“Making Sense Of Ambiguity”: From Light Infantry To English Professor

John Nelson


COL John Nelson grew up in a large family in Southern California with his parents and eight siblings. He enjoyed baseball, track, and cross country as a young man, and initially attended Cal State Long Beach. In December, 1982, he joined the Army as an Airborne Infantryman, and was assigned to B Company, 1st Battalion, 505th Infantry, in the 82nd Airborne Division. During the invasion of Grenada (Operation Urgent Fury), he was an assistant gunner on an M-60 machine gun crew. After Grenada, he applied for West Point and attended the Prep School at Fort Monmouth, starting in July of 1984. As a Cadet, he ran cross country and track, and as a Senior, he was the Brigade Executive Officer. During his Firstie year, his girlfriend, Diane (Bodnar) Nelson became pregnant, and she temporarily departed the Academy on maternity leave. He selected Signal Corps as a branch to increase their chances of getting joint domicile as a military couple, and his first assignment was as an instructor and cross country coach at the Prep School so he could remain close to Diane as she finished her requirements at West Point to graduate in December with the Class of ’89. In January, 1991, he deployed to South-West Asia for Operation Desert Storm, and ran a signal station at the airport in Kuwait City. Over his career, he also deployed to Iraq for Operation Southern Watch, and to Afghanistan twice. He was stationed in Korea as the Operations Officer of the 36th Signal Battalion on September 11, 2001, and had to react to the changing situation in America. In between his operational deployments, he was selected for advanced civil schooling and a teaching assignment in the USMA Department of English and Philosophy, eventually earning his PhD. In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his decision to join the military, and his operational experiences. He describes Operation Urgent Fury in detail, and his role as a young infantryman. He discusses his experiences at both the Prep School and at West Point. Finally, he recounts his time as a Signal Officer, and as an English professor at West Point.


name John Nelson
institution USMA
graduation year 1989
service Infantry / Signal
unit B/1-505 IN, 82nd Airborne Division
specialty Department of English and Philosophy
service dates 1983 2018