Retired U.S. Army Sgt. Major Marion E. Mack and his son-in-law, Hercules Mack, who left the Army as a major, look back on their military service with pride.
Both have memories of their service to their country and, even more importantly, their community.
While there are some stories he prefers not to share, Marion said his military experience provided opportunities for him that he might not have otherwise had.
He was an active duty serviceman with the 43rd Field Artillery out of Fort Jackson in Columbia from 1951 to 1954 before serving in the U.S. Army Reserves for 31 years.
“I knew absolutely nothing about military at that time. I heard my brother was in the Navy, and he used to talk about his military career. I thought that going into the military would give me an opportunity to be exposed to some things that I was not exposed to,” Marion said.
“I thought about that G.I. Bill that would allow me to go to school. Without that, I doubt I would have been able to go to school. But, you know, after you get in there you find out what military is all about.
“Some of the criticisms that I might have had changed my mind about a lot of things. After the years, every country like this gotta have a military. I was a peaceable man; I didn’t want to fight nobody. But you prepare to do what you gotta do. We had some pretty good experiences,” he said.
Marion did his basic training at Fort Jackson, where he was assigned to the 43rd Field Artillery in 1951. One of his good experiences was not having to travel to Korea, where bloodshed was running high.
“At that time, someone would pick a few people out of the cycle and allow them to stay back at Fort Jackson as an instructor. I had no idea why I was selected, but fortunately I was. Blood was running in Korea like water, and I really didn’t need to go to Korea,” he said.
Marion added, “The report come back telling us how many of my friends got killed. That’s when I really appreciated somebody putting a hold on me and keeping back at Fort Jackson.”
He taught everything from senior communication and map reading to health and drill and ceremony, which he particularly loved.
“Some of the things that I was teaching was gonna be helpful to me when I got off active duty and (it came) time for me to go back to school,” Marion said.
He stayed for approximately a year and a half at Fort Jackson, where he also served as the driver for the colonel who was in charge of the S3 Training Section.
“I was afraid, a little private. With all of the brass out there, I really did not want to drive the colonel, but in about two weeks times I was pretty comfortable,” Marion said.
He would eventually receive orders to go to Germany shortly after World War II. It was a time when he was grateful for the colonel he drove around while at Fort Jackson.
“When I got orders to go to Germany, I was a little country boy that had never been anywhere. He said, ‘Mack, I took you off orders several times. You ain’t got but a little bit than a year to go. For years to come, you might cherish the opportunity to go to Germany. Things are not as bad in Germany as it once was.’
“Going to Germany and traveling around a little bit made me realize, of course, there’s some good people everywhere you go and some not-so-good people. But I wouldn’t take nothing for the experience. I met some awful nice people in Germany. It gave me an opportunity to be comfortable with my hometown, Orangeburg,” Marion said.
He had thought about leaving Orangeburg at one time.
“But I said if you want to do anything, it’s nice to do it around the people you care about. Everybody that I loved and knew was in Orangeburg. I said, ‘This is my hometown,” Marion said.
He has indeed served his community in many capacities.
Marion is a former member of the Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce, where he served as chairman of the building committee and was instrumental in the development of the Leadership Orangeburg initiative. He also served as an adviser at the former Calhoun Orangeburg Vocational Education Center, now known as The Technology Center, and is a past member of the Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation board of directors. He presently serves on the Appeals Committee for the city and county of Orangeburg.
In reflecting on his military service, he said, “I went to Germany and stayed in Germany another year and a half, or thereabout. I mustered it out, came home. At that time ... if a black person didn’t have a reserve unit, you couldn’t join the National Guard. But they just formed a reserve unit in Orangeburg, and I had to pull the remainder of my reserve obligation at that reserve unit,” Mack said.
“I was very fortunate. I had some good people in charge and they gave me a couple of quick promotions and made me the first sergeant,” Marion said.
He also completed his education upon leaving active duty in 1954.
“When I got off active duty, I realized I needed to go back to school. So enrolled at Claflin … and I thought I was a pretty good carpenter at that time, too. So I’d get my little nail apron and go out and work to try to help pay the bills. I got married in ’56. So I needed that little extra money,” said Marion, a successful businessman who ran his own business, M&M Builders, until 1996, when he turned it over to one of his good friends.
