George Edward Menninger

Cullum: 25694

Class: 1965

Cadet Company: I2

Date of Birth: July 4, 1942

Date of Death: March 21, 1969 -- in Vietnam from hostile action

Age: 26 years, 9 months and 17 days young. - View or Post a Eulogy

Interred: West Point Cemetery, West Point, NY

   Location: Sect XXXIV, Row D, Grave 174

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George MenningerFor this is the journey that men make, to find themselves. If they fail in this, it doesn't matter much what eLse they find. Money, position, fame, many loves, revenge are all of little consequence, and when the tickets are collected at the end of the ride, they are tossed into the bin marked “failure.”

But if a man happens to find himself—if he knows what he can be depended upon to do, the limits of his courage, the positions from which he will no longer retreat, the degree to which he can surrender his inner life to some woman, the secret reservoirs of his determination, the extent of his dedication, the depths of his feeling for beauty, his honest and unpostured goals--then he has found a mansion which he can inhabit with dignity all the days of his life.
James Michener
The Fires of Spring

Toward the end of Ed Menninger's brief life, we renewed a close friendship which had been temporarily put aside by the caprice of assignments. In reflection, nothing seems more certain that, in spite of the tragedies that had constantly beset him, Ed had found himself. Before the end of his last ride, in a helicopter which was shot down while he was commanding his rifle company in Vietnam, Ed had created his own mansion of dignity in which he was living with the happiness of the challenge and the pride of being what he had always wanted to be, and truly loved being—a soldier.

Ed's sister, Mrs. Jane Mallon of Abilene, Texas, recalls Ed's journey through life most poignantly:

“To Our Brother,
I guess what has happened was inevitable because from the first cry, as an infant on 4 July 1942, you were telling us you were going to be in the Army.

I still remember the wonderful times we spent playing Army in the creek behind our house. If it was too cold outside, I can remember you and Alan piling high stuffed animals to make hills and roadways for your toy soldiers.

As children we couldn't have had a more wonderful life, but it was all too short. We soon began to feel the pains of growing.

When our Mother died you were the one with the strength to hold all of us together. It was ironic in a way, but our Mother had so wanted you to receive the appointment to West Point that she was told before she died that you had received it. The news of your appointment came on Mother's Day. I can still see the pride and tears in Father's eyes as he read the appointment.

You were the type person that, although you would write about the trials and tribulations of Beast Barracks, you were loving it the whole time. You were a rugged individual, but you also had a very kind heart. I could always count on you to listen and try to help. It seemed that you had a sixth sense and always knew when you were needed because you were always there. You were my shoulder to cry and lean on, and were forever taking up for your little sister and brother.

The first Christmas we spent with you at West Point will never be forgotten. We were all so very proud of you. It was so exciting seeing the pride in your face as you showed us all around.

When Father died, your strength pulled us through once again.

You met Joan at the Point and it took you very little time at all to discover that she was the girl for you. Your graduation was a very special day for not only did you graduate, but you also married.

Although your time with Joan was short, you had a full and wonderful life. Out of your marriage came one of God's most wonderful gifts: on 21 June 1967, your son, Jeffrey Scott, was born.

Although you're not with us any more, a great deal of you remains in Jeff. Dear Brother, when your son grows up I pray he will be just like you, for if he is, there will be no finer person on earth.”

And this loving tribute could perhaps suffice, but there was more to Ed's story; there was more to his life. Ironically, the month before he died, Ed wrote a lengthy account of his experiences as an Army officer. The letter was displayed in Thayer Hall so that cadets might gain further insight into what they could expect upon commissioning. It was a most meaningful display, and brief excerpts of that letter follow. Ed told his story far better than anyone could have:

"...Before I go any further, let me preface all my statements by saying I was before graduation and still am a dyed-in-the-wool Infantry file. This may tend to make some of my statements a 'little' prejudiced.

“I sincerely feel that Ranger School is a challenge that every officer who will serve any time in a combat branch needs to experience. Ranger School is like any other difficult thing you have ever had to go through. Every West Point graduate possesses the physical and mental abilities to pass the course. What makes the course more difficult for some is their attitude. Just as a plebe, if you let the upperclassmen get your goat, you started having problems. A good attitude and the basic desire to do your best at whatever you start will make those long, miserable patrols shorter, and will cause you to assimilate a lot more of the good poop being passed out (poop you will need and use time and again once you get to your unit).

“Airborne School, I feel, is more of a personal thing. I initially went to Airborne School because it was the 'thing,' especially for infantry officers. I found I thoroughly enjoyed jumping out of airplanes. The esprit that it develops is an amazing thing, making command of an airborne unit and working with airborne troops a pleasure.

“After Airborne School, my wife and I took thirty days leave and then set sail for Germany, where I was to be assigned to the 1st Battalion (Airborne/Mechanized), 509th Infantry. My wife was whisked away from me, I was put into fatigues, introduced to most of the battalion officers, and jumped from a CH-34 all by 1500 on the same day. Three days later the battalion left for the division's annual Field Training Exercise (FTX)—my wife and I were swiftly learning what a fast-paced Army life was like.

