Monte Leroy Sloan was born on June 20th, 1952 in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Growing up near the ocean and taking several odd jobs relating to it during his high school career, it’s no surprise he would end up enlisting in the navy. Originally, he was drafted into the army, but he decided to enlist in the navy to get out of it. Sloan explains his reasoning: “I just saw army and Marine guys on TV. Didn’t see any Navy guys…I had a couple of friends that joined the Navy.”
First, Sloan was sent to basic training in San Diego, California. He remembers his first impressions: “You walk in and there are all these guys and you know who they are. Then you sit down in the barber chairs. You walk out and you don’t know who anybody is because they are all bald.” He was pushed to his limit both mentally and physically, but came through. After basic training, Sloan was sent through firefighter training, where he learned how to effectively stop fires on a navy ship. However, at the end of his training, the navy denied Sloan the chance to become a military firefighter due to his eyesight. Annoyed with the bureaucracy of the military, Sloan signed up for training as a welder. After learning how to weld in an oceanic environment, he was finally ready for his first military assignment.
Another bureaucratic issue would crop up when Monte Sloan was sent to Subic Bay in the Philippines. Sloan was allegedly to report to an ammo ship in the bay and work there as a welder. He waited for the ship for weeks before he was informed that the ship was actually on the eastern seaboard of the United States – nowhere near the Philippines.
Despite still being in Navy records as waiting in Subic Bay, Monte Sloan was sent to Mekong Delta in Vietnam. Sloan was greeted with a makeshift bunk, sweltering heat, and a surprise. Originally thinking he would only repair boats, Sloan was shocked when he was told he would also be a rear gunner on river boats doing reconnaissance in the region. He would work day-in day-out risking his life in the rivers of Vietnam and then repairing damage on the boats. One specific recon mission still sticks out in Sloan’s mind: “We did do a mission, the helicopter pilot said, ‘We will be back in a few days. One o’clock, if you’re not here, we’re leaving.’ It was to track troop movement. So, come to find out it was Cambodia. That’s where I got stabbed in the leg. I had a 45 and I shot him. But this was in Cambodia, so we were not in a war zone, so guess what? No purple heart.” This demonstrates Sloan’s ability to rise to the occasion and preform his duty regardless of circumstance.
After a year of fighting in Mekong Delta, Monte Sloan was sent to the U.S.S. Nitro. The mission of the Nitro was to supply bases with ammunition for the war effort. The ship would pick up ammunition in the Philippines and take it to where it was needed in Vietnam. It unloaded so much ammo per trip that it would take a full day just to unload all of the ship’s cargo. Sloan did a variety of work on the ship for 9 months.
Sloan’s last assignment was at the U.S.S Fulton. The Fulton’s job was to fix submarines that had any sort of problem. As such, the Fulton stayed anchored in New London, CT for the whole of Sloan’s assignment. However, rather than work on the submarines, Sloan was assigned to a wood shop inside of the Fulton, where he helped other woodworkers make commemorative plaques. Sloan was offered the chance to be promoted to E-5, but he declined in order to go back to start a civilian lifestyle with his wife.
Despite the many trials Monte Sloan went through in Vietnam, he still thinks he was better off with his military experiences: “Before I went in I had no structure. I had no skills, I had no direction. It gave me a structure, what to do.” Today, Sloan works with the Veterans of Foreign Wars to build a welcoming community for veterans like him.
Interview by Gregory Markham Hill on June 26, 2017