WASHINGTON — The impetus to serve in the military quite often comes through family connections and conversations.
Such was the case for Maj. Gen. A.C. Roper, who said he was deeply influenced to join the Army because of his grandfather’s service.
The story begins on Oct. 29, 1917, the day his grandfather, William Roper, was inducted into the Army at age 23.
America had entered World War I six months earlier, but of course the war wasn’t called that yet, the general said, showing a copy of his grandfather’s induction notice which read “to serve for the period of the emergency.”
Pvt. Roper was assigned to Company F, 366th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Infantry Division and eventually attained the rank of corporal.
It was a segregated unit, Roper said, meaning entirely composed of African-American Soldiers, including their commanders.
Roper doesn’t have many details about his service because he said his grandfather never spoke about it.
Roper, however was able to track down his honorable discharge, dated April 29, 1919. His discharge stated that he was gassed by the Germans Sept. 1, 1918 and a second time on Nov. 11, 1918, the day the war ended.
The general’s cousin, who is interested in their family’s history, discovered that Cpl. Roper had fought in the largest battle of the war for American forces at Meuse-Argonne, France.
The general, who today is deputy chief of the Army Reserve, visited the battlefield in September with a group of Soldiers.
Roper said they hiked the battlefield and saw the well-preserved trench lines and machine-gun emplacements and artifacts of the war, as well as a nearby cemetery where more than 14,000 American service members who fought and died are buried.
Thoughts of the battle and what it must have been like flooded his head during the visit, he said. “It was personally very moving reflecting on their movement to contact, knowing that thousands of American Soldiers never made it home.
“They were sent to fight for our freedom, knowing that their cause was much bigger than themselves and the outcome would affect generations to come,” he continued.
In particular, African-American Soldiers were fighting for freedom they themselves didn’t experience at home because of segregation, he said, particularly in Alabama, where his grandfather grew up.
“But they marched on anyway, knowing this experiment of democracy would eventually right itself, which it did,” he added.
After Roper was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army, he met his grandfather, who beamed with pride at his grandson’s continuation of family service.
Shortly after that, his grandfather died. “He was just a great man, a humble servant. He didn’t talk much about himself, but there was a bearing and a presence that he had.”
It is ironic, Roper said, that his grandfather came under chemical attack twice on the fields of battle in France, and he himself graduated from the Chemical Officer Basic and Advanced Course and became a chemical officer.
The other irony is that his grandfather served in the National Army, which was the forerunner to the Army Reserve, which Roper serves in today.
As a child growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, Roper said he always looked forward to visiting his grandfather’s farm in nearby Prattville, where his grandfather kept hunting hounds and had a fishing boat.
Soldiers in the Reserve usually have another career outside of the Army. Roper, who is now 55, recently retired as chief of police in Birmingham, where he worked on the force for 33 years.
Besides his grandfather having an influence on his joining the Army, the other big influencer, Roper said, was his uncle, a career Army veteran who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars in Special Forces.
(Follow David Vergun on Twitter: @VergunDoD)