Weekly Feature

2009-11-11 / Front Page

Former Army mechanics enjoy working together

by KATIE KAWA Intern

World War II veterans Jack McMahon, of the Army, and Jim Zimmerman, of the Air Force, pack boxes to be sent to troops currently serving overseas. Both are residents at Bassett Manor Assisted Living & Memory Care. Photo by Jim Smerecak World War II veterans Jack McMahon, of the Army, and Jim Zimmerman, of the Air Force, pack boxes to be sent to troops currently serving overseas. Both are residents at Bassett Manor Assisted Living & Memory Care. Photo by Jim Smerecak Moving from working on Army vehicles to school buses is certainly a change, but it is one that three former Army mechanics have experienced working together at the Sweet Home School District bus garage. Though they were stationed in different areas around the world, they are connected by their experiences serving their country.

Bill Mitchell, Pete Fleischmann and Al Lisiecki have worked together at the garage for more than 20 years, and the sense of camaraderie among them is clear. Such a camaraderie extends beyond the bus garage and into the community of servicemen and women as well.

The three mechanics all served in the Army within the same decade, but beyond that, their experiences were worlds apart.

Mitchell was drafted at the age of 18 during the Vietnam War. He served 14 months in Long Binh, Vietnam, from 1967-68. His time in the Army was marked by horrors that separate his experience from those of his colleagues at the bus garage, who never saw combat.

“I saw deplorable conditions and things that I wouldn’t want my children or grandchildren to see,” Mitchell said of his months in Vietnam.

However, he believes that his experience did have a positive impact on his life, despite the suffering he saw.

“You appreciate more of what you’ve got,” Mitchell said.

According to Mitchell, there is a special bond between those who served in Vietnam that extends beyond the close relationship between all veterans.

“They’d do anything for you, and you’d do anything for them,” he said.

While Mitchell was serving overseas, Fleischmann had his own interaction with the Vietnamese people, albeit on a much smaller scale. Stationed at Fort Knox, Ky., from 1973-76, he served for six months in an area where refugees were brought in from the war-torn nation.

Unlike Mitchell, Fleischmann enlisted in the Army when he was 18. His rationale behind the choice to enlist was practical and served him well after his time in the service.

“I went there to learn a trade and not have long-term college payments,” Fleischmann said.

Lisiecki enlisted for the same reason as Fleischmann and said they were all lucky to be able to learn a trade that became a career.

“A lot of guys in the service don’t go into their field,” he said, adding that the goal of gaining skills as a mechanic was a large part of why he enlisted in 1975.

Rather than signing up for a typical three-year enlistment, Lisiecki said he registered for a four-year mechanic enlistment in order to learn a trade.

During those four years, he spent 20 months based in Alaska, which was still considered overseas duty at the time. It was that time that he considers his most memorable experience in the Army, and that was mainly because of the frigid weather conditions.

“Coming back to Buffalo was like coming to Florida,” Lisiecki joked.

Though their locations differed drastically, all three mechanics took away the same sense of brotherhood from their time in the Army. They are all Western New York natives, and serving in the military introduced them to people they never would have met in civilian life.

“The most interesting part was meeting guys from all over the place,” Fleischmann said of his time in the Army, and both Mitchell and Lisiecki agreed.

Though they all were exposed to different people and different places, the three men ultimately returned to Western New York and ended up practicing the trade they learned in the Army at the bus garage.

Fleischmann began working for the Sweet Home School District 31 years ago, and Lisiecki joined him one year later. Mitchell, the foreman, has been at the garage for 23 years.

Their friendship is based on decades of working together and sharing stories of experiences that they feel are unique to all who served their country.

The sense of support for their fellow veterans is not just something the three mechanics feel within the walls of the garage; it is a feeling which unites them to all who have defended and are defending the United States.

Lisiecki is the most publicly involved in veterans’ affairs, especially in his position as a member of the Patriot Guard Riders. He said his role is to escort the bodies of local men and women who were killed in action on his motorcycle.

“The motto of the Patriot Guard Riders is ‘Stand for those who stood for us,’” Lisiecki said.

While Fleischmann and Mitchell are not as active in veterans’ causes as Lisiecki is, it is clear that all three mechanics share a concern for those men and women currently serving in the armed forces. The trio of veterans made certain to state how much they support and think about those who are now in the roles that they were in so many years ago.

“We just want to say thank you to all the soldiers serving now,” Lisiecki said. “Our thoughts are with them.”

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