He was a member of the 815th Personnel Service Company while in the Orangeburg reserve unit.
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“My unit deployed to Iraq shortly after I got out. So I really was fortunate. This fine gentleman wasn’t quite that fortunate. He had to go,” Marion said, referring to his son-in-law.
“Our careers are kind of similar. He and I was in Germany different times. He winded up going to Grenada, and I winded up going to Grenada. I’ve been pretty fortunate. I’ve been in the service now 30-something years and no one had ever shot at me that I’m aware of. So I said, ‘I better get out of this thing.’ So that was when I put my papers in to retire. That was in 1984,” Marion said.
Hercules’ military career spanned from 1983 to 1993, the last two years of which he served in the U.S. Army Reserves. He was an active duty serviceman as a member of the 5th Engineering Battalion out of Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.
The Bowman native is a graduate of Benedict College in Columbia, where he joined the R.O.T.C. Program and was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army in 1983.
He served in Desert Storm during his military career and also traveled to Germany and France as part of his service.
“When I got the commission, I was thinking, ‘I might get a job behind the desk somewhere.’ Well, I got combat engineering. That was dealing with explosives,” Hercules said.
A combat engineer performs a variety of construction and demolition tasks, including building bridges, under combat conditions, but Hercules said he overcame the challenge.
“I got through the basic course, and then I end up going to Airborne School. I went to Airborne School to jump out of a plane. I don’t know why, but I did,” he said, smiling.
“It was a good experience for me. I served during Desert Storm. I went overseas. A lot of missions that we had dealt with blowing stuff up. We used to put bridges across places, and it gave me a sense of confidence,” Hercules said.
There were some explosive training exercises, however, they went awry. One involved the time a noncommissioned officer accidentally handed a soldier what he thought was a test blasting machine.
“He ended up giving him the blast machine…. The kid was playing with it and he thought it was the test machine and ended up killing some people. That stuck with me for a while,” Hercules said.
He said serving during Desert Storm was “a scary situation.”
“You never know what’s gonna happen. You just pray all the time. An accident (can happen) if you’re in war or not in war,” said Hercules, who taught at the engineering school at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.
“You had to teach the new officers coming through. ... We had to teach them demolition and how to cut down a tree with demolition, how to blow up a road with demolition … and how you actually make an explosive,” he said.
He said he always took into account that he was responsible for the welfare of someone else’s child.
“I was always in a leadership position from day one. ... One of the things that has always driven me ... is I was always in charge of someone’s child. ... Even today, I deal with children now from 3 to 12. ... The safety of someone’s child is my main goal and priority,” Hercules said.
He is director of the Orangeburg Area Development Center, where he manages a child development program, after-school program and a recreational program for Orangeburg County.
Prior to becoming director in 2008, Hercules worked at the former Orangeburg Consolidated School District 5 for 17 years as a youth counselor and coordinator of youth services. He also served as an assistant boys basketball coach for 13 years and head baseball coach for eight years at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School.
He is also a graduate of the Leadership Orangeburg program.
Hercules’ military awards include: Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Overseas Service Medal and Meritorious Service Medal.
Marion’s military awards include: Good Conduct Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Military Achievement Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal and Occupation of Germany Medal.
Both men said they learned valuable lessons from their military service.
“I was really not prepared to do the things I intended to do in life. I know I had to come back and go to school. ... You learn how to organize your life. ... It gave you confidence,” Marion said.
Hercules said, “I’ve been many different places. You learned something everywhere you went. ... The military gave me the opportunity to travel. The military helped me with my leadership skills and ability, which helps me in the world today.
“I truly believe if I did not go in the military, I don’t know if I would have the confidence and ability to do what I’m doing now ... and probably throughout the rest of my life.”
Both men are members Butler Chapel AME Church, where they both serve in various capacities.
Marion and his wife, Francis, are the parents of four children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Hercules and his wife, Cathi, are the parents of four children and one grandchild.
Of his son-in-law, Marion said, “He’s been a blessing to the community and to our family.”
Hercules said family is indeed first and foremost in his life as he looks toward the future. He just wants his children to succeed.
“I just want to see them do well. Of everything I have done, that will be the icing on the cake. I couldn’t ask for anything else,” he said.