For retired Ill. chief, military service was road to being an officer

A childhood dream to be a cop took retired Chief Alan Love through a war in another country

By Heidi Litchfield
Morris Daily Herald, Ill.

MORRIS, Ill. – The road to his childhood dream of being a police officer took Alan Love to a country he never heard of and a war he knew nothing about.

“I knew I wanted to be a police officer, and a state police officer said to get my military service out of the way when I graduated high school,” said Love, of Morris. “I signed up for the Marines in June and left in September to boot camp.”

The year was 1965, and the country was sending combat troops to Vietnam, and Love was on his way to boot camp.

Love said he joined the U.S. Marine Corps because his father, a World War II veteran, told him how impressed he was with the Marines when he was serving on a Navy battleship.

After boot camp, Love knew he was going to do something with aviation. What he didn’t know was that he would become a mechanic who worked on helicopters, as well as join a squadron responsible for troop insertion and extraction, and operated as a medivac.

“I didn’t know where Vietnam was. I didn’t even know why I was going when they sent me,” Love said.

He fixed and flew Sikorsky UH-34D helicopters and found himself in a squadron called the Ugly Angels.

“They said when we flew in to get them, we looked like angels from the sky,” he said. “Then when they saw us, they said, ‘Man, you’re ugly.’ ”

For a farm kid from Morris, Vietnam couldn’t be more different, and Love said he had to ask himself more than once what he was doing there.

The answer was simple. He understood the motto: “For God, Country and Corps.”

However, he didn’t always keep to that order.

“We were all proud to serve our country back then,” he said. “I put God first, the Corps got second, and the country got what was left.”

He said most of those serving alongside him felt the same way, and he doesn’t know of anyone who served in Vietnam who didn’t pray while there.

“We needed divine intervention,” he said. “I was always concerned, I always prayed. I was concerned that he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.”

He said while he and those he served with were friends and acquaintances, none of them were close. He said he couldn’t be close friends because he might not be there tomorrow – none of them was guaranteed tomorrow.

He matured from the 18-year-old who enlisted and his sense of values changed.

“The things you valued at home were replaced by other things of value in Vietnam,” he said. “You valued a dishpan to shave in, and staying alive was the most important thing.”

Staying alive was just part of his job.

“Flying and stuff didn’t scare me, doing my job didn’t scare me,” he said. “We thought about the job and didn’t think about anything else. We went with the flow and did our job. Our job was to keep fellow Marines alive.”

But they weren’t always successful.

Tears filled his eyes as he sat in his Morris home, oxygen flowing through a tube to his nose as he struggled to breathe from his treatment for lung cancer.

“We picked up Marines and stacked them in the back of the helicopter,” he said, while removing his glasses and wiping the tears away. “I’m sorry. All I thought was, ‘What in the hell are we doing here?’ ”

To this day he doesn’t agree with how the government fought the war.

“I didn’t like how we did it, go in and fight, then leave,” he said. “Then they would move back in and we had to go in again and fight in the same place.

“I had no opinion on the war until then. I still believe in God, in the Corps and my country, but I didn’t think we were fighting to win. I swore I’d never fight in another war unless it was on my own soil to defend this nation.”

Love returned to California after his tour in December 1967 and finished his time in the Marines – he had 15 months left.

“We flew into a base and didn’t fly commercial home, so no one spit on us. After spending 13 months in Vietnam, they better not have,” he said. “But then we were here. Yesterday we were in Vietnam, today we are on liberty in the States. I was able to make the transition, but not everyone could.”

In 1969, Love returned to Morris after serving his four years in the Marines and finishing with the rank of sergeant. He went to work for the Department of Corrections until joining the Morris Police Department in 1971.

Love worked for the department for 30 years before retiring. He served as the Morris police chief from 1981 to 1991. He served as lieutenant for the remainder of his time after being chief.

Love now serves on the Morris Color Guard at local veterans events and during military funerals. He also works part time for the Grundy County Sheriff’s Department, providing security at the courthouse and the administration building.

“Once a Marine, always a Marine,” Love said of his continued service.

Copyright 2015 the Morris Daily Herald

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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