MASON CITY — When Bob Mogk of Kensett returned home from Vietnam in 1968, he wasn’t legally old enough to have a beer.
“It was strange because over there, they rationed beer and soda to us twice a month,” said Mogk, 68, an Army draftee who served exactly one year in Vietnam in 1967-1968.
The Globe Gazette will publish 50 stories — starting on Veterans Day — about North Iowa’s Vietnam Veterans. The stories will appear on Sundays…
Mogk was a combat engineer, building roads and bridges and detonating explosives as part of the job. So while he was not directly in combat, Mogk said, “We weren’t there looking for trouble but we could deal with it if it came.”
He said often he was put on a helicopter, taken somewhere to blow up a bridge and be left alone for a few days until the job was done. Then he would be picked up and be ready to go somewhere else.
“One day I was on an island doing my job when I saw some F-4 Phantom jets above me. Somehow, they got their coordinates wrong and bombed my island. I crawled under a dump truck and didn’t get hurt,” said Mogk.
“But that wasn’t my most unique experience. That came the day I was working in a quarry ready to set off some explosives. I had everything ready to go. There was about a two-minute leeway before it would blow up.
“I looked up and saw a helicopter headed right for the blast area. There was no way to warn it. I got in my bunker and hoped for the best.”
Mogk said when the blast went off the helicopter was directly above it.
“It seemed like that helicopter rose about 500 feet, but of course I’m just guessing,” he said.
When the huge mountain of dust settled after the explosion, the helicopter landed.
“And guess who got out,” said Mogk. “Gen. Westmoreland.” He was referring to Gen. William Westmoreland, commanding general of the troops in Vietnam.
Mogk recognized Westmoreland and was shocked to see him. He saluted and Westmoreland returned the salute, and said, “What in the hell was that?”
Mogk said he explained he was doing his assigned task and there was no way of warning the helicopter.
Westmoreland said, “Soldier, do you know who else is in this chopper?”
Mogk looked over and watched Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara emerge from the helicopter. “He was white as a sheet,” said Mogk.
Westmoreland concluded his conversation with the young soldier from North Iowa. “You could have changed history,” he said and walked away.
Mogk said the day-to-day experience in Vietnam was hard work in hot conditions.
“We slept in tents just about every night for that year. My father wanted me to keep a log of the weather while I was there, and I can tell you the temperature was 127 degrees on the hottest day,” he said.
Another memorable experience occurred when his tour in Vietnam was over and he was headed home.
“It was about a 20-hour flight with a stop to refuel and I think there were about 268 of us on board,” said Mogk. “Several on board had rifles with them. I don’t remember why.” The plane was to land in Seattle.
He said when their plane flew over Hawaii, the pilot radioed to the soldiers that they were over American soil. “It was a good feeling, but we still had several hours to go,” he said.
Several minutes later, the pilot advised that the plane would have to be diverted because there were 2,000 war protesters gathered at the Seattle airport.
“The captain got on the microphone and told us, ‘We’ve been gone for a year, we’re heading home and we will not be diverted.’ He ordered that the plane land in Seattle as planned.
“He told all the soldiers with rifles to get off the plane first with the rest of us to follow. It wasn’t exactly the kind of ‘welcome home’ we expected,’” said Mogk.
Led by soldiers with rifles in hand, the returnees proceeded through the airport without incident.
They hadn’t expected any trouble, said Mogk, and were thankful there was none.
“All we wanted to do was kiss the ground,” he said.