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Former driver examiner recalls military life

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Serving in the military police in Austria, 1946, David Phillips drives a jeep. Later in life, he spent a lot of time on the passenger side of vehicles as a driver examiner for the Missouri State Highway Patrol.(Submitted Photo)
David Phillips, U.S. Army Air Corps veteran and longtime driver examiner, started his career in law enforcement as a military policeman.

Drafted and sent to training at Fort Leavenworth near the end of World War II, he went on to serve in the military police in France, Germany and Austria. "It was beautiful country. In Germany, there are beautiful mansions," he noted.

Phillips said serving as a military policeman was much the same as policing in the community; it's just that the community is military people. "I was in the 501 Air Service group," he said.

Driver examiner David Phillips retired after 35 years with the Missouri State Highway Patrol.(Submitted Photo)
One of his duties was guarding the gate and inspecting identification from those who entered; and it was in that role that he learned to speak a small amount of German. "I didn't learn much, but it was enough to get by," he said.

It was in Austria that the most significant event of his service occurred. That's where he met Anna. She was one of the women who served food. "I looked at her, she looked at me," and the attraction was instantaneous; some might say it was love at first sight.

She learned some English, Phillips said, smiling as he recalled that the first phrase she learned was one commonly spoken by the soldiers, "Oh my GI achin' back!"

The two of them dated for about two months before David Phillips asked Anna if she'd like to marry him. She said she would, but it took a year to get permission to marry from the Army, Phillips said. "The war was just over, and they had to investigate her from the year she was born," he said. Finally, permission was granted.

"The commanding officer called me in and told me he had my marriage license and he'd have to sign it, and hoped he was doing the right thing. I told him I thought he was," Phillips said.

The couple married and returned to Nevada. "She was the first war bride to come here," Phillips said. The community welcomed her. "They liked to talk to her, because she had an accent."

Anna and David Phillips were married for 65 years, until Anna's death in November 2011. They had four children -- two sons and two daughters.

Along the way, Phillips' career in law enforcement continued.

He went to work for the Nevada Police Department in 1952. "There were only nine of us (Nevada police officers). There was the chief, a lieutenant, and I was the sergeant," he said.

And at that time, there was very little in the way of drug-related crime. "There were almost no drugs at all then," he said.

Phillips said he liked serving with the NPD. "I missed it when I left," but the Missouri State Highway Patrol offered a higher-paying opportunity, and on Sept. 1, 1957, he went to work for the patrol, where he served as a driver examiner for 35 years.

"People come up to me all the time," who were given their driver examination by Phillips.

"I got to know more people -- all over six counties," where he conducted the tests.

It was sometimes a hazardous duty, and occasionally the rookie drivers would crash their vehicles during the exam.

On one occasion, a crash was narrowly averted; a farmer lost control of his vehicle during the examination, and as the vehicle careened toward a utility pole, Phillips commanded the driver to stop. The driver pulled back hard on the steering wheel and shouted, "Whoa!" The vehicle didn't respond to that, but Phillips was able to engage the emergency brake and stop the vehicle.

Another would-be driving test taker showed up reeking of alcohol. "He didn't take his test that day," Phillips said. "He was walking OK, but he sure smelled of alcohol."

Phillips said he enjoyed his 35 years with the patrol. "You'd have to like it to say there that long.

He made many friends during those years, and still keeps in touch with Lawrence Cripps, who worked with him for 28 years, and with other veterans of the patrol; and he's involved in plenty of activities that keep him busy. "I'm busier now than I was before I retired," Phillips said. He's a 40-year member of the Masonic Lodge, and has been treasurer there for several years. He's a 56-year member of the Elks, where he's chair of judiciary.

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