OKEECHOBEE — Veteran Larry Mobley was born in Banks, Ala., a small town near Troy, but moved to Okeechobee when he was only nine months old. He graduated from Okeechobee High School in June 1967 and went into the Army in August that same year. He joined because at that time the draft was in effect, and most of the men who were drafted were put in the infantry. If you joined, you had a better chance of choosing your MOS (job training). When you volunteer, they test you to find out what you are good at, he explained. “If they have room in that area, they put you there.”
Mobley joined with a high school friend, Bobby White. White was a grade ahead of Mobley and had already received his draft notice, so the two immediately went to enlist. They joined up on the buddy system. They went through their entire military career in the same company and even went to Vietnam together. They came back to the United States together and they were sent to Fort Hood, Texas, together. White got married when he came back from Vietnam, so he was sent to one side of the post, and Mobley was sent to the other side, but at least they were on the same base. They left the military at the same time as well.
They signed up to be linemen, because they thought linemen would be working with power, and when they got home, they could get good jobs with Florida Power & Light. “Well, when we got in there, that wasn’t the case. Lineman was a telephone man!” he laughed. They ended up running cable and installing switchboards and things. They did communications. It was still a good job and kept them out of combat in Vietnam, he said. They were support for the 4th Infantry Division.
Really, in Vietnam, they did not end up doing their job anyway, he said. A colonel, who had four or five companies under him, found out they could do carpentry work and moved them to Headquarters Company. “That’s what we did over there. We built stuff for him. When we got to Headquarters Company, we hooked up with two guys from Tennessee and one from Pennsylvania. The two from Tennessee were plumbers. The one from Pennsylvania, Vito Valenzino, was an electrician. So, we had the whole thing there. If the colonel wanted something built, we could do it. We could build a building. We could do the electrical. We could do the plumbing. That’s what we did. We built stuff.”
One day the colonel came to them and wanted an S-4, which is the backbone of a battalion. That’s where all the paperwork went and was filed and you got your paycheck, he explained. The colonel wanted a new S-4 and couldn’t get it approved through brigade, so he came straight to them and told them the guy would not approve a new building. He asked them if they could put a new building up, divide it in half, air-condition both sides and have it set up for work by Monday morning. He told them the inspector was going on a three-day in-country R&R, and they would have three days to pour concrete, put a slab down, level it and get it all done. Could they do it? They said they could. What they didn’t realize was that the concrete was coming in dump trucks, and they just dumped it. They had to scatter it out, he said. But, they got it done. Monday morning, the guy came back to inspect the base. He looked around and said, “That building is not on my paperwork!” and the colonel told him, “Who’s supposed to be putting it on there?” The inspector said, “I don’t know, but it ain’t on there.” The colonel said, “Well that building has been there for I don’t know how long!” The inspector said, “OK,” and drew a square building and wrote S-4 on it. “There was never another word said about it,” said Mobley, “but we had a real good relationship with that colonel.”
When he left the service after his three-year commitment, he went to work for the Okeechobee City Police Department. He joined as a road officer, but his wife did not see him much because of the shift he worked, so he went to work at Winn Dixie as a meat cutter. He worked there for nine months before he was fired and went back to work at the police department. He worked his way up through the force and served as police chief for 20 years, retiring in 1997.
White talked their friend Valenzino into coming to Okeechobee for a visit one year, and he liked it so much that he has been coming every year since. He comes annually for the whole month of February. He rents a spot at KOA and parks his motor home there each year. “He’s been doing that for I don’t know how long. He just fell in love with Okeechobee, the weather and everything,” said Mobley. “That friendship has carried on all these years. Which I think is amazing.”
Mobley and his wife, Patsy, now live in a small town in Georgia east of Atlanta, and they love it, although they still visit Okeechobee on a regular basis.