EVERGREEN — In his humble home here, Albert Julian lives a nice, quiet life.
Sitting in his easy chair, Julian is telling stories a mile a minute, his large, weathered hands making circles in the air as he talks about his time in military service.
But pay attention for just a moment and you’ll hear something incredible, something that puts Staff Sgt. Albert Julian in a rarefied cohort, comprising only one-thousandth of a percentage of the living 20 million veterans in the United States.
His stories mention the Pacific Theater of World War II, followed by notes about serving during the Korean War, and then his run-ins with Agent Orange in Vietnam.
A veteran of three wars in his lifetime, Julian is now 94. He lives with a faithful black Lab and smokes Timeless Time cigarettes, loves yard work and enjoys visits from his family and friends.
It’s a nice, quiet bookend to a busy near-century of living.
“I’ve had an interesting life,” Julian said, laughing.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as of the end of September this year, there were about 20 million veterans in the United States. Of those millions, only 20,266 served in WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
It’s an elite group, one that Julian had no idea he would be in when he came back to the ranch he grew up on near Bozeman, where he had learned how to deal with horses like no one else could, after a trip to the great outdoors in the winter of 1941.
“I was up on a mountain, and I came down and heard the news,” Julian said.
Dec. 7, 1941, Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor, launching America into WWII. By Dec. 16, 18-year-old Julian enlisted in the U.S. Army, just as his father, uncle, grandfather, and great-grandfather — a colonel for the Union Army in the Civil War — had before him.
Soon, the young man was off training and holding various positions, including military police, in the 479th Air Service Squadron. During this time, he met and married his first wife, Alice Ann, who he was with for 19 years.
He shipped out to New Guinea and the Philippines in the Pacific, where he learned what dozens of inches of rain at a time feels like and how to fight the Japanese forces. Overseas, he shifted from military police to learning about heavy equipment and diesel mechanics.
After WWII, he decided to leave the Army to pursue helicopter-mechanic training in the U.S. Air Force. In 1951, Julian went active duty in the Air Force, working as a diesel generator operator.
“I liked the Army but they wouldn’t let me go to helicopter school,” Julian said.
The United States was already involved in the Korean War, and Julian served with the Air Force, shipping over to European bases and attending a non-commissioned officer academy in 1959.
Julian received his orders to head back to the States, where he worked as a line chief in the Air Force inspecting aircraft, and was an instructor at senior officer school. Julian’s reputation as a thorough plane inspector preceded him on many assignments.
By the late 1960s, the U.S. was embroiled in Vietnam.
Six months before his deployment in 1968, Julian had a dream that he was flying above an embattled airfield, watching planes burn on the runway.
When he arrived in Vietnam, that nightmare became a horrifying reality. He was stationed out of the Tan Son Nhut Air Base near Saigon.
“I think I was exposed to Agent Orange there,” Julian said.
Julian maintained his role as line chief in Vietnam and supervised mechanics.
He earned the National Defense Service Medal with a Bronze Service Star, the Vietnam campaign medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with two Bronze Service Stars, the Air Force Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon, and the Air Force Good Conduct Medal.
Julian retired from the Air Force in 1971 as a technical sergeant — “I retired with the Air Force but I like the Army the best,” he said — and received his permanent discharge papers in 1977.
For the next 16 years, Julian worked as a long-haul truck driver in Billings. He married his wife Marilyn in 1980, and the couple moved to the Flathead in 1993 to be near all the children in their blended family.
Marilyn passed away in 2003, and Julian now lives alone. He’s missing a piece of the roof of his mouth after cancer took it, but he takes no medication. His secret to a long life is “take vitamins and keep active.”
John Paul Castner delivers Meals on Wheels to Julian regularly, and has taken to helping the elder man around the house. Castner, who also served in Vietnam, said Julian takes particular pride in his lawn.
“I can walk a little faster than he can, but he can outwork me,” Castner said.
Julian’s granddaughter-in-law, Lindsey Fetveit, married to Julian’s grandson Chad Fetveit, said her husband bought Julian a special hat about 13 years ago, one that he’s worn every day since.
The hat shows his veteran status, but lists the three wars. That’s what caught Castner’s eye — such a rare accomplishment in a state with 92,000 veterans living within its borders.
Of the surviving Montana veterans, 6.4 percent served in WWII, 10.3 percent served in the Korean War, and 37.8 percent served in Vietnam. Any of those veterans would find a brother-in-arms in Julian.
He’ll be here, working on his lawn and smoking his Timeless Times, enjoying moments of small sweetness in a life full of action.
“I planted all the trees,” Julian said. “And believe it or not, I still smoke.”
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