Fort Collins veteran belonged to elite World War II reconnaissance unit
Fort Collins Coloradoan
Conrad “Connie” Vineyard breaks out a favorite coat on Memorial Day.
It’s a dress blue Army jacket adorned with service medals and a combat infantry pin he earned during World War II as a member of the U.S. 6th Army. It also sports a patch signifying he was a member of the Alamo Scouts, an elite Army unit that was a precursor to modern-day U.S. Special Forces.
The 96-year-old Fort Collins resident says he is the last surviving member of the Alamo Scouts, which was organized in 1943 by Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger to conduct surveillance missions deep behind Japanese lines in the South Pacific.
The unit was instrumental in the freeing of Allied prisoners of war from Japanese camps in New Guinea and the Philippines.
During the unit’s last reunion organized by the Alamo Scouts Historical Foundation in 2014, about 50 historians, friends and relatives attended. But Vineyard was the only Scout there, according to a story in the Santa Fe New Mexican.
“That was disappointing,” Vineyard said in an interview. “But I was glad to be there.”
The Scouts were organized into teams of six to eight men that would slip behind enemy lines, gather intelligence about enemy positions and strength, get out undetected and report back to Army commanders.
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Scouts had to have quick minds and feet. They were trained to move quietly through the jungle, endure great physical hardship and accurately report information, Vineyard said. Men’s lives depended on their reconnaissance.
“The teams were competitive,” he said. “Everybody wanted to get out there and get the job done.”
Because of the dangers they faced, all members of the Alamo Scouts were volunteers. Vineyard said he was recruited to join because of his intelligence, strength and endurance.
He believes Army brass had him pegged for a special assignment shortly after he enlisted in 1943, although it took some of time for them “to figure out what to do with me,” he said.
At the time, he was a 19-year-old math major at Pasadena College in California and a former high school athlete.
The Army moved him around to bases in California and Washington. His assignments included plenty of time of physical training.
“I did a lot of long-distance swimming and played a lot of basketball,” he said. “And I was educated. I think they knew that about me.”
He was at a Scouts training facility on Luzon when Japan surrendered, ending the war. Vineyard was never assigned to a Scouts team or sent on a mission.
He returned to the 164th Infantry on the island of Cebu, and later was part of the occupation of Japan. Vineyard left the Army in 1946 as a corporal.
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Vineyard returned to Pasadena and college. He had a long career in civil and structural engineering. He lived in Northern Colorado and Minnesota. Twice married — 53 years to his first wife — he has two daughters, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
When the Alamo Scouts were disbanded in 1945, they were told to “forget about” what they had done and never discuss it, Vineyard said. He did not talk about his war experiences or the Scouts, even with his family.
But in time, the veil of secrecy around the unit lifted. The book “Silent Warriors of World War II: The Alamo Scouts Behind Japanese Line,” by Lance Zedric in 1995 and the 2005 movie “The Great Raid” helped bring the unit’s exploits to light.
Vineyard connected with former Scouts through the Alamo Scouts Association and then the Alamo Scouts Historical Foundation.
Over the years, he attended reunions of the Scouts and participated in World War II historical conferences.
These days, he keeps himself busy by reading and reflecting on his experiences during the war and the 75 years that have since passed.
“Being part of the Scouts is a prideful thing for me,” he said. “If people ask me questions about it, I’ll tell them.”
Kevin Duggan is a senior columnist and reporter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
This content was originally published here.