Hershel Wayne Gober (1936–)
Hershel Wayne Gober is an Arkansas native who followed a career in the military with business and government positions. Gober held high-level posts in the Department of Veterans Affairs at both the state and national levels under President Bill Clinton.
Hershel W. Gober was born on December 21, 1936, in Monticello (Drew County). One of eight children of Jimmie Price Gober and Wade Harvey Gober, he grew up in Monticello and attended the local public schools. He received his undergraduate degree from Alaska Methodist University (now Alaska Pacific University) in Anchorage.
Gober married Olivia DeArmond on April 5, 1956, and they went on to have six children before the marriage ended in divorce.
Following graduation from college, Gober joined the military, where he served for twenty years. Gober served in the U.S. Marine Corps for three years before moving over to the U.S. Army, where he served until 1978, achieving the rank of major. Gober did two tours in Vietnam, serving as a military advisor to the South Vietnamese army from 1965 to 1966 and then as commander of an infantry company in 1969. He earned numerous decorations for his efforts, including the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, the Parachutist Badge, and the Soldier’s Medal. He was inducted into the Officers’ Candidate School (OCS) Hall of Fame in 1993.
Retiring from military service in 1978, Gober entered the business world. Returning to Alaska, he joined the Northwest Pipeline Corporation headquartered in Fairbanks. He worked for Northwest from 1978 to 1983, originally in the government affairs office and then later as the director of rights-of-way and land acquisition.
He then returned to Arkansas, where he served for two years as senior instructor of the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at Warren High School in Warren (Bradley County). Beginning in 1985, he served as the department adjutant of the American Legion, Department of Arkansas, a position he held until 1988, when Governor Bill Clinton appointed him director of the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs. He held that post until 1993, when he became the deputy secretary of Veterans Affairs under President Clinton.
As deputy secretary, the number-two ranking position in the department, Gober was responsible for the day-to-day operations of a department that had an annual budget of over $48 billion and employed approximately 219,000. During his tenure with the department, Gober was particularly active in increasing healthcare quality and access for all veterans. In addition, he headed a special delegation to Vietnam whose aim was to obtain a full accounting of American soldiers still missing in that country. Twice, Gober had six-month terms as acting secretary, after the resignations of Jesse Brown in 1997 and Togo West in 2000.
In 1997, President Clinton nominated Gober as secretary of Veterans Affairs. However, as the Republican-controlled Senate prepared to hold hearings on the nomination, reports emerged that Gober had been accused of sexual harassment in 1993. While Gober denied the allegations, and two investigations found no basis for the charge, reports indicated that the Senate panel planned to raise the issue. Reports also said that special attention would be paid to the initial review conducted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ general counsel, Mary Lou Keener, whom Gober had married in 1996.
Even after predictions by the committee chairman, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, that the hearings were likely to be contentious, the White House affirmed its support for Gober’s nomination. However, Gober asked that it be withdrawn, asserting that he could best serve Clinton’s interests by staying in his current post. He remained deputy secretary for the rest of the Clinton presidency, although he briefly served as acting secretary after Togo West’s resignation in 2000.
In addition to his military career, Gober was also a recording artist. As lead vocalist, and occasional songwriter, he released one album and five singles in the late 1950s and early 1960s under the name Hershel Almond. In the military in the 1960s, he was involved in a project that produced songs aimed at garnering support for the American effort in Vietnam.
Gober left government service when Clinton’s term expired. In 2002, he became the national legislative director for the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH).
For additional information:
“Hershel Gober.” Miller Center, University of Virginia. https://millercenter.org/president/clinton/essays/gober-2000-secretary-of-veterans-affairs (accessed April 11, 2019).
“National Legislative Director: Hershel W. Gober.” Military Order of the Purple Heart. http://www.purpleheart.org/Bios/gober.aspx (accessed August 13, 2015).
Rosenbaum, Ron. “Clinton Withdraws Nomination For Secretary of Veterans Affairs.” New York Times, October 25, 1997. Online at http://www.nytimes.com/1997/10/25/us/clinton-withdraws-nomination-for-secretary-of-veterans-affairs.html (accessed August 13, 2015).
William H. Pruden III
Last Updated: 03/09/2018