Boom. Boom. The explosions went off all around as soldiers did their best to hide. This was what people expected the Vietnam War to look like, but it didn’t make it any easier to handle.
While others worried about their own fate, the only thought that went through Hubert Mardock’s mind was what his daughter’s life would be like if he didn’t survive. It didn’t matter what happened to him; all that mattered was that they were OK.
Hubert, who turns 81 years old this August, enlisted in the U.S. Army on Sept. 20, 1951, when he was just 18 years old. He served in the military for 36 years, during which he spent 29 and a half years on active duty. He now lives in Newberg, Ore.
“I’ve always been taught to help people,” Hubert says. “I know what it’s like to go without. When you have plenty to [give], why not share?”
After enlisting, Hubert attended military school to further his career. His training included a field artillery survey supervisors’ course, a military personnel officers’ course and Vietnamese language school at Anacostia Naval Air Station in Washington, D.C.
Hubert had intense language training six hours a day for 47 weeks, memorizing dialogue and focusing on military language. He soon became fluent in Vietnamese.
“I still study it,” Hubert says. “When I walk around the blocks a few times, I listen to the Vietnamese and try to bring myself back up.”
Physically training for the military was difficult for Hubert, who lost 40 pounds while at Officer Candidate School in Fort Sill, Okla.
“Training was nasty, [but] I knew what to expect,” Hubert says. “The biggest surprise was when I was in Officer Candidate School in Fort Sill. They wanted to get rid of you.”
Because the military didn’t want to pay more soldiers than it needed, they made training very difficult for people, Hubert says.
Hubert didn’t let that discourage him. He was deployed for the first time on Sept. 20, 1951, and worked as a field artillery advisor in the Vietnam War for a year.
“We considered ourselves a bit above other folks because it took something to be artillerymen,” Hubert says. “In fact, it took quite a bit.”
Hubert’s duties as field artillery advisor in Vietnam included acting as infantry, artillery and the “whole gambit.” Hubert spent a majority of his time working with Vietnamese soldiers and citizens because there weren’t many other American soldiers in his location.
“There were two or three times the pilot asked us if we were sure we wanted to get out here,” Hubert says. “It was not a nice place.”
Working in field artillery was unique in many ways, Huber says. Soldiers would fire artillery long distances without being certain what their artillery would hit. All they were told were the coordinates, and they hoped they would hit the target.
“It wouldn’t take much and you’d hit friendly people,” Hubert says. “And that does happen.”
Between his first and second deployments to Vietnam, Hubert spent time in Georgia. He worked as an advisor for the U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard, attended military school and raised a family.
Hubert married his wife, Shirley, in 1952 and soon had two daughters, Phyllis Taylor and Cheryl Hampton.
Cheryl and Phyllis attended 17 schools during their childhood and would often transfer schools during the school year. “It was really difficult,” Cheryl says. “It was hard to develop long-term relationships.”
Hubert did his best to help his daughters feel loved and to prepare them for the transitions. Cheryl was terrified while transferring schools in the third grade because she was behind in learning multiplication. To lessen her fears, Hubert spent all his free time teaching her multiplication until she finally felt ready to attend classes.
“He’s always been a kind person,” Cheryl says. “He has a great heart and sees people for what they can be.”
Hubert was deployed once again in 1971 to Vietnam for another year of service. While most Americans had been sent back home, Hubert spent his time working with Vietnamese civilians and soldiers. Hubert worked closely with a Vietnamese educator, Major Hiu, who showed him the schools he built around Vietnam.
“He wanted to take care of these people,” Hubert says. “The last I heard, he got a B-40 rocket in his chest. I don’t know if he survived or not.”
Hubert also visited several orphanages where Americans had sent care packages. A majority of the children in the orphanages were abandoned because they had cleft palates, a birth defect that occurs when there is an opening or split in the roof of the mouth.
“They threw them in the garbage can,” Hubert says. “I have slides at home that just tear you up.”
After he returned from Vietnam, Hubert wanted to go back and help create businesses to create work for people.
“There’s so much that can be done to help the people,” Hubert says. “They are so destitute. It is unbelievable the depth of poverty in that country.”
Hubert was never able to carry out his dream.
After spending several more years serving in the military in various locations, Hubert returned to Newberg and now works at a tax preparation and bookkeeping service.
“I’m still helping people,” Hubert says. “I can’t see retiring.”
Hubert is also involved in Newberg’s Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 4015, which he joined while serving in Vietnam. Any soldier becomes eligible after six months abroad.
The VFW participates in community service activities, ranging from participating in flag-raising ceremonies to helping families of soldiers pay rent while their family member is deployed.“It’s not what is in it for me. That isn’t the case at all,” Hubert says. “It’s what can we do to help people out.”
Writing: Samantha Sigler
Photograph: Emmy Elliott