FORT KNOX, Ky. – Misery, Agony and Heartbreak: the three hills at Fort Knox which have become infamous for their steep grades and difficulty to climb.
Recently, one of the hills served as the stage of a unique event when a former Soldier made it his mission to re-climb it – 56 years after his first ascent. Joseph Robert “Bobby” Goatley first came to Fort Knox Jan. 10, 1966, during the Vietnam War.
The 74-year-old veteran arrived at the post for basic training at the age of 19. Unlike most of his visits to the installation today, he said he wasn’t alone back then.
“I came in on a buddy system with another friend of mine. We went to school together,” Goatley said. “They told us that we would be going through the two-year service together, but our time at Fort Knox was the last we ever saw of each other.”
While his friend was sent off to Fort Eustis, Virginia, Goatley said he had to do his next leg of training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Both men were then sent to Vietnam. They were able to get in contact following their time in service, but not in person.
When a class reunion presented the opportunity to finally see one another almost 40 years later, Goatley said the first person he asked about upon arrival was his old friend from all those years ago.
To his unfortunate discovery, Goatley said his school mate and basic training buddy had passed away just three weeks prior.
Goatley said he was glad for the time he was able to share with his friend at Fort Knox, and also for the ironic twist of fate that occurred when he was handed his company assignment after being drafted.
“My older brother went through basic training at Fort Knox three years earlier when he enlisted,” said Goatley. “I couldn’t believe it when I was assigned the same company, and then to the very same barracks he was.”
While Goatley said it was incredible knowing he was living in the same building his brother did just a few years before him, there was another barracks that proved to be even more exciting while at basic.
“[Recording artist] Del Shannon was stationed in the company next to me. His barracks was about 150 yards from mine,” Goatley said, pointing up the hill toward the west side of post. “It was in one of those old barracks like the one out in front of the Patton Museum. You could hear the music coming from it when he’d play, and the rest of us were all wishing we could be in that company.”
It was during those cold months of basic training more than half a century ago that Goatley was first introduced to Misery Hill, along with many other fellow Vietnam draftees.
“Back when I was doing basic out here, it was just flooded with troops out here training,” said Goatley. “Then, we all had those heavy backpacks on – but at 19 years old, after you did it a couple times, it was pretty simple.”
Thinking back to those climbs in his younger years, Goatley said he recognized trying to tackle the feat now wouldn’t prove so simple.
“I was sure doing a lot better 56 years ago than I am today,” Goatley said, recalling how he had answered a Soldier who checked on him during one of his recent attempts.
The idea of facing Misery again came about after a family member texted Goatley a photo she thought he’d get a kick out of.
“My sister sent me a picture of Soldiers training on Misery Hill,” Goatley said, explaining he knew the photo wasn’t taken long ago since the Soldiers in it were wearing black physical training shorts and t-shirts. “It was recent because we didn’t wear things like that in 1966.”
Goatley said seeing those Soldiers hiking up the same steep ground he had climbed while in service sparked the thought, ‘I bet I could still do that.’ However, success didn’t come right away.
“The first time I came out and did it, I had to stop and sit on the guardrail probably eight or nine times,” said Goatley. “I knew when I turned around and looked back up that hill, I better not go any further.
“My legs were already hurting because I hadn’t done anything like this in a long time.”
Hiking a challenging hill like Misery may have occurred far in Goatley’s past; however, he said he is no stranger to walking long distances. Following his tour in Vietnam, he worked as a mail carrier for the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.
“I enjoyed it simply because I met people from all over the world,” Goatley said. He recalled the years he spent interacting with everyone on the campus. “That was the delight of my job.”
Once he retired, Goatley took up volunteering at hospitals, including Fort Knox’s Ireland Army Community Hospital prior to its closing. Today, he can be
found providing courtesy passenger transport for patients and visitors to Mary & Elizabeth Hospital in Louisville.
Just as the sun came up over the horizon on July 15, success at Misery came on his third attempt since receiving the green light from range control. That morning, Goatley was able to look back down from the top and celebrate his victory. He said this isn’t the end of his hiking days, though.
“The next time I do it, I think I’ll be able to keep a steadier pace,” said Goatley.
He plans to be back out there again soon because after sharing his goal with a friend who also is a former Soldier, the fellow veteran immediately added the task to his own bucket list.
“He and I went to grade school together, and he went through basic out here also,” said Goatley. “He’s going to come back out here and do it with me.”
The humorous irony of his buddy joining him on the next attempt brought a smile to Goatley’s face:
“Evidently Misery does, in fact, love company.”