Supplying military needs for more than 20 years

Veteran Spotlight

SEELEY LAKE – Howard Montgomery, more familiarly known in the Seeley Lake area as Monty, served 22 years in the military, first in the United States Navy and later in the United States Air Force.

Montgomery said he signed up with the Navy in 1954 because he wanted to see the world. The Navy trained him as a storekeeper where he learned about ordering, stocking, issuing and tracking supplies. He spent the next two years aboard the cargo ship U.S.S. Warrick whose homeport was Oakland, California with an overseas base at Sasabo, Japan. The ship serviced areas from Alaska's Aleutian Islands to Australia, so he got to see many different ports including Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and all the islands where World War II battles had been fought.

"Most of [the cities] we spent enough time that we would get a day or two days off that we could go and tour," Montgomery said. Then added, "If that's what you want to call it. I think more of it was drinking beer."

He was next transferred to the Naval Training Center at Bainbridge, Maryland, where he was put in charge of reclaimed clothing. The job included sorting and salvaging Navy issued clothing returned from honorably discharged recruits who for some legitimate reason did not complete their training.

Montgomery was discharged from the Navy in 1958 and moved to his new bride's hometown of Missoula, Montana. It took him less than a month to realize the only jobs available in the area were for mill workers or lumberjacks. Not wanting to become either, he decided to re-enlist, but the Navy no longer looked like a good option to the newly married Montgomery. He would be home based either on the east or the west coast and would spend months at sea. So he joined the Air Force instead.

The Air Force sent him to Larson AFB in Moses Lake, Washington and designated him Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of the base commissary. Two years later he was stationed in Puerto Rico and put in charge of the cold storage warehouse which supplied frozen meats to the enlisted personnel mess hall, the officers mess hall and the commissary. Montgomery said on an average payday the commissary sold over a million dollars' worth of food.

Montgomery's time in Puerto Rico coincided with the period of the Cuban Missile Crisis. He said the Army's 82nd Airborne Division was deployed to Ramey Air Force Base and put on stand-by in case the United States needed to invade Cuba. They were added to Montgomery's list of people who needed food and supplies and were given top priority. He recalls the troops were literally fenced in so they could not leave the base until the crisis was resolved.

Montgomery accrued more and more responsibility as an NCOIC at each base where he was transferred. In 1968 he was in Cheyenne, Wyoming in charge of Recreation Service Supply. He oversaw one-quarter million dollars' worth of nonexpendable property and $60,000 of base supply equipment. Stationed in Utapao, Thailand, while the Vietnam War raged on, he saw to it that two wings of B-52 bombers were supplied with whatever spare parts they needed to keep their planes in service.

In 1971 he was sent to Korea where he served as part of the Joint United States Military Advisors Group to the Republic of Korea Armed Forces. A supersized version of his earlier task of salvaging Naval recruit clothing, Montgomery's job now consisted of distributing excess military property-surplus equipment and supplies no longer of use to the U.S. military but of possible use to other countries or entities. He helped make sure the South Korean Army got the equipment they needed and arranged for transportation of the various items.

Montgomery said of the South Koreans, "They were good people to work with." Meetings in Panmunjom between the North Koreans, the South Koreans and the Americans, on the other hand, were fraught with problems.

According to Montgomery, "About 90% of the time the meetings were called off because of instances like the American flag was two inches taller than the Korean flag, or their chairs were bigger than the Korean's or their table was longer. One of the biggest things was the honor guard."

Each contingent had its own honor guard but, as Montgomery explained, in the United States military, to be considered for the role of honor guard a candidate had to be at least 6-foot-5. Koreans tend to be shorter than that and Montgomery said they always complained about the American honor guards being taller.

By 1975 Montgomery was back in the States at Offutt AFB, Nebraska, where he was responsible for supply operations and management. A year later he was transferred from the base to the Strategic Air Command (SAC), located in the same area, where he was appointed Major Air Command Inventory Management Supervisor. That position put him in charge of servicing the supply and equipment needs of 825 personnel ranging from officers to civilians. He was directly responsible for an account in excess of $200,000.

Montgomery received his honorable discharge in 1977 and started settling into retired life. However, in 1978 he got a call from The Boeing Company. Because of his military training, he was the perfect person for the job they had in mind. For the next 13 years he was assigned to the U.S. President's airplanes. He supplied whatever spare parts were needed for their repair. Montgomery said the warehouse carried 600,000 line items-everything the plane might require except the wings and those could be obtained within 24 hours.

Asked what the planes looked like, Montgomery said, "No comment." But he added, "They were very luxurious." He said there were four planes, all 747s. Two of them were in maintenance at Offutt, one was stationed at Washington D.C., and the spare was at an airbase close to it in case emergency evacuation was required.

Montgomery retired – again – in 1991. Four years later he married his current wife, Karen and they moved to Seeley Lake to be closer to family.

Karen said, "Between us we have six kids, nine grandkids, six great-grands and two more on the way."

Montgomery got interested in rock collecting during his military career. For the last 26 years he has been making agate lamps, which he sells at the Seeley Lake Sunday Market and a few other local art markets.

He has been active in other Seeley Lake activities such as the Lion's Club, the Veteran and Families of Seeley Lake and is a life member of the American Foreign Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Disabled American Veterans.


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