Steve Porter spent twenty-one years and seven months in the United States Army and he thoroughly enjoyed his military career. He says, “Yes, I enjoyed it. I met a lot of very good people. But I was just a paper and pencil pusher.” Well, I must say that the United States Army could not have moved forward and relished the victories if it weren’t for the silent and, seemingly insignificant, “paper and pencil pushers.” Every organization needs men and women behind the scenes doing their jobs and Sergeant First Class Steve Porter was no exception.
Steve’s early life was anything but normal for a young child of three years. He was born in Crockett, Texas during the Depression years. Steve found out later in life that his father, desperately trying to provide for his family and raise two boys, had no formal education and found that making a living was impossible. He reached the end of his desperation in 1934 and took his own life, leaving his mother with all this responsibility.
His mother became an alcoholic and struggled with the relentless challenge of providing for her family. Finally, she had to place her son in an orphanage in Corsicana, Texas. At times, there would be over eight hundred children in this facility. But Steve says, “This was the only family I knew for many years.” This orphanage was self-sufficient with a garden and livestock. The administration was very strict, but the children learned to work hard and be productive. He said, “They tried to make farmers out of us.”
In 1945 Steve’s mother remarried and she had an option to take him out of the orphanage. The orphanages were glad to let kids leave because they were so overcrowded after the war. He was thirteen at the time. He said, “We didn’t go straight to her house in Dallas though. We stopped at a bar and she and my step dad drank beer and played the juke box. It was late when we got to her house.”(I noticed that he referenced “her house,” and not “home.”)
Later Steve lived with his grandfather in Crockett, where he graduated high school at age fifteen. He entered college in Nacogdoches, Texas, but without any money to continue and no direction for his studies, he dropped out. He went back to Dallas to live with his mother for about six months and when he turned seventeen, she gave her permission for him to join the Army in 1948.
Army life suited Steve very well. He was used to a structured life at the orphanage and he says, “They had always told me when to go to bed, when to get up and what to do. It wasn’t hard for me to get used to that in the Army.”
His career began in radio school for a year. Steve is color blind, so he could not see the color bands on the resistors, capacitors, and other components. But they graduated him and sent him to Germany, where he became a company clerk. There he met his future wife. The couple could not get married before his tour was over because the German government did not want couples to stay after they were married.
Steve’s job would be as a Personnel Sergeant, attached to different units as needed, handling the ever-present personnel needs of the unit. After a tour at Fort Hood, Texas they returned to Germany in 1958. 1960 & 1961 saw the Army gearing up for Viet Nam. They wanted men to train as Warrant Officers and fly the helicopter gunships there. Steve applied for and received an appointment as Personnel Warrant Officer. He returned to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and after three years was assigned to Korea to a thirteen-month tour.
From Korea, he and his family were stationed in Germany again for three years before he served a tour in Viet Nam. His last assignment was at the Helicopter Training School at Fort Wolters, Texas.
Just before leaving the Army, Steve met a spokesperson on veteran’s benefits in Waco, Texas. He told Steve that he could fill out an application with the Veteran’s Administration.
So, he did and went to work for them a few weeks out of retirement and stayed for the next seventeen years in the Fort Worth, Texas office. He got tired of fighting the morning traffic rat race and came to consider the fact that he didn’t need to do that anymore. So, he retired with a total of thirty-eight years of government service.
Steve and his wife had three sons. One was born at Fort Hood and two born in Germany. His youngest son became a mountain bike enthusiast and athlete. He loved the cross country runs and entered the competition that required the bikers to ride from Canada to Mexico without any outside assistance or support, a self-endurance ride. Hundreds of bikers enter this competition each year.
On his first try, he injured his hand and had to withdraw and eventually was rushed to a hospital to stop the bleeding. Two years later he entered the competition again and completed the 2000+ mile ordeal in 21 days. He seemed to be the picture of health, but shortly after, he contracted a liver disease and passed away within two months. Steve says this was a terrible shock to the family, especially because he was in such good physical condition.
Steve Porter, you have served your country well. And I believe we would all agree that you have been much more than just a “paper and pencil pusher.” No, you are a man that has worked his way through many of life’s tragedies and hardships. Men of less quality of character would have taken the low road. Thank you for sharing your life with us.