Veterans History Project: Hobart Ellis

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Shooting from “dark to daylight”, the battles in Kason Mai, Vietnam were some of the most tremendous battles of the Vietnam War, recalled E-7 Gunnery Sergeant Hobart Ellis. “The only thing that stopped the shooting were the monsoons.” Soldiers were rotated out of Kason Mai every 30 days, and with a life expectancy of 6 days in the region, many never made it out of the rotation alive.

His life began in War, West Virginia in 1943. A coal mining town that died when the mine did. When his father returned from World War II he moved the family to Portsmouth, Ohio, where Ellis played football and ran track for the local high school. After graduating high school, he knew the draft notice would soon follow in the mail; so rather than being told which branch of the service he would enter, he walked into the recruiting office for the Marine Corps and enlisted.

Graduated on a Friday, the following Wednesday he was on a plane to San Diego to begin a 14 week training period at Camp Pendleton. The stereotype at that time, “black people can’t shoot straight”, was disproven by Ellis as he earned the title of expert marksman by attaining 100% on the firing range.

Ellis’ active career in the military started when he was deployed to Okinawa and subsequently dispatched to De Nang, Vietnam to help train the Army of the Republic of Vietnam in a wide array of rifles and artillery. For the next year he bounced back and forth between De Nang and Okinawa, before coming back to the United States to do some confidential work for the Department of Defense.

In 1967, Ellis was transferred to New Orleans to the 7th Marine Division to bury soldiers killed in action in Vietnam. His responsibilities included 21 gun salutes, draping flags over coffins and sending death announcements to family members and making sure they received the proper papers to claim death benefits.

In 1970, Ellis was deployed back to De Nang and was eventually rotated into the battle at Kason Mai. “You had to shoot them before they shot you,” Ellis said.

You can still hear the disdain in his voice of how the American media portrayed the soldiers in the Vietnam War. “They don’t know what it was like over there, they concentrated on the dramatic stories and didn’t know what lead up to them,” said Ellis, “we didn’t ask to go to Vietnam, the politicians told us to go.”

Ellis completed his second tour of duty in Vietnam in October 1970, and three years later he was awarded the prestigious Navy Commendation Medal.

He is also very proud of the fact that no women were killed in battle in Vietnam, and it saddens him to see women returning from battle in Iraq and Afghanistan with permanent injuries. Ellis is an advocate of bringing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in soldiers returning from battle to the forefront, saying that you never get over the mental scars of being a participant of an active war.

Ellis has one wish he wants to convey to the American public. When the veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan come home, show them respect. “When you see a disabled veteran in a grocery store or at the mall, give them a hand, and do not stare at them. They are proud of their bodies and their service and when they are stared at it makes them feel like animals.” He wishes that all Americans get together and treat the veterans with the same amount of respect that they want to be given themselves.

Americans can look at men like Hobart Ellis and be proud of him and the service he has given to his country, and realize that this country is filled with Hobart Ellis’.