Interview with Veteran
Sophia Smith: Hi! Today, I have the pleasure and honor to interview my Uncle, Tom Hubbell, who is a Vietnam Veteran. This is a very special occasion for me and my family to hear his story and thoughts for the very first time. It is truly a privilege!
Sophia Smith: Thank you, Uncle Tom, for serving our country and fighting for our freedom that we have today. In English class we read The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien. He writes about his personal experience in the Vietnam War through a fictional character’s point of view. For my generation and the ones to come, we would like to learn from your personal experience of serving in the Vietnam War.
Today, I would like to ask you several questions to hear your thoughts and opinions about serving in the Vietnam War. For starters, under what circumstances did you enter the armed forces? You enlisted and that was especially brave. What made you decide to do that? How old were you and how many years did you serve? In Hindsight, were you glad that you did?
Tom Hubbell: I was a volunteer – I joined the United States Air Force on the fourth of July 1973 at Lackland Air Force Base and was entered into Officers Training School. There were a number of reasons that led me to the war. At the time I entered military service, the Vietnam War was really getting hot with lots and lots of casualties. If I had not chosen to enter the armed forces, I would have likely been taken by the draft, which was not appealing to me because I wanted to join the branch that I preferred-Air Force. After I completed Officer’s Training School, where I was a distinguished graduate, I was assigned to Webb Air Force Base in West Texas where I went through jet pilot training for about one and a half years and then earned my “Wings.” My original plan was to fly aircraft in support of our ground forces in the war theater, and that was my principal duty throughout my tours of duty. My top ranking was captain and I was an aircraft commander and combat pilot in the theater for two years.
Sophia Smith: How did your parents and family feel about your decision and how did you communicate with your loved ones on the home front?
Tom Hubbell: My dad was supportive of my decision to join the Air Force and was very proud of my service achievements which include, The Distinguished Flying Cross with V for Valor, six air medals, and lesser awards and medals. My mother was pretty silent regarding my entry into service but did not say she disapproved of my action.
Sophia Smith: What did you accomplish in order to receive the Flying Cross Award and your air medals?
Tom Hubbell: I was involved in some pretty serious air combat in support of U.S. troops near Tay Linh in South Vietnam. This occurred on Christmas day and consisted of numerous sorties into occupied areas of South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. This was stated on the awards I earned that day: Distinguished Flying Cross, "TO ALL WHO SHALL SEE THESE PRESENTS, GREETING: THIS IS TO CERTIFY THAT THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AUTHORIZED BY ACT OF CONGRESS JULY 2, 1926 HAS AWARDED CAPTAIN JAMES T. HUBBELL FOR HEROISM IN WHILE PARTICIPATING IN AERIAL FLIGHT"/DECEMBER 25, 1970 GIVEN UNDER MY HAND IN THE CITY OF WASHINGTON THIS 17TH DAY OF JULY 1971.”
Sophia Smith: Did you feel that you were given the proper pilot training before you actually started flying combat missions? What type of planes did you fly and how many crew were on your plane? Did you feel that the planes you were flying were safe? Do you keep in touch with any of your crew now?
Tom Hubbell: Yes, to all questions regarding the Air Force.
Sophia Smith: What was your crew’s mission during the battle? Did you accomplish your missions?
Tom Hubbell: Our missions were the close support and delivery of troops, materials, and munitions to ground soldiers.
Sophia Smith: Were you afraid? What was your biggest fear before you went to war and while you were over there? And how did you overcome it? Did you have any rituals before you would take off or start a mission?
Tom Hubbell: Of course I had moments when I feared losing life and limbs. Obviously, this was a big war and many, many Americans died in the combat that was fierce.
Sophia Smith: What was the worst thing that happened to you while you were there? Were you ever wounded?
Tom Hubbell: Insofar as being shot or disabled is concerned, I was lucky; neither happened to me. The worst thing was that my best friend was shot down and killed on Thanksgiving Day.
Sophia Smith: What was the best thing, if there was anything?
Tom Hubbell: R and R (Rest and Relaxation) in Hawaii for a week.
Sophia Smith: How did you feel at the time of our country’s decision to fight in this war? And now looking back, how do you feel about it?
Tom Hubbell: Frankly, Sophia, I, like most of my friends at UT, had never heard of Vietnam. What started as an army mission to assist the South Vietnamese, or so we were told, soon became a big war. Then it became a huge war with over nine hundred thousand U.S. military involved. Compare that number with Korea, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and you will start to get the incredible amount of resources, men, materials, planes, helicopters, etc. that were in use in that theater. Amazing!
Sophia Smith: If you could have changed one thing while you were over there what would it have been?
Tom Hubbell: The huge losses of life and limbs of our ground forces, otherwise know as “Grunts.”
Sophia Smith: Can you share with us what you would want people to know about this time in history? What would you say is the greatest misunderstanding about the U.S. during this war?
Tom Hubbell: The United States is the best country in the world, with the best military. However, our decision to commit the huge amount of men and materials in a Civil War between North and South Vietnam was indeed, extremely wasteful. To give you an idea of what I am speaking of, when we fully exited the theater as a country, we left behind so many jet and piston aircraft that Vietnam was listed as having the fourth largest air force in the world! Can you believe that? And, I am not even counting all of the guns, rifles, grenades, etc. We should not have gone into that war in my opinion– way too many human losses!
Sophia Smith: I had no idea that our country would leave behind all our military planes and warfare which would then allow Vietnam to be the fourth largest air force in the world. Why did our president allow that?
Tom Hubbell: Through it all, we lost the war, and the booty goes to the victor, in this case Ho Chi Minh. The incredible waste of men, women, material munitions, etc. was staggering! As you know, the war concluded after President Nixon directed the Air Force to conduct “Operation Linebacker,” which was an all out assault on North Vietnam by U.S. B-52 bombers, carpet bombing North Vietnam. This tactic forced the Vietnamese to go to the peace talks in France, which terminated military action. Too bad it was not done ten years earlier, if it had to be done at all.
Sophia Smith: What would you like your family now and generations to come to know about YOU being a Vietnam Vet?
Tom Hubbell: I was a loyal American doing the best job that I could for my country.
Sophia Smith: The best thing about being a veteran? The worst?
Tom Hubbell: No answer to the first question. When I returned to the U.S. I was placed on a commercial airplane and flown to Houston. While on that aircraft I was spit upon by a young woman who evidently and mistakenly thought all U.S. military were murderers.
Sophia Smith: Why did so many Americans have such animosity towards our military who were involved in Vietnam? If they did not like the idea of war and were mad at our country for fighting in it, then why didn't they take it out on the government and president instead of on our men who were doing what their country told them to do and who were risking their own lives for our country?
Tom Hubbell: That is a very good question which begs an answer, but no one has been successful in explaining the only time in our country's history when its military was grossly disrespected by millions of American civilians. And there is more, the Veterans of Vietnam, for the most part, were conscripts who earned about ten to fifteen dollars per day while at war, and when they returned to the United States they received nothing from the government. It is as if these great fighting men . . . Army, Air Force, Marines, and Navy personnel were outlaws, undesirables, malcontents, etc. It is one of the, if not biggest travesty ever imposed on a military.
Sophia Smith: As I introduced you, I stated that this is our family’s first time to ask you questions. How difficult is it for you now to think and talk about this?
Tom Hubbell: It doesn’t bother me anymore.
Sophia Smith: There are a lot of soldiers that came back who were tormented with what they witnessed and experienced. So much so, that some have never gotten over it. How were you able to move forward when you returned? What would you say to those men now? What would you say to my generation about this?
Tom Hubbell: PTSD, otherwise known as battle fatigue was and is common in today’s military. Your generation has a chance to help mold public policy for future generations; hopefully you will be one who resists the temptation to use might, when tact and good judgment could achieve understanding. There is nothing romantic about war.
Sophia Smith: Uncle Tom, what would you want my brothers to know if they were 18 and there was a draft?
Tom Hubbell: Join the Air Force or be a submariner. With today’s weapons, the ground troops have little chance to survive.
Sophia Smith: Have you visited Vietnam since the war? If not, would you like to?
Tom Hubbell: No and no.
Sophia Smith: I have touched on quite a bit but I know this is just the tip of the ice- berg. Is there anything else that you would like to tell us?
Tom Hubbell: I think this about wraps it up.
Sophia Smith: There are not enough words to express my gratitude in you allowing me to have this special interview with you. You are truly our families’ and country’s HERO! We are so very proud of you! I thank God for you and for all our military, serving and fighting for our country! Thank you.