The average person changes jobs five times in three years. The average soldier spends six years in the U.S. Army. Finding those who dedicate their lives to serving in the armed forces in a career spanning three decades is rare.
Danny Palmer of Copperas Cove is one of those rare finds. He spent nearly 32 years in the Army, enduring endless moves, career changes and deployments.
On this Independence Day, Palmer is a preserver of the freedoms celebrated today.
Referring to himself as a poor boy from Lexington, Ky., he dropped out of school in the ninth grade after he decided a formal education was not one of his priorities. He later attended a vocational technical school to learn automotive mechanics.
He started dating the love of his life, Becky, at age 15 and the two married in 1968 with the draft for the Vietnam War looming.
“At first, they were not drafting married men. But the government changed that. Then it was announced that the Army was taking 100,000 non-high school graduates and I went down and joined to get the job I wanted,” Palmer said. “I took the ASVAB test and my GT score was 118. I am not dumb.”
Palmer said he “wound up” in the Army in February 1968 and was serving in an aviation unit in Vietnam by October. Although he worked as a mechanic, he flew planes enough to be awarded the Air Medal.
After a year’s stint in Vietnam, Palmer separated from the Army and referred to himself as “not a good soldier.” But then life changed again and Palmer found the military to be his best option to take care of his family.
“My wife got sick and we had to go on welfare for her to get the medical care she needed. I was so mad because I could not take care of my family,” he said. “So I rejoined the Army. I did not tell Becky I joined the Army again. She said she would not support my decision unless I set a goal to strive for during my service. We decided as a family that my goal would be to become a command sergeant major.”
Palmer re-entered the Army as a specialist, the rank he obtained before separating from the Army a year earlier. After nearly 32 years of service, Palmer did retire as a command sergeant major. He said he has no regrets and would do nothing differently. He remained in the service for more than three decades because of his love of fellow soldiers, soldiering and serving his country.
“My most memorable times were our field exercises because those were the greatest moments for bonding with other soldiers,” the former drill sergeant said. “I learned through the military that book learning is often not as important as life’s lessons.”
After 30 years of marriage. Palmer lost his wife to liver failure. Although he retired in 2000, Palmer’s service to the military and the community continued. He spent Wednesday night helping a military spouse move out of a rented home while her husband is deployed.
Palmer served two terms on the Copperas Cove City Council and currently serves on the Copperas Cove Economic Development Council and numerous boards throughout the city. He considers his service to the country and his community something that is common in today’s world.
“All of the soldiers are like me. You have to have a love in your heart for the Army to spend the majority of your time serving,” Palmer said. “I love soldiers and I loved soldiering. Most of all, I love my country.”