Longtime Killeen resident Darrell Cannon, 91, was drafted into the military during World War II, and had only been in the Army a few weeks when the big war came to an end.
“I was in basic training when they dropped the atomic bomb,” Cannon said Friday when he stopped by the Herald to be interviewed about his military experience in the spirit of Veterans Day.
The bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6, 1945, and soon resulted in a Japanese surrender.
However, for Cannon — who grew up on an Oklahoma farm during the Great Depression — his military career was just beginning. He went on to serve more than 28 years, retiring as a sergeant major with the Fort Hood-based 2nd Armored Division in 1974.
After basic training, Cannon was shipped off to Allied-occupied Germany, where he helped with post-war efforts. He spent much of his Army career stationed in Germany, and met his wife of more than 60 years — Elisabeth — there following World War II.
In the 1960s, Cannon was a platoon sergeant in Germany, and said his unit helped test some of the first aerial surveillance drones used by the Army.
In 1967, he shipped off to Vietnam with the 1st Infantry Division, and was an aerial observer with a military intelligence unit.
“I’d fly at treetop level,” Cannon said, looking for enemy troops from a helicopter using special detection equipment.
Incoming small-arms fire from the enemy was common, he said.
When the bullets were coming at them, Cannon’s helicopter would raise up, “and then we’d call artillery on them.”
Cannon said his efforts helped sink three enemy river boats carrying ammunition. He also earned three Bronze Stars and two Air Medals in Vietnam.
Cannon also earned a Purple Heart Medal in Korea, where he was stationed in 1964 and patrolled the demilitarized zone, or DMZ.
Some North Korean troops threw grenades at his location, and he took shrapnel injures to his hip, shoulder and legs, Cannon said.
His other Army awards include the Meritorious Service Medal, four Army Commendation medals, the World War II Victory Medial and Combat Infantry Badge.
Cannon’s military career also took him to Washington, D.C., in the 1950s, where he served on the honor guard for then-President Dwight Eisenhower.
These days, Cannon takes daily walks near his home in southeast Killeen to stay in shape.
“I walk at least two miles a day,” said Cannon, whose day consists of a walk, then reading the newspaper, and then taking another walk.
Elisabeth Cannon passed away a few years ago after a long fight with Alzheimer’s. The retired sergeant major since remarried, and enjoys his retirement from the Army and from a second career as a real estate broker.