Valor Friday.

| January 25, 2019

ssgt musial 2

SFC Joe Musial: In Case of War, Break Glass

By: Poetrooper
In this day of an all-volunteer military force where so many actual combat engagements are fought by smart, dedicated, highly-trained, buffed-up special operators, it’s easy to forget those long-ago days between major wars when war-fighting units like Army infantry were often seen as, and frequently were, places to park peacetime misfits where they could do as little damage as possible yet still serve a needed function. Such a man was Staff Sergeant Joe Musial, the many-times busted and promoted NCO in charge of the mess hall in a unit to which I was assigned in 1964: Bravo Company, 2d Battalion, 506th Airborne Infantry, 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, KY. Joe was a leathery old hand by then, having been in the Army ten years.

I was the captain’s driver/RTO in the command section where Joe was also a part. I saw Joe infrequently on the job, but when we weren’t in the boonies training, I saw him often at the Normandy beer hall on the east end of the battalion parade ground. There, mounted on his favored barstool, Joe more or less held court, due in large part to his rugged visage and muscular build, but most assuredly due to his occasional demonstrations of truly incredible strength and his love of bar-room brawling. I never saw him lose, just remember him smiling diabolically while he was fighting—definitely not the type you want to lock horns with, a brawler for whom it’s a game, who’s toying with you, having fun while he pitilessly whips your butt. Joe Musial was unquestionably the baddest ass in an environment target-rich with young opponents who fancied themselves serious bad-asses–until they met Joe.

Joe was a bit of a showboat with that preternatural strength: I remember his triumphant, gap toothed (lost to fighting no doubt) grins when he’d casually put down some muscular younger trooper in arm wrestling. Joe never lost. One evening he stood in the gate opening of the concrete block wall around the Normandy’s euphemistically labeled beer garden area and, on a bet, proceeded to knock the concrete blocks from the wall with alternating blows from the left and right heels of his hands, each single blow dislodging a single block, as he stair-stepped that gate opening down. On another night, also on a wager, he pulled apart a locked Army issue padlock with the fore and middle fingers of each hand, one of those heavy, solid brass locks. Took some sweat and strain but Joe managed it and walked away with some serious cash.

Frequently in and out of the orderly room in my job, I knew that Musial was the CO’s disciplinary nightmare with all the drinking and fighting; but Joe ran a good mess hall, a huge plus for any young company commander as troops well-fed are troops easier led. Plus Joe Musial sober could be absolutely charming, always polite, even to subordinates. So while Joe’s fighting side ripped off stripes, his mess hall skills and personal charm regained them. Anyone who served back in those days will be familiar with these yo-yo NCO’s, a commander’s pain in the ass but needed too much to get rid of. But when I got orders for Vietnam, Joe and his problems became history, a novel memory; although, during this past half century, I had occasionally remembered him as one of the more colorful characters I had served with in the Airborne community.

Then recently I stumbled across this website that prominently features, with exceptionally good combat photography by Robert Hodierne, no other than a SGT Joe Musial, and yup, it’s the same screw-up—except he wasn’t. Reading it had me grinning from ear to ear because it revealed the total warrior I had always suspected was being wasted in the mess hall. SGT Rock, as his young troops had dubbed their grizzled old NCO, after the comic book hero, had found his element: jungle combat, and at no surprise to me, he excelled at it, enough so as to be awarded three Purple hearts, three Bronze Stars and two Silver Stars for selflessly risking his own life to protect and save his young charges. And it was Brett Barham, one of those young soldiers, who knew Musial best, when Joe was in his natural element, who years later summed Joe up perfectly:

“In Vietnam, Rock was doing what he was designed by God to do — be a warrior. I always said he should have been frozen and put under glass with a sign that said, ‘In case of war, break.'”

ssgt musial 1Army Staff. Sgt. Joe Musial, pinned down by enemy fire next to dead and wounded comrades. Courtesy of Robert Hodierne/

Joe survived three tours in Vietnam and in 1974 retired from the Army to Louisiana, working on offshore oil rigs until an accident cost him a leg. With his military retirement and his settlement from the oil company he bought a home on a large tract of land in Michigan where he lived peacefully until illness forced him to a VA hospice unit for his final days. On November 11, 2001, fittingly Veterans Day, this warriors’ warrior charged into Valhalla, no doubt looking for a brawl in the bar and to arm wrestle Odin, who’d have been wise to turn down the challenge.

