Building Roads, Managing Resources, And Teaching Physics: An Engineering Career Both Diverse And Satisfying

Terry Connell


Terry Connell was born in November 1933 and grew up in Muskegon, Michigan, an industrial town. His father, who had been raised in Georgia, enlisted during World War I and had served in France, but in Muskegon worked for a company that made copper wire and cables. His mother was a homemaker who raised five children, a girl and four boys. Terry was the middle child. As a boy, he remembers the Great Depression and the restrictions and rationing imposed during World War II. He worked at a neighborhood grocery and had a paper route. On V-E Day, he remembers selling $10 worth of newspapers. He did well in school and completed junior college and a year at Michigan. His father’s influence got him interested in West Point and he remembers “a sense of purpose” was impressed upon him. He describes R-Day as arduous and quick, recalling getting his hair cut and picking up issued items. Beast was a surprise to him, and the next summer, training at Buckner was cut short when a hurricane came through, dumping 8 inches of rain on the encampment. Academics were not difficult for Terry, who focused on math and sciences, but his English professor, MAJ Wicker, inspired him with his great humor and caring nature. Militarily he was in the middle of his class, serving as a Company XO as a Firstie for F-1. He lived in the old Central Area barracks and remembers “Band Box Reviews” and “Area Tours” in Central Area. He enjoyed playing Team Handball, calling it “a wonderful sport.” He hoped to branch Air Force, but air sickness led him to choose Engineers instead, citing his enjoyment of physical sciences as an influence. On graduation day, he married his wife at the Cadet Chapel. They were from the same hometown and he met her as a yearling. She had moved to White Plains to be closer to Terry. He completed the Engineer school at Ft. Belvoir and took extra classes to earn his Professional Engineer (PE) credentials. His first assignments were with the 307th Engineer Battalion in the 82nd Airborne, where he served as a Platoon Leader, Company Commander and S2, and the 13th Engineer Battalion in Korea, where he served as an S2 and Company Commander. During his time in the 82nd, the Berlin Crisis occurred, causing the unit to go on alert. In Korea, he was stationed at Camp Casey. During his first assignments, he appreciated that he was constantly learning and he enjoyed interacting with Soldiers and NCOs. Returning from Korea, he earned a master’s degree from Purdue University in 1963 in preparation for returning to West Point to teach. While at Purdue, his third child was born (they had twins born at Ft. Bragg, and their fourth child was born at West Point). At the Military Academy, he lived in Gray Ghost and taught standard physics. While teaching, he was aware of the growing military commitment in Vietnam, and the Class of 58 lost their first classmates. Thirteen members of the Class of 58 died in Vietnam. In 1967, he deployed to Vietnam while his family moved to Muskegon. He was assigned to the 588th Engineer Battalion stationed in Tay Ninh, near the Cambodian border, and Cu Chi which was in the 25th Infantry Division’s area of operations. As a Major, he served as a deputy commander and operations officer. His unit had rock crusher and earth mover capabilities, being responsible for maintaining roads and ensuring they were clear of booby traps. Initially, it was relatively quiet while the Viet Cong were building up for the Tet Offensive. When the Tet Offensive occurred, Terry was 25 miles north of Tay Ninh constructing an airfield. During his tour, he took R&R in Hawaii. When he returned home he completed an Engineer course in 1969 and the Command and General Staff College in 1970. He then took an airborne assignment in the Philippines with JMAG PI (Joint Military Assistance Group Philippine Islands), where he served as an engineer advisor to the Philippine Army. From 1972 to 1974, he was assigned as the Deputy District Engineer in Mobile, Alabama, where the focus was on civil works along the Tennessee waterway. He next took command of the 4th Engineer Battalion, a combat engineer unit at Ft. Carson, Colorado, from 1974 to 1976, which he describes as a “wonderful experience.” This was during the time when the Volunteer Army (VOLAR) had just started. In 1977, he attended the Army War College before being assigned to the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Research, Development, and Acquisition. From 1979 to 1982, he was the District Engineer in Portland, Oregon, and remembers the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. From 1983 to 1985, he served in the Office of the Chief of Engineers, where he was responsible for managing resources. After retiring from the Army in 1985 as a Colonel, he worked in Egypt as an engineer for two years in Alexandria and Cairo, and later was a consulting engineer with an Indian tribe that opened a casino. Reflecting on his service, Terry said, “I would do it all again,” calling it professional, rewarding, and satisfying. West Point and the values and traditions embodied by the Academy mean everything to Terry, and he and his wife want to be buried here. At the end of the interview, Terry’s grandson, Lee Cooper, USMA 24, describes what his grandfather means to him.


conflicts Vietnam War Cold War
topics Leadership Teamwork Camaraderie West Point History Life After Military Military Families
interviewer David Siry
date 24 May 2024


name Terry Connell
institution USMA
graduation year 1958
service Engineer
unit 307th Engineer Battalion; 13th Engineer Battalion; 588th Engineer Battalion; Joint Military Assistance Group Philippine Islands; Mobile Engineer District; 4th Engineer Battalion; Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Research Development and Acquisition
specialty Physics and Chemistry Department USMA
service dates 1958 1985