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Vietnam war Dean Fox

Dean Fox of Hinton, Iowa, a U.S. Army veteran who served stateside in Alaska as a mechanic during the Vietnam War, poses for a photo Sept. 1 with a 1965 Chevelle he is restoring. Fox traded for the car during his war service.

SIOUX CITY | Enlisting in the U.S. Army shortly after graduating from Wing (North Dakota) Public High School in 1968, Dean Fox was convinced he'd soon be shipped off to humid, sweltering Vietnam.

Instead, he learned his wartime mission would take him to a much cooler climate: the Fort Richardson Army installation outside Anchorage, Alaska.

"I actually think North Dakota was colder than Alaska," the now-65-year-old Fox remembered.

Growing up in a town with a population of approximately 150 people, he knew most of the boys in his graduating class of 19 would be drafted into the war effort unless they enlisted first.

"If you were male and could walk and breathe, they were gonna get you," Fox said. "The advantage of enlisting was that it gave you the option of choosing what branch of the service you wanted to go into."

Despite the fact that most of his relatives were former Navy men, Dean chose the U.S. Army instead.

"I can't swim, and you have to swim in the Navy," he said, recalling his decision-making process. "I figure in the Army, I'd get to stay on land."

Instead, Fox went to basic training at Tacoma, Washington's Fort Lewis and advanced individual training at Fairfax County, Virginia's Fort Belvior.

Flying into a Washington, D.C., airport, Fox remembered seeing protesters yelling at anyone wearing a military uniform.

"Before this, I had no opinion one way or another about the war," he said. "I was wearing my uniform and people were screaming at me. It made me angry because I was convinced I'd be shipped off myself."

The incident made Fox think about those he knew who had already gone to Vietnam: the eighth-grade teacher he'd had who was drafted into the service or his buddies who tried to encourage him to join the U.S. Marine Corps.

"I wasn't looking forward to going off to war," Fox said, "but I was willing to do my duty."

That was weighing heavily on Fox's mind when he received training at Fort Belvior.

"I noticed a pattern in which four classes would be sent to Vietnam while every fifth class would not," he said. "My class was number 35, and I was sent to Alaska."

While stationed in the nation's 49th state, Fox worked on the outboard motors of jeeps, tanks and snowmobiles, among other vehicles.

That wasn't a hardship for a man who'd learned about automotive repair from his dad.

"My dad was always working in the garage, and he taught me about cars when I was a kid," Fox explained. "I think I learned more about fractions working with my dad's tools than I did during math class."

After serving three years in active service and another four years in nonactive service, Fox said he didn't mind not having to go overseas during a time of war.

"I did my time and I got out in one piece," he said. "Yeah, I was pretty lucky."

Did Fox think he'd be recalled during his years of nonactive service?

"Well, the war was still going on and you never really know," he said. "For the first year, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Luckily, it never did."

Retiring after a 17-year career as a mail handler for the U.S. Postal Service in 2013, Fox, who now lives in rural Sioux City, is rebuilding the dark blue 1965 Chevrolet Chevelle he bought while he was in the Army.

"The military didn't teach me how to shoot a gun or how to work on a car because I knew how to do that before I joined," he said. "Instead, the military taught me discipline and a good work ethic."

Those are also the skills that Fox and his wife, Joanne, have passed on to their four now-adult sons as well as their three grandchildren.

Well, Fox also admitted he's trying to pass on his love of mechanics to granddaughters Elizabeth, 5, Julia, 3, and Matayah, 20 months.

"Hey, girls can work on cars just as well as any boy," he reasoned.

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Food and Lifestyles reporter

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