“Within a week after arriving in the 509th, I led one of two four-man combat patrols for the battalion that utilized rope bridges to cross a river to the aggressor side and seize two of his bridges from his rear. We held them for an hour until our battalion punched through to us. If I had not done it myself, I would have thought it was a script of a movie. We 'knocked out' six M-60 tanks, three M-114s, and blunted counterattacks from both sides of the river. Within two weeks of arriving at my first assignment, I had already experienced one of the high points of my early career.

From September 1966 until February 1967 I served as the battalion assistant S3, S3 Air and the Communications Officer. I personally wrote and then supervised squad and platoon Army Training Tests and company airborne FTX's. My image of the staff officer sitting around all the time was destroyed in short order. We were still meeting ourselves coming and going on three duty officer lists, defense and trial counsel, survey officer, etc.

“One week before I was to receive a company, our airborne Assistant Division Commander requested I come up to take over as the C3 Airborne Plans and Operations Officer. Over the protests of my battalion and brigade commander, and against my own personal desires, I was ordered up to division staff.

“As it turned out I was to thoroughly enjoy the next year on the general staff of the 8th Division.... In addition, during times of crisis, such as the Seven-Day War in June of 1967 I filled the slot of brigade S3 for the airborne task force that was put on alert during that period.

“Family life was a good deal better while I was on the G-staff; at least my hours were fairly regular and for the most part, Sundays were off. My wife Joan and I were blessed with a son, Jeffrey Scott, which added a great deal of joy to our family.

“Unfortunately, the joy was shortlived, as one month later (the day after I first received orders to Vietnam ) Joan became seriously ill with primary myocarditus—heart failure. For the next six months she was in and out of the hospital, her condition gradually detenorating. In January she was evacuated to Walter Reed. My son and I went with her. I was assigned to a thirty-two week Vietnamese language course, which would prepare me for eventual assignment and allow me a maximum of free time to be with her and Jeff. Despite all efforts she passed away on 25 March 1968.

“I was unable to maintain the original language course, and in April was put back in another course, to be extracted on my original availability date in October 1968. My assignment was to the 9th United States Infantry Division; however, upon arrival in-country, because of my language training, I found myself in Military Assistance Cornmand Vietnam and was subsequently assigned to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam Airborne Division Advisory Detachment....

“The job has had its satisfactions, especially when my counterpart and I with the battalion, are operating separate from the battalion proper. Small triumphs, such as his volunteering information, taking my advice on even the most minute thing, and asking for information and sometimes even advice, can really make my day.

“Since I have been here we have been in about a dozen contacts, only three being classified as serious. Recounting war stories does very little, however any doubts about your ability to react properly when the time comes should be forgotten. I've found fire fights very analogous to jumping: once the door is open, especially if I am jump-mastering, all apprehension goes because I am kept busy, but once the effortless ride to the Drop Zone is over and I'm standing on the ground my heart is pounding as though I'ed just run five miles. I had no special training on calling in artillery, gunships, or air strikes prior to or after arriving in country. But when I found myself in the middle of a fight, my job made me all but forget the inherent danger, and common sense brought the fire support in on target. I was a bit shaky when it was all over, but then you're entitled to be.

“I have found my language training to have been my most beneficial asset, and this I cannot stress enough. Not only do the Vietnamese respect someone more who can speak their language, but, when a company commander is in a fight, what English he knows goes out the window. He is a very busy man at this time and is far more willing to bring you up-to-date on the situation when he can speak his own language.

“...There are areas in which the battalion has improved tremendously due to my advice and that of the other three team members (primarily in the area of combat air assaults by chopper, where the techniques are relatively new to them). As with any unit, an infantry battalion directly reflects the efforts and attitudes of its commander and the Vietnamese have quite a few outstanding officers. Several of the battalions have cornmanders that are a true joy to advise, because they are not too prideful to accept advice. As I look back on it, my experience with the first battalion was a true challenge, and the accomplishments our team made took all of the advisory-ship that we possessed. In that light it was most rewarding.

“Because the senior advisor's job calls for a major and our detachment is more than up to strength in majors, my chances of getting my own battalion are nil. Therefore I have requested reassignment to the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) with assurance of getting a company. Within two weeks I should be smiting the Cong with the 1st Cavalry...."

Ed received the company command which he had requested, but his service with the 1st Air Cavalry was short-lived. On 21 March 1969 he was killed in action in a helicopter crash in Tay Ninh Province. Among his awards were the Combat Infantryman Badge, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star Medal with Valor, Senior Parachutist Wings (American and Vietnamese), and Vietnamese Crosses of Gallantry, with palm and with bronze star.

Ed is now a soldier in the army of The Great Friend and Master of men. He lives here in his son and in the fond memories of those who were fortunate to have known him, enjoyed his company, and learned from him. In the short space of his life he had already found himself, he knew what he could and could not do, he knew determination, dedication, beauty, and goals. And he also knew the love of a wonderful woman and splendid Army wife in Joan Butler. Where Ed is now serving, she is also—and they are together again in yet another, finer mansion.
—A Classmate