20-year career leaves indelible memories
Looking back over 54 years since he joined the Navy, Dan Holub shakes his head and says wars don’t really change.
A rural Marion resident, he enlisted in 1968. He was 20 and dropped out of college at the height of the Vietnam War.
Many names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial are personal to him, he said.
“I went in to fly helicopters, but they quit the program about two months before that,” Holub said. “Plus I wanted out of Kansas.”
When he finished training in 1969, Holub was stationed at Naval Air Station Lemoore in California and assigned to duty for light attack aircraft.
His father, Ernest, had served in the Navy during World War II. All five of his brothers also went into military service.
“My second cruise on the Constellation, two of my brothers were on there with me,” Holub said.
The memory that never leaves Holub is the 1975 evacuation of Saigon.
People were desperate to get out because they were being slaughtered, he said. It wasn’t possible to get everyone.
“Didn’t get close,” he said. “I just go through that every now and then, remember their faces. It was just horrid. How desperate would you have to be to throw your kid on a helicopter of a foreign nation and know you would never see them again? There were Vietnamese babies lying in cardboard boxes, lined up. We were flying them back to the States.”
Evacuees initially were taken to Japan, where they were loaded onto the USS Midway.
Service members loaded people onto helicopters and boats for the trip to the Midway, Holub said.
“Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people,” he said. “They were pulling people out of the water into boats. People were throwing babies over fences. People kept coming out, and coming out, it was disgusting.”
Politicians and diplomats got military members into Vietnam even though they knew the U.S. was losing, Holub said.
“They sent 18- to 20-year-olds over there,” he said. “We knew we were losing in 1965. It was just wrong. Maybe we should have politicians and diplomats fight the war.”
Holub was sent on eight cruises during his time in the Navy. After his first cruise, he married Rhonda Beecroft in 1971.
“Five or six months later, I went over again,” he said.
During his Navy years, Holub rose from airman apprentice to lieutenant commander.
The time gave him opportunities to see things he wouldn’t have seen. He went on two world cruises, one around South America and one around the south coast of Africa. He also went through the Suez Canal.
“That was unique, right through the desert,” he said.
In a helicopter once, he went over a site filled with tanks and military equipment.
“We had MiGs flying over us,” he said. “We got along with them then.”
As he neared retirement, he was surrounded by kids who weren’t even born when he joined.
“That’s the preponderance,” he said.
His own four children, Heather, Chris, Tamra, and Molly, all joined the military although Holub never preached enlistment to them.
Heather and Tamra are majors, and Chris is a weapons adviser.
Being in a war is one thing. Having kids in a war is another, he said.
“You don’t take anything for granted anymore,” he said.
All his children served in Afghanistan.
“Years later, my kids are fighting the same people we were. Nothing’s changed,” he said.
Things look no different now, Holub said.
“You look now — Ukraine,” he said. “They’re going to get us into another mess right now.”
Rules of engagement are like tying soldiers’ hands behind their backs and sending them in anyway, he said.
“In trying to intervene, we usually end up backing a loser,” Holub said.
The U.S. walked away from Vietnam, then walked away from Afghanistan after many people died on both sides of the battlefield.
“What’s the point?” he said.
With Ukraine, there’s no reason to think it’s going to come out any differently.
“There’s error on both sides,” he said. “Somebody needs to have a ‘come to Jesus’ meeting and shut that down.”
The question whether he’d do it again is a dual-edged sword, Holub said.
“At one time, you thought you were making a difference, I guess,” Holub said. “Making the world better.”
He said he’d do it again for the sake of people, but not for the sake of politicians and diplomats.
“They sit back and they don’t suffer any consequences for what they do,” he said.