Jim shook the man’s hand and said, “Welcome home, brother.” Later Jim explained to me those words are often said by one Vietnam veteran to another because when they returned home they did not get much of a welcome.
Many of us remember the protests against the tremendously unpopular war. Rather than being called patriots for serving our country, returning soldiers were often met with protestors carrying signs calling them “baby killers” and equally derogatory names.
Jim and his wife, Peggy, had met at a meeting of the youth group at their church. After they were married, they lived in Decatur and were expecting Jim to be drafted into the Army. Each month they called the Selective Service Office to see what his status was.
When Jim was called, he was stationed at Fort Benning for boot camp. Because of the sand, they called it “Sand Hill.” A part of the training included running five miles in the sand before breakfast.
Then he was assigned to Fort Dix, N.J., and became a switchboard operator. Later, he was transferred to the central office. One of the benefits was air conditioning. Plus, at night he could call home.
Prior to leaving for Vietnam, he was trained in jungle fighting and use of the M-16. It was a long day when he was flown there. From California, the plane stopped in Hawaii, Wake Island and Guam before reaching its destination — Bien Hoa — South Vietnam.
After 36 hours they had landed in a country unlike any he had ever seen. People were living in dire poverty. It was during a drought and some people were living in houses made of cardboard.
Describing his duties in Vietnam Jim wrote, “When I transferred to Vietnam, I worked on radio-based telephone lines, keeping the various outposts in touch with each other so they won’t get mixed up and shoot at each other. Except for being away from home, this was the best duty I had.”
He said all he had to do was to keep his head down as he did his job.
Often he was in a tower built to overlook the jungle with orders that if anything was seen or heard to fire a flare. Many times there was incoming and outgoing mortar rounds. The soldiers, wearing full combat gear, would go into a bunker for protection.
Except for fellow soldiers, they were warned no one could be trusted. That included children. A Vietnamese woman walked up to a soldier and handed him a baby. There was a grenade in its diaper.
Many Vietnamese worked on the base cooking, washing clothes, constructing bunkers, etc. Jim said many of the Vietnamese working on the base by day were probably among those firing at them at night.
At Phan Rang Air Base, the radio site was on the top of a hill. When on night duty, soldiers would sit outside watching planes and helicopters flying over the jungle dropping flares and shooting into suspected locations of the enemy.
Soldiers reacted differently to being in a war zone. Some began drinking and smoking marijuana to cope.
It was easy to get marijuana. A soldier would put a pack of Salem cigarettes in his shirt pocket with a dollar and send it to the laundry. It would come back with marijuana in the shirt pocket.
Others did what they were trained to do, remaining calm outside although inside they were not.
Jim wrote about life after returning home. “When I got home, I saw some of my buddies curl up into themselves, withdrawing from families and friends. I saw others who just jumped back into their lives and never looked back. Myself, I just told the funny stories, and went on with my life.”
In 1968 while in Vietnam, Jim wrote, “I find a restful peace in the beauty of God’s firmament, but I must remember that I am a stranger in this savage land. I’m here not only to protect these people from the oppression of Communism, but to insure freedom for my children, and for generations to come.
“This is war, but with Him who created the heavens and the earth as my master, what could I do but follow? How could I fail?”
Jim Hubbard did not fail. He served his country well and came home to be a valued leader in our community.
During the month of November we celebrate both Veterans Day and Thanksgiving. We have endless reasons to be thankful including for those who have served our country in all the wars in the history of the USA.
Welcome home, brothers.
Marguerite Cline is the former mayor of Waleska.