War Stories Galore
Recently, I met with my ole Army pal Bob Good who introduced me to his close buddy for over 40 years, Larry Hubbard, for coffee at Valencia’s Corner Bakery. The three of us had a splendid conversation swapping old war stories and by the way, I interviewed Larry during our coffee meeting, so here’s his story.
Fast Track to Combat
Larry Eugene Hubbard was born October 22, 1949, at Monte Sano Hospital in Glendale, California, and he grew up in North Hollywood where he attended John H. Francis Polytechnic High School (same as Bob Good). Larry graduated June 16, 1967, after a sterling 3 year varsity letterman stretch on Poly’s fine gymnastic team. Following high school, Larry worked 18 months at New England Furniture Shop in North Hollywood where he began learning his lifelong passion of wood working. Larry fully expected that he would soon receive his draft notice so he chose to volunteer for the draft just to get his misery of waiting over with. On November 5, 1968, Larry arrived at Fort Ord, California, for Basic and Advanced Infantry Training. It didn’t take long before he realized that he was on a fast track to Vietnam as a combat rifleman. After infantry training Larry returned to his parent’s home for an unforgettable two week leave of absence while romancing his high school sweetheart.
Stewardesses Ushering Into Combat
Our Vietnam War had raged on for years and was dubbed “The Television War” since it was heavily covered nightly by the three major news networks. Larry remembers how deeply emotional he, Erika and his family felt as they accompanied him to LAX and expressed their tearful goodbyes knowing that he was headed into combat. Larry honestly thought it was very likely that he would not return home alive, consider that 1968 was the bloodiest year of the war costing 16,592 American lives. From LAX, he flew to Fort Lewis, Washington, then Fort McCord where he boarded a commercial airline. Larry and his fellow troopers flew to Cam Ranh Bay stopping in at Hawaii and Guam and as Larry put it, “We flew overseas aboard Seaboard World Airlines with beautiful young stewardesses”. This seemed bizarre to Larry as he thought how rugged WWII combat soldiers had it on their journeys to war.
During Larry’s very first night at Cam Ranh Bay, they were rocketed by North Vietnamese troops and Larry instantly realized that this tour of duty would be brutal. The next day he was assigned to Fire Support Base Dolly located on a mountain top over looking Dao Tiang Village approximately 25 miles from Saigon. Larry’s Alpha Company was with the 1st Cavalry Division, a Huey Helicopter air mobile unit previously commanded by Colonel Hal Moore and famously portrayed in the impressive 2002 movie, “We Were Soldiers”. FSB Dolly was routinely attacked and just one month prior to Larry’s arrival, that base camp was overran by NVA communist forces costing many lives. Larry and his Alpha Company trooper’s missions were 24 day seek and destroy patrols and then back to a different FSB for six days of rest and guard duty along each FSB’s perimeter. After each 24 day air mobile mission, Alpha migrated to a different 1st Cavalry FSB thus Larry was constantly on patrol, setting up night time ambushes or pulling perimeter guard duty. It was their hot landing zones that always proved unsettling.
Bloody Foot Found
Larry felt fairly fortunate as his platoon somehow did not experience the high number of casualties that Alpha’s other platoons suffered, though his tour of duty was certainly nerve racking. He recalled an ambush they set up along a jungle trail that occurred on the very day nine months after joining the 1st Cavalry. It was a shadowy dark night when suddenly several NVA soldiers came creeping down that trail resulting in Larry and his buddies blasting away with their M-16’s killing at least one enemy soldier. Larry’s squad followed a blood trail for two hours but they never found the wounded NVA, though they found a bloody shoeless foot on that trail. At every Fire Support Base Larry was assigned they routinely received NVA rocket and sniper fire. Larry’s tour of duty proved considerably perilous but God willing, he made it out of there physically unscathed. He flew from Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat Airport in March 1970 to California’s Travis Air Force Base and within a day, Larry flew to LAX where his family rejoiced celebrating his safe return home.
No Dear John Letter
Going back to Larry’s high school days, he met his future wife, Erika Ventzke, when she was 16 and he was 17. Larry was immediately smitten with her beauty and grace. At age 18, on the very day that Larry signed
up with North Hollywood’s Draft Board, he drove by Erika’s house. Low and behold there she was sitting out front, so naturally he pulled over to say hello. Little did he know that she was merely waiting for another guy she had a crush on, so she cut Larry no slack and unceremoniously sent him packing. Larry was crushed but he persevered and vowed to pursue her friendship which paid off when she ultimately fell to his charming nature and agreed to a date. While Larry was home on leave before departing for Vietnam, he asked Erika for her hand in marriage, but she threw a curveball suggesting that he must first ask her Dad, Rudi. Larry considered this formality a daunting task though he felt he had established a good rapport with Erika’s family, so he complied and gained Rudi’s full approval. Larry and Erika dated until he went into the Army and they exchanged letters throughout his time away. The great news was that he never received a “Dear John Letter”.
Pursuing His American Dream
During Larry’s tour of duty, America tragically lost 11,616 troops killed in action. Once he returned home from Vietnam for a four week leave of absence, Larry and Erika were married at Sun Valley’s Lutheran Church on May 2, 1970. It’s noted that Erika’s close friend, Susi Good was her bridesmaid and Bob Good readily confessed that he has no memory of their wedding, especially the reception. Larry was assigned to Custer Hill at Fort Riley, Kansas, for his last six months of Army service. Also noted; Bob Good and I trained at Custer Hill prior to serving in Vietnam. Upon Larry’s Honorable Discharge on August 25, 1970, he returned home to Erika and they promptly rented an apartment in Sun Valley. While Erika attended college, Larry landed a janitor’s job at Sun Valley Jr. High School for a year and then worked for Sherway Cabinet Shop for 10 years. Larry began expanding his skills for his passion in becoming a proficient cabinet maker, his life long profession. Along the way, Larry earned his Liberal Arts Associates Degree at Pierce College and his Industrial Arts Bachelor’s Degree at California State University, Los Angeles in 1996.
Living a Good Life
Larry and Erika moved to Newhall in 1978 and Larry opened his own business, Superior Wood Products, near Saugus Speedway which he operated for 20 years. Meanwhile, Larry and Erika had three wonderful children who produced four fine grandchildren. Larry has continued his busy life teaching at Cerritos College and L.A. Trade Tech along as advisor to carpentry students who compete in teamwork construction projects. Though Larry is supposedly retired, he established his own full blown home wood working shop complete with a CNC machine, which is computer controlled. Larry remains very proud of his family, their accomplishments and he possesses a great sense of pride having served his country and earning one of the U.S. Army’s most prized awards, the Combat Infantryman Badge.