Every day starts a new story. My dad retired from the Anderson post office, so I have an affinity for veterans we’ve interviewed who were also postal workers.

When Dad was a clerk at the downtown office, it was pretty cool to pick him up from work and to play on that high loading dock that somehow grew shorter over the years. I remember the time he brought home a letter with an illegible address for us to decipher. That letter was sent through several postal families before they had to give up.

Most people think of postal workers as carriers. When I was a kid our carrier was a guy named Ott who smoked a cigar so strong that you could smell it a block away. He was never bothered by dogs.

My kids will remember Don Hobart, who kept track of their progress in life and once took them around in his truck to help pick up food donations. Don would pause to check out our rummage sales, and even helped me push an air conditioner into place one hot summer. Most people think carriers have it made with their walks on sunny days, but how about the rain, the heat, and the deep snows?

Don also has another story to tell.

When Sgt. Hobart arrived in Cam Ranh Bay, he thought it was too nice of a place for a war. Four hours later they were being shelled. A week later he was loaded with explosives and walking point in the Black Virgin Mountains with the 101st Airborne, where he spent the next seven months without a break on 75 combat assaults. He was wounded three times — the first was on his birthday.

Because of his size, Don was their tunnel rat. In total darkness he took a chance on finding a booby trap, an enemy soldier, or even an undesirable animal. His only defense was a bayonet and an occasional breath. One night, in the total darkness of the mountains, Don heard something moving toward them. A Bengal tiger stepped right over him in the darkness.

Don took the casing of a phosphorous shell in the eye and was evacuated to a hospital ship. “All of those pretty nurses and I couldn’t see them,” he said. Fortunately he recovered his eyesight and didn’t feel so sorry for himself after he saw the other wounded. It was a humbling image that stayed with him, along with the memories of the buddies he lost in combat.

When the plane landed in Washington state, Don kissed the ground and they were treated to a steak dinner on the base. That was the end of the celebration, as he wasn’t given enough money to come home. He had to hitchhike and was often derided by political bigots for his sacrifices.

Don recently retired after 38 years of postal work. I thank him for his service in Vietnam and our neighborhood, and wish him well in the next chapter of his story.

Don McAllister directs the National Veteran’s Historical Archive. His column appears the second Sunday of each month. He can be reached at nvha01@hotmail.com and www.nvharchive.org.

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