Vietnam Veteran Talks To Students At Dunkirk School
DUNKIRK – As part of recognizing this year’s Veterans Day, retired history teacher and Vietnam War veteran Stephen Cobb was invited to give a presentation to Mrs. Erin Hodkin’s fourth grade class at Dunkirk School No. 3.
Cobb displayed a storyboard triptych which featured photographs from his time in Vietnam and handed out some of what he wore and carried on his person as a field medic.
“The unit I was in was known as Black Horse, the 11th Armored Cavalry Unit,” Cobb told the classroom of enthralled students. “We rode on armored personnel carriers (complete with a) series of weapons on them and they were called Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicles.”
Cobb narrated his experiences, beginning with basic training, which he described as the place “Where they teach you to lose all your civilian habits, like going ‘yeah’ and chewing gum and (stuffing your) hands in your pockets. You learn that if the drill sergeant told you to jump, you’d ask him ‘how high?'”
After eight weeks of basic training, Cobb went to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, which Cobb said is still used as the Army medical training center.
“I learned to be a medic,” Cobb said. “I learned to start IV’s, how to draw blood, how to treat wounds and how to make hospital beds.”
After twelve weeks of medic training, Cobb was sent off to Vietnam.
“Ninety eight percent of my class, which was about 110 men, went to Vietnam,” Cobb said.
During his year in Vietnam, Cobb said “My job was to switch radios and I was responsible for an M-60 machine gun, but my main job was to take care of the guys.”
“Every day I had to give them malaria pills and I went out on patrols with them,” Cobb said. “I just did what I could to help them.”
The students were extremely well prepared and very attentive as noted after the presentation by Stephen’s wife, retired history teacher Susan Cobb.
“I’ve heard (Stephen) give this presentation for many years,” Susan said. “This is the best prepared class ever. The best questions, and most courteous.”
Asked if Cobb was wounded in battle, the veteran said, “I was never shot. I was shot at, but fortunately I was never wounded.”
Cobb had a more difficult time answering what his favorite part of being in Vietnam was, but concluded that it was “the friendships we developed. I haven’t stayed in touch with many. Only one, who lives in Maine. My wife and I visited with him and his wife (in 2010).”
Cobb said that he kept a positive outlook by trying to use humor with his unit.
“In Vietnam the medics were basically called ‘Docs,'” Cobb said. “I had a nickname, ‘Quack.'” The students immediately burst into spontaneous laughter. “It wasn’t because I was incompetent, but I tried to do crazy things to get their minds off of stuff. We won’t talk about the crazy things.”
When asked about the weather in Vietnam, Cobb replied that “The average temperature in Vietnam during the day was 110 degrees, even during the rainy season. I don’t know if you saw how hard it was raining Sunday night. That was like a light rain in Vietnam during the monsoons.”
Cobb explained, when asked why he joined the Army, that he knew he was going to be drafted.
“(There were) certain exemptions (to being drafted),” said Cobb. “One was if you were in college. I flunked out of college. I didn’t study. I didn’t do my work, so I had flunked out. I knew I was going to be drafted, so I decided to take control of my life a little bit and so I decided to enlist.”
Enlisting gave Cobb more choices.
“Lord knows where they would have sent me if I was drafted.”
When asked to describe a typical day out in the field, Cobb replied that “Out in the field, you didn’t have a typical day. You could be out on night movement or ambush patrol all night long. If you weren’t out on ambush patrol and you were out in the field everybody was up and awake by four in the morning, because the Viet Cong, they liked to attack right before dawn. It’s the darkest and your tired at that point…and they knew that Americans like to party a lot. So they’d use that to their advantage.”
One student asked Cobb why there was a Vietnam war.
“Come February of next year it will be 50 years since I’ve been in Vietnam,” Cobb began his answer. “And I’m still trying to figure it out. With World War II, there wasn’t any question. Since that time there has been a lot of questions. World War II was our last declared war.”
Cobb asked the class, “Do you know who declares war?
A couple students replied, “The President?”
“No,” Cobb said. “The President doesn’t. They think they do but they don’t. Congress declares war. Since WWII we have not had a declared war.”
When Cobb asked what the first thing he did when he came home from Vietnam, he replied: “I took a long, hot bath. “There were days (In Vietnam) where if you got an hour of sleep you were lucky. I was so tired when I got home, my bones felt tired. It took about six months to finally feel rested. My mom said it was six months before I smiled.”
After the question and answer session was finished, the students read a Veterans Day poem and gifted him a framed copy. A number of students presented Cobb with special gifts while other students presented him with homemade crafts and hand-written letters.
The room was decorated by the students with a patriotic theme and each student wore a poppy, donated by the American Legion Auxiliary, Unit 59. The program concluded with a special cake, punch and a thank you gift basket for the Cobb’s to enjoy.
All the attention left Cobb in tears as he thanked the class.
“We might not have had a parade (when we came back from the war),” Cobb said, choking up. “But this…this is…”
Unable to finish his sentence, the students joined together in applauding Cobb for his service and for his presence in their classroom.