For those Vietnam vets here, you really should visit Hodierne’s website and read the article. It’s well written and the photography well done. Parts of it appeared in Reader’s Digest in 2002. Joe’s rugged visage is that of the timeless warrior, looking to me just as he did at Fort Campbell. Well, except he wasn’t wearing that steel pot when he was kicking all those young paratroopers’ asses at the Normandy Club, those same young asses that in Vietnam he would lay his life on the line to save. Joe Musial/SGT Rock RIP. It was an honor to have known you. Find a Grave

A bit of a different Valor Friday; a write up by our own Poetrooper, and his personal experiences during a very hard time. A great story from a master writer, with that human touch that breaths life into his offerings. Thanks, Poe.

I believe SGT Joe had a little brother who grew up to be the Maintenance Master Chief in VP-23. “Mongo” was a legend as well.

Category: The Warrior Code, Valor

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Veritas Omnia Vincit

I enjoy these articles immensely, it’s good to be reminded that every man has his strengths and his flaws.

It’s a truly wise man who knows where his lie.

2/17 Air Cav

There’s a paragraph in the Hodierne piece that will kick you in the gut and make you swallow hard. It reveals the man Joe Musial was. You will know it when you see it.

Thanks, Poe.


Holding dying troop, “yes, you are on top, Airborne”.

Gut punch.


Could not remember all the names … he remembered this one.


This is why I come here.

I don’t mind reading good stuff that activates the funny bone, makes me proud, causes me to reflect on my service and triggers a heavy bout of tears … all at once … while sitting at my local coffee shop.

They all know me here, and let me be.

5th/77th FA

What the Chief, 2/17 AC, VoV, Ex, GB and 3/10NED/b said.

Thanks Poe. And Thanks to AW1Ed and all the other Admins that keep this site going. We need it.


Excellent! Thanks, guys.


I will steal somebody’s phrase:

Gettin’ a little dusty in here.

Thanks, AW1ED.

And thank you, Sgt. Rock.


Nicely done, Poe. Very nicely done.


To steal someone else’s phrase:

Gettin’ a bit dusty in here.

Thanks, AW1ED.

Thank you, SGT Musial.


Mea culpa to Poetrooper.
I feel like I should say more, but sometimes it’s best to STFU.

BlueCord Dad

I’m reading this in the warehouse at work and damn, it’s awful dusty in here today..
Cav, you were right…


I’ve been having a bad day and needed a good cry. Thanks Poe. I feel much better now.


Hugs all around.
3/10/MED/b out.


Hugs for all.

chooee lee

They could never make a movie about this guy. There isn’t anyone qualified to play his part.


I’d love to have known him. With Poe’s write up I feel I did, at least a little bit. Thanks for sharing him.



You are a master with the written word. Thanks for sharing your personal memories of this true warrior.


Yep. The very best warriors never have had the best social skills, at least not the ones most seemingly valued in polite society. Never seems to have bothered them much for those guys always knew who they were and what they did best. They got into trouble when others tried to shove them into rolls they never would or could assume. Everyone lost when that happened.

Anyway, that was a great read this Friday evening. Thanks for sharing it, Poe. And for triggering some fond memories of mentors and others who were not unlike your Joe.


For those who spent the war in a hole or a shit hole somewhere in the bush you only knew what was going on in your location. Like an explorer you always wondered what was happening over the next hill or around the next corner and beyond. I am always interested in other veterans experiences.
Thanks for that window into Sgt. Rock’s war.


Thank you for sharing SGT Rock with me. I would have been a better man if I had served under him. I found it a bit more than a little dusty. I shed a tear. I feel that somehow, in some small measure, I have taken for myself a part of a man better than myself. I shed a tear …


Hugs all around.
3/10/MED/b out.


To all the TAH crowd, I have been watching my Father fight the bitch of a cold for the past 3 weeks. Sleeping at his side, to document any changes.
Thanks to you all, for your input and opinions. I’m just a combat medic, but the badge doesn’t mean shit when you’re taking care of your Dad. 3/10/MED/b out


Hang in there.


Great write up, Poe. Linked article is excellent.