By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer
When 22-year-old Holly Bebout donned her desert camouflage and pulled out of the U.S. Army Reserve Center in Fort Thomas with 400 other soldiers of the 478th Engineer Battalion earlier this month, she was the third generation of Bebouts to go off to war.
Holly Bebout was recently called to active duty. Her father, Tom, and grandfather, Paul, served in the military.
And she was the most unlikely Bebout yet to wear the uniform.
"Nobody was more surprised than me when she got out of high school and said she was thinking about the military,'' said her father, Tom Bebout of Montgomery, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve who was called to active duty 12 years ago during Operation Desert Storm.
The Bebout family had a tradition of military service that long predated Tom Bebout's graduation from the Reserve Officers Training Corps program at Ohio University in 1970 and his nearly 30 years of service. During the Persian Gulf War, he was on active duty and stationed at Fort Knox, teaching at the armor school.
His father, Paul Bebout of McConnelsville, Ohio, was one of the "Screaming Eagles'' of the 101st Airborne Division in World War II. He fought in the Normandy invasion and Operation Market Garden. During the Battle of the Bulge, he was one of the Screaming Eagles who spent Christmas 1944 under siege in Bastogne, holding out against the Nazis until Patton's army could free them.
On a cold and snowy February morning, father and grandfather went to the 478th's farewell ceremonies at Brooks-Lawler Reserve Center in Fort Thomas and said goodbye to the third generation, a young woman now a trained medic in a unit that is likely to end up in the middle of the action, should U.S. forces invade Iraq.
When Holly Bebout, the youngest of Tom Bebout's three daughters, graduated from Sycamore High School in 1998, she did not fit the military mold.
"She was kind of into the `grunge' lifestyle,'' Tom Bebout said. "The black clothes, the dog collar, the pasty white make-up. The whole bit.''
She went to her father right after graduation and told him that if she went off to college now, "you'd be wasting your money.'' Instead, she told her father, she was talking to military recruiters about possibly joining the reserves. In the end, the young woman joined the Army Reserves.
"I was floored,'' Tom Bebout said. "I told her to make sure this was something she was committed to doing. I told her this is not like joining the soccer team and, when you don't like the coach, you just quit. You can't quit this.''
Holly Bebout didn't quit.
She went through basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, trained as a medic and has served with the Fort Thomas reserve unit since.
Right after basic training father and daughter talked about why she had joined. First, she talked about it as a way to finance college, Tom Bebout said. "Then, she said she was doing it because I had served and her grandfather served. That's pretty special.''
Her grandfather, Paul Bebout, knows what it is like to be young and far away from home, what his granddaughter must be thinking and feeling. But he knows she is doing the right thing.
"When Pearl Harbor was bombed, people got riled up; we had a job to do and we went out and did it,'' said Paul Bebout. "Now she's doing a job that has to be done.''
Holly Bebout learned her unit was being put on active duty in January, about the same time her boyfriend, Michael Taulbee of Montgomery, a Marine with a military police unit in Lexington, was activated. He is on his way to Kuwait.
At the farewell ceremonies in Fort Thomas, Tom Bebout brought his old battalion crest from the first Army unit he served with and pinned it on his daughter's uniform.
"She said, `Dad, that's not an authorized decoration that I can wear,'" Tom Bebout said. "I said, if anybody gives you grief about it, you just tell them your old retired lieutenant colonel father said it was OK. She's probably carrying it in her pocket now, though."
The 478th is still at Fort Campbell, Ky., awaiting overseas deployment.
Meantime, Tom Bebout and his wife, Charlene, wait. "We're enormously proud and worried for her at the same time," he said.
"She'll make it through OK. She's a good soldier."
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