For a number of decades, Dr. Joe Kayser has devoted his efforts to the chiropractic health of patients throughout Mid-Missouri. This dedication to serving others was a professional endeavor that first found roots in his service with the U.S. Army during the early days of the Cold War in the 1950s.
Raised in north St. Louis, Kayser graduated high school in 1952 and began taking college courses at St. Louis University while at the same time working for a local printing company. In August 1955, shortly after turning 21 years old, he made the decision to volunteer for the military draft.
"My buddy and I were told by the local draft board that we were next in line to be drafted," Kayser recalled. "So we decided to volunteer for the draft with the hopes that we could complete our initial military training while the weather was still decent."
With a grin, he added, "Although, looking back, that didn't make much sense because we really had no idea where or when we would be sent for our training."
Inducted into the U.S. Army at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Kayser soon boarded a bus for Ft. Leonard Wood, where he remained for the next three days for in processing. From there, he and a number of new inductees took a train to Ft. Carson, Colorado, to complete their basic training.
Three months later, the newly trained soldier received orders for Ft. Bliss, Texas, to undergo 12 weeks of instruction to become a gunner on a 75mm Skysweeper — an anti-aircraft gun controlled by radar.
"It was just one of those situations where the Army decided I needed to be in the artillery. They basically said, 'This is where you're going,'" Kayser noted. "I was offered Officer Training School, but I declined that because it would add five months to my service."
During the latter days of his advanced training in Texas, the soldier and his fellow trainees were called into formation, during which it was announced the duty assignments that awaited them.
"The three locations they were sending us to were Greenland, Germany or stateside assignments," Kayser said. "When they read off my name and said I was going to Germany, it was a relief because I didn't want to go to Greenland since it's cold there."
Arriving at Kaiserslautern, Germany, in the early weeks of 1956, Kayser was given orders to report to the 27th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion. Shortly after his arrival, his battery's first sergeant gave him a special assignment.
"The first sergeant was a veteran of World War II and was a little rough around the edges, but he was well respected," Kayser recalled. "He wanted me to run the office, which was something that I had no experience doing."
He added, "But in the Army, when you're told to do something, you do it."
Although his new assignment had him performing a myriad of duties that included maintaining battery personnel records, completing accident reports and serving as a court reporter, he also traveled with his unit on deployments and training exercises, handling their logistics within Germany.
"We were a combat unit and sometimes we'd be gone on maneuvers for weeks at a time," he explained. "There were also times when we would receive notice of a Russian threat and race to the northern border of Germany. We'd set up our guns and fire rounds into the Baltic Sea toward Russia just to let them know that we were there."
Despite the battery's active schedule of operations, Kayser received occasional leave and found the opportunity — though he admits dangerous in hindsight — to visit a historic World War II site that was at the time in a Soviet-controlled sector of Germany.
"There was a time when I flew into (West) Berlin on days off and was in civilian clothes," he explained. "We went into East Berlin and I had some friends who knew the border guards and we were able to cross over and see Hitler's old bunker." He added, "It was dangerous because we could have been stopped and detained by the East German authorities."
After 18 months of service in Germany, Kayser returned to the United States and received his discharge in September 1957, having completed two years of total service. As he recalled, he was then given the option of doing seven years of standby with the Army or two years in the National Guard.
"When I got back to St. Louis, I joined a signal regiment with the Missouri National Guard to finish my two years of commitment," he said. "Also, after speaking with a friend who suffered from polio but later achieved much relief through chiropractic care, I decided to enroll in Logan University — a chiropractic school in St. Louis."
In the spring of 1962, he chose to set up his chiropractic office in Jefferson City, where he continues his practice to this day. The veteran insists that even if the Cold War service he experienced years earlier was brief, it remains a revealing and influential moment from his past.
"I was fortunate to have been in the military because it opened up to me what the world was like outside of St. Louis and provided the opportunity to see many foreign countries," Kayser said.
He added, "And when I was placed in a position of clerk, which was unfamiliar to me, I learned that if you do a good job at wherever you are assigned, you will be respected and taken care of. I took care of the first sergeant and he took care of me, and that has been an important lesson in later years."
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.