Andy Hackleman was a clerk typist attached to the Army’s 18th Airborne Corps. He had just graduated from jump school at Fort Benning, Ga., when his unit, together with a contingent of Marines, was deployed in October 1983 to Granada to quell a communist takeover of the country.
Hackleman and the Army airborne troops stormed the beaches of the tiny island nation from the south while U.S. Marines invaded the north end of the 25-milelong island. A division of battle-hardened Cuban troops, who had been fighting in Angola, were invited into the country by the communists who had seized control of the island. Initially, U.S. forces faced unexpected stiff opposition from the enemy.
Hackleman was a member of the 18th’s “Dragon Brigade.” He flew into St. George’s, the island’s capital city, in a C-130 transport plane several days after the initial American force hit Granada’s beaches.
“When we got aboard those C-130s at Polk Air Force Base (adjacent to Fort Bragg, N.C.) and flew down to Granada, I was a 19-year-old who didn’t know if this was going to be the start of the next big war with the Soviet Union,” the 49-year-old Englewood resident explained 30 years later. “The six or eight-hour flight down was nerveracking because we didn’t know what was going on on the ground.
“The nicest thing that happened to us on the way down — the Air Force guys had coffee for us aboard the plane. I thought it was an outstanding gesture on their part,” he said with a smile.
“The C-130 was only half full of 18th Corps personnel and their equipment. The corps was the headquarters unit that oversaw the operation of all Army forces sent to Granada,” Hackleman said. “I was a teenage soldier with no experience in war. When I stepped from the plane I was met by my sergeant who was waiting for me with a quarter-ton truck.
“We drove from the airport to corps headquarters, located in a partially burned-out Holiday Inn that American forces had taken from the Cubans. Bodies of Cuban soldiers were scattered around the outside of the motel. Some of the walls of the Holiday Inn were spattered with blood from the fight earlier in the week.
“I was nothing but a corps-level clerk typist who was not involved in any of the fighting. I was typing reports on wounded soldiers and those missing in action for the colonel,” he said. “We all had rifles, but I wasn’t very important when it came to the fighting — but somebody had to do what I did in Granada.
“When I arrived there were still three battalion-sized elements of enemy soldiers active on the island. Every day there were fewer and fewer of them. A lot of Cuban soldiers just faded into the local population. We captured most of them by December.”
Before the shooting stopped, Hackleman was on guard duty one evening.
“A company-sized element of Cubans attacked the Marines guarding the American Embassy a short distance away,” he said. “The Cubans didn’t do very well with their embassy assault.
“Since I was pretty new in the Army and not very wise in the ways of war, I thought the firefight with the enemy at the embassy was intriguing. There was a lot of tracer fire going back and forth.
“The excuse the U.S. used to intervene in Granada was the safety of 1,000 American medical students who were going to school on the island when the communists took control of the country. What was of more concern to the U.S. government was the location of Granada to Venezuela, one of this country’s major oil suppliers.
“American forces protected the students and kept them out of harm’s way. At the same time, they saw to it that petroleum shipments headed for the U.S. from South America weren’t blocked from arriving on schedule.
“What really rubbed me the wrong way about the invasion of Granada was what the American people saw on their TVs. It wasn’t real. The big stink in the media was that ABC, CBS and NBC were denied access to Granada by President Reagan. The TV networks had an ax to grind with the president. Since they controlled the TV coverage of the invasion, they controlled the stories coming out of Granada,” Hackleman said.
“The people of Granada were terrified of the Cubans. They were concerned they might come back when we left,” he said. “The people down there were so happy the Americans arrived and freed them from communism. They had banners everywhere on the islands supporting the American takeover of Granada.
“This was the first significant military engagement our country had been involved in since the Vietnam War. I didn’t want to miss it, so I volunteered to go. Come to find out it wasn’t as grandiose as I first thought it was. Still, I was very proud of what we accomplished in Granada.”
For Hackleman, his war only lasted 21 days. If he had gotten two more days of military service in-country while the feud was going on, he would have been eligible to wear a combat patch for the island fight.
He spent the remainder of his two years in the 18th Corps’ rapid deployment force training to parachute into combat within hours anywhere in the world where trouble struck. The closest he ever came to battle was the 13 practice jumps he made back in the states and around the world.
Hackleman’s primary reason for joining the Army shortly after graduating from high school was to get money to go to college. He signed up for joint courses at Purdue University and the University of Indiana in marketing and history.
That lasted until his junior year in college, when he signed up for the Indiana Army National Guard. Then he decided to go to officers candidate school. After graduating from OCS, Hackleman spent some time serving as a second lieutenant in the 238th Cavalry as a member of an armored scout unit.
“I was in charge of three Improved TOW Vehicles (ITVs) that carried a couple of guided missiles to knock out Russian tanks and three flat tracks armed with .50-caliber machine guns to protect the missile launchers,” he said. “We were the eyes and ears of our armored division.”
He spent nine years in the National Guard and retired just after he made captain. Hackleman said it was a learning experience he is also proud of.
The former soldier owned and operated an insurance company in his hometown of Indianapolis, Ind. His family moved to the Englewood area in 2005. He and his wife, Anna, have four children, Kelsey, Nicholas, Adrianna and Gabriella.
Name: Andrew Lee Hackleman
D.O.B: 25 Aug. 1963
Hometown: Indianapolis, Ind.
Currently: Englewood, Fla.
Entered Service: January 1982
Discharged: November 1998
Unit: 18th Corps Headquarters
Commendations: Army Achievement Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Good Conduct Medal
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Wednesday, July 3, 2013 and is republished with permission.
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