Goshen vet Thomas Check Jr. served country twice
GOSHEN — Thomas Check Jr. served his country more than once.
He served in the Army during the Vietnam War and later in Iraq for Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and Desert Storm while serving in the Air Force Reserve.
Check grew up in an country setting near Austintown Township Park and graduated from Austintown Fitch, Class of 1970.
“I worked at Morgan’s Restaurant at the corner of Route 46 and Mahoning Avenue,” Check said. “I started as a busboy and became a cook. After I graduated, I worked eight hours a day.”
Check also got used to military life by serving in the Civil Air Patrol from 1967 to 1968. He served out of the Naval Reserve Center in Youngstown, near Cardinal Mooney High School.
On Feb. 23, 1971, Check was drafted into the Army. He was sent to Fort Campbell in Kentucky for his basic training, in which he already had an advantage.
“Being in the Civil Air Patrol, I had learned how to march and conduct myself,” he said. “So basic training was easy.”
From Fort Campbell, Check was transferred to Fort Polk in Louisiana.
“I went from a cold to a hot climate,” he said. “Fort Polk was the premiere training grounds for Vietnam.”
He said Fort Polk had poisonous snakes, armadillos, tarantulas and pigmy rattlers that could kill a person. Check received training on an 81mm mortar, grenade launchers and firearms.
“When I graduated that training, we were told we were in luck and not going to Vietnam,” he said.
Instead his unit was sent to Fort Ord in Monterey, California. At that Army base, Check took part in a two-week field exercise with the Green Berets. During that exercise, he got food poisoning while out in the field.
During his stay in California, he was assigned to Hunter Liggett, an Army military post and open range. At the post, Check was assigned to Combat Development Experimentation Command (CDEC).
“We tested military equipment that civilian companies came up with,” Check said. “We couldn’t talk about any of it back then, but we can now. I remember a rifle with shells that contained three darts that could punch through steel.”
He also helped test night vision equipment and said there were constant high ranking dignitaries who would come to observe testing.
While serving with CDEC, Check rose to the rank of sergeant of a company motor pool. He had charge over several Jeeps, pickups and deuce-and-a-halves (2-1/2 ton trucks).
“I got bored, so I painted my deuce-and-a-half an olive green gloss,” he said. “It was the sharpest truck in the motor pool.”
With all he had been through at Fort Ord, Hunter Liggett and Fort Polk, Check said he got a feel for being a Vietnam veteran.
“Because of what I had been through and living in the dirt, I felt like I had served in Vietnam after hearing what it was like from men who returned,” Check said.
While living in California, Check married and with his wife, Carol, saw the birth of his first daughter on Dec. 13, 1972. In February of 1973, Check mustered out at Fort Ord and returned to Ohio.
“My wife, daughter and I drove back with a loaded U-Haul trailer being pulled by a Ford Pinto,” he said. “We couldn’t do over 55 miles per hour.”
Check and family moved to the Canfield-Austintown area, and he went to work at General Motors.
Check said working the assembly line was boring and he wanted a break. It was the 1980s and some friends began talking about joining the Air Force Reserve and seeing the world. Check gave in to the idea and went to Cleveland to take an entry test that he passed with flying colors.
In 1988, Check entered the Air Force Reserve and was placed in the 76th Mobile Aerial Port and was based at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna. He took his training in Atlanta and ended up as a tech sergeant.
In November of 1990, Check’s unit was activated and sent to Ramstein, Germany, to take part in Desert Storm. Part of what Check’s unit did was to run the morgue at the Army base there.
“We were set up to handle 300 bodies,” Check said.
He added that his unit also helped load equipment, vehicles and troops heading to Kuwait and Iraq.
“We worked 12-hour days,” he said. “We also had to live off base in a small town 10 miles away, so daily our vehicles had to be checked for bombs.”
He spent just over six months overseas and returned home in time to see his oldest daughter Michelle graduate from high school. Check was activated again for two weeks between Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom to assist in a no fly zone.
“After the Twin Towers fell, I volunteered to go to Kuwait and was put in charge of all air mobility assets like containers, straps and the like. Pretty much anything that was needed, I placed on a shipping pallet and sent it off,” he said.
One of the more unpleasant jobs Check handled was taking human remains off a plane and sending them to the morgue.
“Each container (with human remains) contained 400 pounds of ice,” he said.
He served in Kuwait over six months and finished out his yearlong deployment at the airbase in Delaware, where a morgue had been set up.
His time in Kuwait was in 2004 and in June of 2007, Check was discharged after putting in 18 years with the Air Force Reserve and two years with the Army. He went back to work at General Motors. He ended up retiring from GM around 2011.
As for his time serving, his deployments and the GM assembly line took a toll. He was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“I still go to VA counseling for PTSD,” he said. “And my hearing is shot, my back is shot and my knees are shot. I have a 70 percent disability.”
After retiring, he still wanted the country feeling he grew up with and he purchased eight acres in Goshen Township and has horses and chickens.
Over the years, Check had done skydiving, and got his private pilot’s license.
Check joined the VFW Post 9571 in Ellsworth and was commander in 2018 and 2019. He is a member today and serves in the post’s Honor Guard that attends veteran funerals around the state.
He is a member of the Mahoning Valley Olde Car Club. He finally was able to buy his dream car, a 1976 yellow Corvette. He said his wife enjoys spending time with him at the weekly Tuesday night cruises and the Cars in the Park event. The couple has been married more than 50 years.
Thomas Check Jr.
RESIDENCE: Goshen Township
SERVICE BRANCH: Army/Air Force Reserve
MILITARY HONORS: Desert Storm Service Medal, Iraqi Freedom Service Medal, Enduring Freedom Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Distinguished Service Medal
OCCUPATION: Retired General Motors assembly line (38 years)
FAMILY: Wife, Carol; daughters, Michelle and Erica; son, John; and 10 grandchildren