Army Veteran Worked His Whole Life
John Washam’s first job was a paper route when he was 9 years old.
The Noel resident worked his whole life until retiring four years ago at the age of 73. He grew up in Mount Vernon, Mo., one of seven children. In high school, he was a dishwasher and a short-order cook at a restaurant. He graduated from high school in 1959 and joined the Army.
“Back then, they didn’t have training schools you could go to. My brother and brother-in-law were in the Army,” he said.
Washam said he could not find a job. He hauled hay and worked in a sawmill, but he wanted a career. He said he figured if he didn’t sign up with the Army, he would get drafted, and draftees got sent to Vietnam. Some regular Army members avoided Vietnam, he said.
“I didn’t want to be drafted. I talked to my brother-in-law, and he said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t be drafted because you’re going to get the worst jobs in the service.’”
Washam joined the Army in August 1959. He went to Fort Leonard Wood for basic training and then was sent to Germany in June 1960, where he was a heavy equipment mechanic. While he was there, he said, the wall between East and West Berlin started going up. He said the Army was on alert to go to West Berlin and stop the construction, but the U.S. decided to let it proceed, so they called off the alert. He left Germany in August 1962.
When he got home, he worked for the state of Missouri building Interstate 44. He tested concrete on bridges and culverts, he said.
In 1966 he went to Baker Vo-Tech to become a machinist. He then went to work for Vickers Inc. as a machinist until 1975. He worked for Sibley Engineering, but he didn’t make as much money, so he joined the Missouri National Guard. He was in Company D 203rd Engineers and ran heavy equipment. He worked on an airstrip in Minnesota and Louisiana, went to Panama and Honduras and built roads, worked on an airstrip at Camp Crowder, went to Macon and rebuilt a dam and built ball fields all around Joplin. He retired in 1992.
He went back to work for Sibley Engineering until 1998, then worked for the McDonald County School District as a custodian at Noel Primary School until 2013.
“By then I was 73, so I just completely retired,” he said.
Now he enjoys fishing and helping his neighbors. He recently put brakes on a neighbor’s pickup truck and has been known to work on his neighbors’ lawn mowers.
He has four children: Deann Tompkins of Anderson, John Eric Washam of Anderson, Mark Washam of Anderson and Alicia Jordan of Lanagan, as well as a nephew he raised, Tony Roberts of Buffalo. He also has several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
John Washam of Noel served in the Army from 1959 to 1962. He worked from the time he was 9 years old until his retirement at age 73.