 2007, Usry became an ordained Baptist minister. Like most veterans, these four electric cooperative leaders long ago made peace with their memories of the war and of coming home to the strife of the antiwar years. Closure for Hickey came in a particularly dramatic fashion when an elderly Vietnamese woman who had escaped communist Vietnam with her family exclaimed, “You in Vietnam?” She grabbed his hand and began kissing it. “Thank you,


thank you!” Vietnam veterans memorial in Washington, D.C. Photo by Charles Sasser


NOVEMBER 2013


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