Farmer returns to home operation after two years of service

Marvin Frederick closes the ladder on his combine after completing maintenance checks. The Army veteran was drafted when he was 20 years old and returned home to farm with his dad after completing his military service.

MOUNT CARROLL, Ill. — Marvin Frederick expected to be drafted into the Army since he had a 23 lottery number.

“I knew it was coming so I waited for the letter in the mail,” he said. “I grew up on this farm and went to Highland Community College for two years and then I was drafted in 1972.”

Two other farmers from Shannon were drafted at the same time as Frederick.

“After we got to Chicago at the reception station for physicals, they sent them home and kept me so I was the last person inducted from this county,” he said.

Frederick was 20 years old and completed his basic training at Fort Polk in Louisiana.

“Then I went for two weeks to a temporary duty station at Fort Knox for armored personnel carrier school,” he said. “From there they sent me to Germany for 18 months.”

The armored personnel carrier, or APC, was used to transport troops.

“They had a .50-caliber machine gun and there was other stuff you could put on them like TOWs, which were anti-tank missile systems to knock out tanks or bunkers,” the Army veteran said.

The TOWs shoot about two miles, Frederick said. However, they require a line of sight.

“There are two wires hooked to the launcher so when you move it the missile would correspond with the crosshair in the sight and that’s where it would go,” Frederick said.

“When I went to the infantry company there was an opening in the weapons platoon and that’s how I got to be a TOW operator,” he said. “To begin, I was a driver for the track, then I got promoted to a gunner and then I was the boss of the track.”

Frederick’s platoon did a lot of practicing.

“In case Russia decided to come across the line, we were supposed to slow them down,” he said. “So, we would jump in equipment and go to our staging area and practice firing weapons.”

However, the soldiers were only allowed to practice with a real missile once or twice a year.

“The missiles at that time were $7,000 per round,” Frederick said. “When you did have your chance then you were nervous because you didn’t want to mess up when all the brass are there watching.”

Living in Germany was a new experience for the young farm boy since it was the first time he traveled out of the United States.

“I thought I didn’t want to go, but at the same time, if I wouldn’t have gone, there were so many things I saw and learned that I would have never experienced otherwise,” Frederick said.

“For the most part, everybody I met over there was pretty friendly. We were in Belgium for maybe 10 days on maneuvers and we were in Holland for 10 days, but that was more informal so we got to explore a little more,” he said.

Frederick also went to Berlin.

“At that time it was inside East Germany so the rules were real strict and you did not want to cross the border,” he said. “If you crossed the border by mistake when using the subway, they’d keep you.”

While in Berlin, the U.S. soldiers had to be in complete uniform.

“You could only look at certain areas and only take pictures of certain areas,” Frederick said.

“When we had time off we went to neighboring towns and some businesses catered to GIs and some businesses didn’t want anything to do with you,” he said. “The guys who had been there before you told us which places were OK.”

Attending Oktoberfest in Munich was one of the opportunities Frederick took advantage of during his military service.

“That was a big party and we went into a big beer tent and two girls recognized us as GIs and they were American stewardesses who were on layover,” he said. “They could speak German, so they helped us maneuver around and we had a good time.”

One of the things that surprised Frederick when he went to basic training was the number of guys that didn’t have a driver’s license.

“People from Chicago or New York didn’t have cars so they had no need to have a driver’s license,” Frederick said.

“Same way with the guy that won our basic marksman contest, he was from New England and he had never fired a gun before,” he said. “I had gone hunting and trapping from when I was 12 years old.”

The guys from the large cities were intrigued by the farm boy from Illinois.

“I told them my town had 1,500 people and some guys said their apartment complex had 1,500 people,” Frederick said. “They had a lot of questions and I had a lot of questions for them.”

After serving in the Army for two years, Frederick was ready to come home.

“They wanted me to re-up because I had a good record and I did real well on my tests,” Frederick said.

“Prior to being drafted, I had a mechanics job for a John Deere dealership in Milledgeville and I could have gone back to that job,” he said. “But I wanted to try farming, so I farmed with my dad.”

However, when Frederick came home, he had to learn to talk again.

“In the service you speak a different language and that was not going to be acceptable at home,” he said. “I had to talk slowly and think about what I was saying so I didn’t say something wrong because mom would have a fit.”

The Army veteran also took advantage of the GI Agriculture Class that was funded by the GI Bill and offered at Mount Carroll High School.

“It was organized by the high school ag teacher and about 12 of us all farmers and veterans would go every week,” Frederick said.

He enjoyed the sharing of ideas between the farmers in the class.

“There was a lot of exchanging of knowledge of people with different farming operations,” he said. “Farmers were trying new practices, a new product or a piece of equipment, so I got a lot of information that was pretty valuable.”

Currently, Frederick grows corn and soybeans on his 240-acre farm.

“We used to have a farrow-to-finish hog operation, but when the price of hogs went way down, I got out of that,” the farmer said.

“I have a three-year rotation of two years of corn and one year of beans,” he said. “I no-till beans into the second year corn and I no-till corn into the bean ground, so I only till a third of my ground each year.”

The soybean yields are better than Frederick expected.

“With the drought this summer I thought if I got 50-bushel beans I’d be lucky,” he said. “But the yields were average or above so that really surprised me.”

The Carroll County farmer has completed about 25% to 30% of his corn harvest.

“So far, I’ve done the early corn and it was pretty close to average,” he said. “The later maturing corn looks better, so I think it will be above average.”

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor