Veteran Hibbs recalls military life

T-R PHOTO BY CHUCK FRIEND
Marshalltown veteran Robert “Bob” Hibbs stands by his honorable discharge certificate and some of the medals and ribbons earned while serving in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam era.

T-R PHOTO BY CHUCK FRIEND Marshalltown veteran Robert “Bob” Hibbs stands by his honorable discharge certificate and some of the medals and ribbons earned while serving in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam era.

Editor’s note: This is the latest in an ongoing series of articles profiling those who have ever served in the U.S. military, be it overseas or stateside. Every Thursday, a new profile will be published in the T-R.

By the time Robert Hibbs was drafted in 1968, he was an Iowa State University graduate and serving in a federal job in Washington state. But his two years in the Army 199th Light Infantry Brigade took him to three bases in the United States and to Vietnam where he served as a clerk typist for the Courts and Boards handling court-martial records and cases.

To describe it, Hibbs borrowed a quote from one of his ISU professors who said, “Time spent in Vietnam was a million dollar experience that a person would never give a nickel for, and could have done without.”

However on hindsight, Hibbs is thankful for the medical and prescription benefits that he receives because of his service.

Hibbs took eight weeks of basic training in Fort Bliss, Texas. Because he was older than the other recruits he became company commander. He then was transferred to Fort Huachuca, Ariz., for Advanced Infantry Training and training in Morse Code. He was class leader and had assistants, company commanders and squad leaders assisting him and had his own private space in the barracks.

“I remember from my time at Huachuca that Bobby Mercer (who played for the New York Yankees baseball team) was one of our instructors in Morse Code,” Hibbs recalled. “Also one day in June 1968 the officer of the day came to me and told me to get the troops up, because the base was on high alert because Bobby Kennedy had been shot.”

At that time Hibbs said that when a unit reached 11 characters per minute in Morse Code they were sent to Fort Gordon, Ga., for a 12-week course in receiving Morse Code and resending it by radio teletype. His unit was the first to reach that goal and was sent to Georgia.

“However, the course had started two weeks early and I was not allowed to take it,” Hibbs remarked. “They offered us pole climbing or an electronics course on repairing flight instruments on fixed wing or rotary wing aircrafts which did not sound interesting or conjured up pictures of sitting in a rice paddy — so I passed on them.”

“I spent the next two weeks of boredom as a barracks orderly — sweeping, mopping and doing calisthenics.” Hibbs laughed. “Finally I had had enough and asked those in charge to reassign me.”

At Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., Hibbs completed the Army Administration Course and became an instructor of English, military correspondence and military justice. He spent 13 hours per week in actual instruction and the rest of his time monitoring trainees practicing typing. Then came orders to go to Vietnam.

“But by this time, I only had nine months left on my two year tour of duty,” Hibbs said. “And because I had been accepted back at Iowa State for an agricultural law course, I actually only served six months of the nine months I had remaining.”

Hibbs became Courts and Boards Clerk, holding the records of anyone who was up for court-marshal as that person was not allowed to carry his own records. He also typed and filed the records after the court-marshal was completed.

“The three most frequent reasons for the court-marshals I handled were drugs, insubordination and AWOL,” Hibbs said.

Hibbs said things had quieted down in 1969 after the Tet Offensive in 1968, and that in the six months he was in the country near Saigon his unit only took rocket attacks three times.

For 37 years after returning back to the states, Hibbs served the Iowa Conservation Commission (now the Iowa Department of Natural Resources) as a district forester. Thirty-four of those years were in a 10-county district surrounding Marshalltown. He currently owns his own forestry consulting service: Hibbs Forestry, LLC.

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Do you know a military veteran who should be profiled? Send your suggestions to Editor Jeff Hutton at: jhutton@timesrepublican.com or contact American Legion Post 46 Commander Randy Kessler at: iapost46commander@gmail.com