MIDDLE RIVER — There are many veterans in Baltimore County the Avenue News honors and thanks for their service defending our country’s freedoms. Otto Mrok is just one of the county’s veterans who represents many others who served during the Vietnam War.
Otto Mrok, Jr. had just started a job at Bethlehem Steel in 1966 when he was told he was being drafted into the U.S. Army to go to Vietnam.
Mrok, Jr. did two tours in Vietnam, serving from 1966-1968. He received the notice in the mail. He had two choices – go to war, or go to prison.
“I had just gotten married, and then everything gets pulled out from under you,” Mrok said. “I got notified on a Monday, and Friday I was at Holabird. That’s where they used to take us out of.”
Mrok, Jr. said he was assigned to a crash and rescue unit in the Army. Being a part of a unit that responded to aircraft crashes, he moved around Vietnam quite a bit, he said. Mrok, Jr. said that even though he was upset about being drafted, he wouldn’t go back and change anything.
“I’m glad I went, in a way,” he said. “I made a lot of good friends over there. I lost a lot of good ones. It sort of opens your eyes to what you have here, when you see the situation and the real reason we were there.”
Mrok, Jr. said he fell out of contact with all of his military friends. He has searched for them on Facebook, he said, but hasn’t been successful. He spoke of one friend, named “Hogan,” who lives in Texas, but Mrok, Jr. has not been able to find him.
“We were an 18-man unit, and then we broke down into four-man teams,” he said.
Mrok, Jr. said he was only obligated to serve one year since he was drafted, but volunteered to stay and serve a second year.
“In a way, I liked what I was doing,” Mrok, Jr. said. “In another way, I didn’t. It’s hard to pinpoint. You really don’t want to leave your brothers over there.”
Mrok, Jr. said he and his fellow soldiers were “one tight group” in Vietnam. He said he might not hear from them, but he always thinks about them. His favorite memory is when he would return to camp from missions and everyone was accounted for.
Mrok, Jr. said the reception was “miserable” when he returned to the United States. His plane landed in Oakland, California, and he and the others were told to change into civilian attire.
“At the time, all the protests were going on,” he said. “All the demonstrators were were calling us names and everything like that. That’s one thing I’ll never forget.”
Mrok, Jr. said back then wasn’t like what he sees today when service members return from Middle East deployments.
“They sort of respect the soldiers coming back,” he said. “In my era, they didn’t.”
He was able to return to his job at Bethlehem Steel when he returned, a benefit of being in a union. He retired from Bethlehem Steel in 2000.