BROOKINGS – After graduating from Winner High School in 1966, Bob Hurd headed off to the University of South Dakota (Vermillion). It was not a good fit.
“You get a small-town boy away from home,” Hurd recalled, “I didn’t do very well academically. I was basically invited not to return for my next year.”
“It was just not getting to class, just enjoying life,” Hurd said of his failed venture into higher education, adding with a laugh, “I majored in wildlife and then I come to find out it wasn’t on the course curriculum.”
He considered joining the Navy, so the recruiter from Valentine, Nebraska, came to call; but the old salt had been drinking and made a bad impression on Hurd’s mother, who was a teetotaler. Hurd honored his mother’s wishes that he not join the Navy. And soon Uncle Sam would come calling.
Hurd was drafted and in March 1968 sent to Fort Lewis, Washington, for eight weeks basic training. He found it to be “an eye opener.”
“Everything they’re teaching you is going to save your life in ’Nam someday, that’s what they said,” he recalled. “Of course, there were high casualties; so I knew my chances were slim to none.”
After basic training, he stayed on post for advanced infantry training. Following that came leave in Winner before going to Oakland, California, and in July 1968 flying in to Vietnam, landing at Bien Hoa Air Base, about 25 miles from Saigan. He and his fellow soldiers had an interesting in-country arrival.
“We were told they’d been taking mortar rounds about an hour ago,” Hurd explained. “Everybody had to double-time into a bunker.”
Following that welcome to Vietnam came a couple days of in-processing. Hurd, who had no say on the matter, was assigned to the 2nd Battlion, a mechanized unit of the 47th Infantry Brigade, 9th Infantry Division. The battalion was equipped with armored personnel carriers – aka as APCs, or simply “tracks.”
Tracks, lugging the M-60
“At that time we were up at the rubber plantations just north of Saigon,” Hurd said, adding that his assignment to the 2nd Battalion “was another fortunate thing for me, instead of going to the Highlands or something like that where there was some real crap going on.”
He added that some units of the 9th operated in the Mekong Delta with the Navy, as part of the Mobile Riverine Force.
Hurd was an infantryman and assigned to one of the “tracks”; because of his large stature he was assigned “to lug the M-60 machine gun.”
“I did that for a couple of weeks,” Hurd said, “and then the radio operator for our platoon went back to the world. I demonstrated to the platoon sergeant that I knew how to do radio procedures and that type of thing.” But he didn’t want to tote both the radio and the M-60, so he got his M-16 rifle out of storage.
“I carried that for a couple, three weeks. Then the grenade guy, he got sent back to the world. His 12 months was up.” Hurd decided to yet again change assignments.
“Basically from there on out, I carried the M-79 grenade launcher, ammunition, radio, two extra batteries, two canteens.”
Operations for the tracks included bridge security at night and convoy security up and down the highway during the day.
“We ran supply convoys,” Hurd explained. “Basically picked them up at like Bien Hoa, where they brought in a lot of supplies. We escorted trucks down the highway, trying to keep the natives, the kids mostly, from robbing us blind.”
“We liked doing Class VI convoys,” Hurd said with a smile. “Beer and cigarettes and whiskey. Some of that stuff always disappeared along the way. We may have had to recapture some of that stuff from some of the natives. Some of it ended up in our tracks.”
There were, however, hotter missions. “A lot of times we’d airmobile (helo) out,” Hurd said, “either in a search-and-destroy or a blocking mission for ARVNs or a number of different missions that we did airmobile operations on.
“The 9th Infantry Division was not a real hotspot,” he added. “I was based basically at my tracks but we still had regular infantry jobs to do. We saw some action, that type of thing; but I survived.”
‘Flower children waving daisies’
Hurd was still on his tour in ’Nam when Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968. In a roundabout fashion, it had a direct impact on his life. It came after he had spent about 10 1/2 months of his in-country year-long tour.
“I got withdrawn when Nixon was withdrawing (troops) in ’69,” he explained. “I said that it wasn’t a real hotspot, so they chose the 9th Infantry Division to compile his parade group that had to go do the pomp and circumstance.”
The people picked to form what Hurd called “the withdrawal brigade” had less than two months remaining on their Vietnam tours. They were “short-timers.” After about a week of training for their ceremonial duties, the soldiers selected were headed back to the United States.
“We flew back to Seattle, to Fort Lewis again for the local homecoming parade,” Hurd explained. “There were beauty queens to greet us. I guess I’m supposed to feel guilty, because most people didn’t get that.”
Hurd recalls the parade in Seattle about a week later, where the soldiers were greeted “by flower children waving daisies. It was interesting.” For him and his fellow soldiers, the important thing was that they were back home and safe.
With about eight months to go, Hurd was sent to Fort Hood to finish his tour of active duty. He was assigned to an infantry company as a training non-commissioned officer.
He was working with soldiers like himself – a “short-timer.” Hurd likened his job to “herding cats.”
Then came March 28, 1970, and he left active duty. “I was glad to get out. I wanted to get back to rural South Dakota.”
Back to school, staying in Brookings
Come fall, with G.I. Bill dollars to help pay the bills, Hurd came to SDSU to try college again. He stayed at SDSU. And he was in Brookings to stay. By May 1971, he had married Lisa, also a student. And he “was broke and needing a job.”
He was referred to Waltz Hardware in downtown Brookings. Owner Gene Waltz took him on as a part-time clerk. About this same time, George Little, the town’s Standard Oil dealer and “a big mover and shaker in the (American) Legion” told Hurtz he was “going to join the Legion.” He did.
Lisa regularly paid his dues when due, but he was a Legionnaire “in name only for a long time.” Additionally he became a VFW member – and remains one.
Meanwhile, he had graduated from SDSU in 1975 with a degree in pre-physical therapy. He went to work full-time at Waltz. He stayed in various aspects of hardware work including management and sales until 1999. He then moved on to Larson Manufacturing. He retired on his 65th birthday in 2014.
About six years ago he became active in both the Legion and the VFW and continues to serve as athletic officer for and commander of American Legion Post No. 74 in Brookings.
Hurd’s philosophy for being a leader in the VFW and American Legion is simple: “Service people have a special place for me. There should be an entity that promotes and understands their needs. Plus they still have baseball.”
Bob and Lisa Hurd have three children and two grandchildren.
Contact John Kubal at [email protected]