William R Hobbs
William R. Hobbs of Wharton was born in Butler, Ga. in 1941. His parents, Willie Frank and Lorene, were sharecroppers.
“Growing up in Butler, you either worked the cotton fields, at the one cotton gin, or joined the military. I joined the military,” Hobbs said.
“In 1958, I joined the Navy where I served for four years until 1962. After my four years, I went into Civil Service, but found I could not adjust to Civil Service life. I joined the Army, August 1963.
“The day before I graduated Boot Camp and Advanced Individual Training (AIT) President J.F. Kennedy was assassinated. We were put on alert for road block duty; however, Oswald was arrested, and we were not needed.
“I was sent to South Korea’s 38th Parallel in 1963. There were no fancy bunkers and everything we had, we made by hand.
“Korea was the coldest place I have ever been, and their summers the hottest. I was in a heavy weapons unit (flame thrower, Bazooka and 9 mm recoil weapons).
“We would walk the 38th Parallel; good guys (us) on the South Korea side, and bad guys (North Koreans) on the North Korea side. We were so close we could spit on each other. We walked down one side of the fence and they walked down the other side of the fence going in opposite directions.
“The first Korean words you learn was ‘Halt, before I shoot.’
“You had to say this three times in Korean before you could load your weapon. This was silly because at the 38th Parallel there were no civilians; anyone approaching would be North Korean. While I was there, we had three of our guys killed. They were on lookout, fell asleep and the bad boys from North Korea shot them.
“After my one-year tour on the 38th Parallel, I was sent to Germany, but in 1965 I was sent to fight in Vietnam with the 1st Cavalry Division for what would be my first tour of duty there.
“I was part of the ‘Eagle Flights’ – large sortie assaults by helicopters. I would stand on the landing skid below the belly of the helicopter, in flight, with an outdated map from the 50’s Vietnam jungle trying to find our designated target.
“The jungles had changed, so these maps were of little help. When the enemy was spotted, all the helicopters would fly down at an angle in unison to avoid hitting the blades of the surrounding sortie choppers.
“When the choppers reached about three feet from the ground, we would jump out and begin firing and fighting. We went in and did our job. Members of your troop were being killed all around you, but you fight until there is no enemy left to fight.
“When your job is done, the choppers are called in for pick-up. I did this daily and lived through my first year in Vietnam until my tour came to an end in 1966.
“After this tour in Vietnam, the Army sent me back to Germany. I was sitting on my butt in Germany while other U.S. men were going to Vietnam to fight. It was not right, I felt I had to go back. I made a commitment to my country and I was going to keep it.
“October 1967, I went back to Vietnam for a second tour. My new rank was squad leader/platoon sergeant of 199th Light Infantry Brigade called the Redcatchers.
“For the next year, I would fight alongside young boys right out of high school 18-20 years old. I was 26 years old and war harden and wanted to make sure these young men went back home alive to their mamas.
“We would rotate duties. One day you went on patrol, next night missions, followed by search and destroy. We would go out for about 100 days at a time and slept about three to four hours, if at all. You rested when you could rest and wherever you were at that time.
“You stayed wet as these jungles were under constant rain and humid conditions. We did not wear underwear as it was another layer of wet clothes you did not need. Our average back pack weighted about 65 pounds, another reason sweat was pouring from your body. Holidays were just another day ... war did not stop to celebrate.
“We had a rule in war, ‘Don’t get close to anyone,’ meaning don’t make them your buddy. When they get killed next to you, you must stay tough. You can’t stop the job you came there to do. But the reality is, these men are your brothers and your family with an unbreakable bond like no other for the rest of your life. It is hard to see your friends get killed.
“When the shooting stopped, you would move the wounded and dead to a clear location so choppers could come get them. Dog tags and wallets were pulled from men who were killed to keep a record.
“The dead, whose bodies were recoverable, were sent back to their mamas. Many soldiers lost their feet or other limbs in battle. I saw men who stepped on mines, get blown up so bad they turned into vapor ... How do you tell their mamas all that was left of their son was pink mist? It is hard to believe unless you have seen it for yourself.
“When I watched the dead being loaded on the choppers, I hoped their mamas would not insist on opening the casket.
“The enemy set booby traps for us, so you always had to be careful where you stepped. They would dig a deep hole on a trail or in an open area, place sharpened bamboo sticks that pierced your body if you fell into the hole. They were called Punji Stick Pits.
“In rice fields, the enemy would plant mines into the levees, which was why we walked through the water instead of the dry land levees provided.
“Then there was the bear trap. The enemy would soak a large steel trap in human waste, place it in a hole and cover it with jungle litter. If someone stepped into the hole, it would snap shut just above your boot top into your flesh causing infections and death.
“On or around Dec. 10, 1967, while on patrol, a young soldier saw North Vietnamese rolling up communication wire and they saw him. He got a full burst of fire from the enemy and went down (dead) ... On his helmet was a photo of him receiving a medal and a picture of his girlfriend he had cut from another photo and glued to be next to him. This girlfriend had sent him a ‘Dear John’ letter, but he did not care; he put her picture besides him anyway. In the jungle of death, even ex-girlfriends keep you going ...
“We knew some heavy stuff was about to happen. We went back to the same area where the young soldier was killed. Our captain called in for artillery fire cover. We walked into the first row of bunkers, then the second row of bunkers - a whistle blew and every space around us was filled with flying bullets - we were under heavy attack.
“More reinforcements were called in, but we were losing a lot of men. It was terrifying. If anyone tells you they were not scared, they are full of horse hockey!
“Father Liteky was with us during this battle either providing first aid or giving last rites. He was not afraid and carried no weapon, just his vestments. Father Liteky bravely went from man to man while under continuous heavy fire and gave comfort during a time of blood, death and war.
“I use to say a little prayer every morning before I went out to fight. I would recite the 23rd Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer together. Then I would say, if they killed one of us today and we were called to step into the arms of the Lord, don’t let our people blame him for us being killed because that was just the way war was.”
Between 1966 and 1970, 757 soldiers in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade were killed in action and more than 4,500 wounded.
Four Congressional Medals of Honor were earned by the unit, including their brigade chaplain who single handedly carried more than 25 badly wounded soldiers to safety during a fierce clash with VC/NVA forces south of Saigon in December of 1967.
Chaplain Angelo Liteky became the first chaplain of the Vietnam War to earn a Medal of Honor and the fifth in military history.
“After my second tour, I rotated back to Fort Benning, Ga. I wanted to go back for a third tour, but my wife said I was not going - period.
“Her father is a shelled shocked veteran from Word War II, so I listened to my wife and did not go. To be honest, I don’t know if I could have taken anymore war, but it is what I was used to, trained and conditioned for. I lasted through two tours. Maybe during the third, I would not have been so lucky.”
Commentary: We can never know what each veteran of any war endured for our country. They are devoted and steadfast; having lived through extreme conditions which stay with them forever.
Thank you, William R. Hobbs, for your service to our country.
You are an American hero and a dedicated and loyal soldier. We are blessed to have you in our community.
This Soldier’s Story is dedicated to Hobbs’ friends who fought alongside of him, but did not make it home. They are: SP4 Harvey L. Cooley, killed in action May 6, 1968; PFC-E7 Jose Q. Aguon, killed in action June 2, 1968; SP4 Raymond Zimmerman, killed in action Dec. 19, 1967; and to SP4 Kenneth Ivey, wounded in action 1968.