Celebrating veterans: South Tahoe man reflects on time in Navy with childhood friend
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Honoring those who have served, Veterans Day is the annual holiday that brings communities together to pay their respects and tribute all who have served.
Ahead of this Veterans Day, Friday, Nov. 11, longtime local Mark Dvorak reflected on his time in the military. Dvorak grew up in South Lake Tahoe, graduating from South Tahoe High School in 1980, where he and his best friend, Brian Hawley, both decided to apply, and shortly thereafter, enroll in the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
“The U.S. Naval Academy was an option to get a free education, whilst also serving your country,” Dvorak said. “My father was a teacher at South Tahoe High School, Hawley’s was a fireman, and back in high school we both wondered ‘how are we going to pay for college?’ So, the Naval Academy was a great option for both of us.”
The U.S. Naval Academy is considered a top-tier school, comparable to an Ivy League school, with just an overall 9% acceptance rate. Both Dvorak and Hawley were strong students, each having other higher education options at their fingertips during their senior years in high school; however Dvorak said that education for him wasn’t the only factor at the time.
“It’s hard to put in context now, but we grew up during the Cold War and we were still in it then,” Dvorak said. “My father grew up in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and he left right after World War II. Our family really saw the impact of the Soviet Union’s basic takeover of Czechoslovakia, so when I graduated, serving my country felt like a personal duty of mine to fulfill. I didn’t want to go to war, but if I had to, I felt like I was on the right side.”
According to Dvorak, there’s roughly 4,000 students that go to the U.S. Naval Academy, and they are divided into “companies,” the most important unit in the Brigade of Midshipmen. Companies eat, sleep, study, drill, and compete together; and each company has 30-35 shipmen from all four classes.
Dvorak and Hawley ended up going into two different companies, however, they both still saw each other constantly. Dvorak went into systems engineering, engineering on control systems technology, and Hawley went into aerospace engineering.
“During our junior year, there’s an event called Service Selection Night, where you pick what service you’re going to go into,” Dvorak said. “You line up with these numbers of your ranking to go in order, and out of a class of roughly 1,000, Hawley and I ended up standing side by side – and I hate to admit it, but he was one higher rank than me.”
The pair graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy four years later in 1984, where both Dvorak and Hawley chose the route of becoming Naval Flight Officers. After their graduation and during the first stride in their career of becoming a Naval Flight Officers, both ironically ended up in A-6E Intruders, an all-weather attack airplane that’s meant for flying at low altitude, in bad weather, or in darkness that relies mainly on the plane’s radar.
During Hawley’s flight training, he was unfortunately killed while flying at low altitude.
“A lot of folks passed away, not always in combat, but I’ve lost a lot of friends and colleagues because of how dangerous of a profession it is,” Dvorak said. “It truly could’ve happened to anybody. Hawley was my best friend, we met in second grade at Meyers Elementary.”
While Dvorak reflected on his time in service, he also reflected on his long-time friendship with Hawley. The pair took almost identical steps together during their education paths and careers, both coming from South Lake Tahoe.
“Elementary, junior high, high school, the U.S. Naval Academy, and then we both ended up doing the same job sitting in the right seat of a A-6E Intruder, so it’s pretty wild how we both ended up in the same spot after all those years,” Dvorak said.
Looking forward, Dvorak still takes a lot of the lessons that the U.S. Naval Academy taught him into his life today, such as instilling discipline and “looking after your shipmates.”
The South Lake Tahoe community is home to both veterans, and honors both Dvorak and Hawley for their service in the U.S. Military.
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