“If Others Can Do This, I Can Too”: Attending West Point With The Class Of 1961 And Serving As An Army Engineer

Gary Lord


Gary Lord was born in July 1939 and grew up in Potsdam, New York, with his younger sister. His father was a district manager for a milk cooperative, and his mother was an office manager for an insurance company. He was very active in sports and enjoyed being outdoors. When he was in 7th grade, he met his future wife. He graduated #3 in his high school class, and his guidance counselor recommended he take a civil service exam. He decided to attend West Point, and remembers his mother being “concerned” on R-Day. He also recalls later swearing in on Trophy Point. He did well academically, finishing 99th in his class. He was a manager for the basketball team and was on the ski team. His most memorable West Point experience was building relationships with his company mates. He commissioned as an Engineer Officer because he felt the branch was interesting and purposeful. His first assignment was with the 307th Combat Engineers in the 82nd Airborne Division, and he recalls participating in peacetime maneuvers (Operation Swift Strike). During the Cuban Missile Crisis, he was serving as aide to General Throckmorton and remembers receiving the “alert” message. His next assignment (1964 – 1965) was with the 809th Engineer Battalion in Thailand, where one of his missions was building a road to help counter the insurgency threat. The 809th was a large unit and even had an account with the Caterpillar company. After earning a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Illinois, he deployed to Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division in 1968. He experienced the after-effects of Tet in Hue, where the engineers had a large role clearing debris. He describes how engineers rappelled in with chainsaws to clear landing strips and begin building firebases. After returning from Vietnam, he held a variety of engineering positions, culminating as the District Engineer for Portland, Oregon, where he was responsible for harbor dredging, and dams that provided hydroelectric power while managing flood control. He retired from the Army in 1988 and began working for environmental and construction companies. At the end of the interview, he describes his sense of satisfaction from serving the nation, and expresses pride in West Point, which provided him with a tremendous educational opportunity and set him on the path to service.


conflicts Vietnam War Cold War
topics Leadership Teamwork Cuban Missile Crisis Camaraderie Military Techniques West Point History USMA 1961
interviewer David Siry
date 29 January 2022


name Gary Lord
institution USMA
graduation year 1961
service Engineer
unit 307th Combat Engineer BN, 82nd Airborne Division; 809th Engineer Battalion; 101st Airborne Division; Portland Engineer District
service dates 1961 1988