During the Vietnam War, Bobby Edwards had his ear to the pulse of enemy transmissions in Air Force intelligence.
Decades later and now retired, he continues to have his ear to the pulse of veterans’ activities as a member of VFW Post 2514, along with being a consummate student of military history.
A native of Beaufort County, his military career was shaped by a bout of mononucleosis, forcing him to drop out of Old Dominion College and become draft eligible in the mid-1960s.
He chose to join the Air Force, following the footsteps of his brother in radio school, becoming an expert in Morse code.
Before deploying to his duty station in Da Nang in October 1968, he had to learn North Vietnamese code during training in Texas.
He said that military listening posts were vast as part of the tens of thousands in the Air Force Security Force.
The work involved communications with and tracking of U.S. aircraft as well as the interception of enemy plans and tactics. It came during a time of change for the military, involving both computers and satellite resources.
It was a behind-the-scenes job that saved American lives.
He left the military in 1969, returned home and began work in management with JCPenney in Newport News, Va.
Unlike veterans today, who are greeted with thanks and respect, he recalled the not-so-warm return to the states that so many Vietnam vets encountered.
“It was strange times traveling — the cold stares, the blank looks that you get in the traveling process in uniform,” he recalled. “If you were in civilian clothes, it was a little different. Nobody ever said anything to me, but I felt very uncomfortable traveling in uniform. People were unappreciative.”
Back home, it was more of the same. Friends now distanced themselves from the veteran with short hair.
He had been in the pure theater of combat, his base unit coming under fire on many occasions. No one seemed to care.
“It was something about what had happened to me,” Edwards said. “Maybe I wore that experience a little too much. At first, I said something to them about being over there, and then I realized that I couldn’t do that anymore if I wanted to be accepted. So, I grew my hair long and never mentioned it anymore.”
He used the G.I Bill and the years he already had in college to convert his degree plans from history to business, working and attending night classes.
He then spent more than 30 years in sales and marketing management.
But, it was the 1990s before he began to come out of his self-imposed silence about his military times.
He and his wife Linda married 45 years ago, moving to New Bern in December of 2015.
Edwards had become active in veterans organizations beginning in 2007, while they lived in Virginia. He served as the adjutant of VFW Post 824, heading up the annual July Fourth parade.
He has been active here in VFW Post 2514, most recently during weekends leading up to Veterans Day when vets have had a presence in Craven and Pamlico counties with the annual Buddy Poppies program. Recently, he was also involved in lining up sponsors for the post’s benefit poker run.
“I have been involved in a lot of different things, but the most important and essential thing to me is to be able to give back to the community and support the veterans’ efforts and causes,” he said. “It is just a way to make sure that it is part of the full circle of life. You are doing things. You can’t just sit on a couch when you are in your 70s. You have to turn around and be involved in the community.”
His community work has brought him in contact with what he calls the “decision makers” locally.
“I’m letting them know what we do in the community and letting the community know that our veterans of foreign wars are uniquely qualified to help support veterans causes,” he said.
Charlie Hall can be reached at 252-635-5667 or 252-259-7585, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @CharlieHallNBSJ