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Interview with Richard Wolfe [01/24/2003]

David Rebinski:

OK. We started now. My name is David Rebinski and I am interviewing Mr. Richard Wolfe. Um, Richard, How did you end up joining the war? Were you drafted? Did you join yourself?

Richard Wolfe:

Well actually I was drafted.

David Rebinski:

You were drafted?

Richard Wolfe:

Yeah.

David Rebinski:

Um, How did you feel when you found out you were drafted into the war?

Richard Wolfe:

Well it didn't bother me. When I was in high school, at that time back in the sixties. There were a lot of people being drafted, so I just figured it was my turn. Everybody was going so I may as well go too.

David Rebinski:

Did your family or friends like tell you no, no, don't go?

Richard Wolfe:

No, no. No, my family was pretty rich in certain military programs. I had a grandfather that was in the First World War, I had my dad and uncle was in the Second World War, I had another uncle that was in Vietnam. Matter of fact when he came back I went, so I guess it's just one of those things a person had to do.

David Rebinski:

All right. What branch of the Armed Forces did you end up joining?

Richard Wolfe:

I was in the Army.

David Rebinski:

In the Army? All right, where, did you have to like, you went to some special boot, did you go to a boot camp or something?

Richard Wolfe:

Well, I went to, everybody goes to like a basic training and AIT, which is individual training was to what you specialized in. But then uh, I went to uh, Okinawa for dog training. I worked with dogs in Vietnam. I had a good friend there. So after that then while I was in Okanawa we were Vietnam training basically.

David Rebinski:

All right, um, what was the training like? Was it intense?

Richard Wolfe:

At times it was. They, they, they had uh, villages setup, mocked villages, similar to what villages were like in Vietnam and they taught you how to go in and how to, how to get there and just how to go through a village. Different aspects like that.

David Rebinski:

All right, um. How old were you when you joined?

Richard Wolfe:

I was nineteen.

David Rebinski:

Nineteen?

Richard Wolfe:

Young man at nineteen got out an old man at twenty-one.

David Rebinski:

Um, what rank were you?

Richard Wolfe:

I was an E-4, which is E-4 to a Corporal.

David Rebinski:

Corporal. Now that's when you were sent over there?

Richard Wolfe:

No, I was uh, I was a PFC. I was a Corporal when I got out. David. Um, How about, well like, what all was running through your head, like when you first got there? Were you afraid?

Richard Wolfe:

I was scared to death. When I first got there, I was scared to death, but it didn't take long to get over that because it's, uh, it's just like everything else you do, you get use to it and after two or three weeks it's just an everyday thing, waiting to go home.

David Rebinski:

So like, you came over on a big plane or something?

Richard Wolfe:

Actually, I came over on a transport plane. It was a C130 Transport. When we got, we landed in Tonsanute Airbase.

David Rebinski:

Tonsanute? How do you spell that?

Richard Wolfe:

Don't ask me. You'd better hope the tape works on that one.

David Rebinski:

All right, um. How long were you, how long did you serve like in the war, how long were you there?

Richard Wolfe:

I was in Vietnam for a year.

David Rebinski:

A year? All right, like what kind, like did you get injured or anything while you were there?

Richard Wolfe:

No, I didn’t get wounded or injured or anything like that. I, I was lucky I didn't get physically injured, but mentally it does something to you I guess you could call it an injury in a way.

David Rebinski:

What about like any of your friends or anything. Did they get injured?

Richard Wolfe:

I had, I several friends that got injured, some friends that got killed.

David Rebinski:

Urn, What did you do when you weren't fighting? Did you play war games? j v j

Richard Wolfe:

Well actually, we were pretty much fighting all the time.

David Rebinski:

Well, I mean like at night you went to like bases or camps

Richard Wolfe:

Most of my work was done at night. I worked with canines, I worked with canine dogs. And we would uh, go out on perimeters, and patrol the perimeter at night. And we would use the dogs because they could uh, they could smell if any got the enemy were around.

David Rebinski:

So you were like, uh, a security person? Richard. Pretty much. In some senses and then some days during the day we would we would go out on patrol and we would do the same thing They could probably 400 to 500 yards a dog could smell a person. Each person has a distinct odor. Vietnamese people smell differently than American people When you can t see ten feet in front of you, 500 yards is a lot. So you have an advantage with that.

David Rebinski:

Well since you had a canine and stuff did you like actually go out and tight like with the tanks and guns or anything or did you secure a base or... ? Richard. Well, we would go, we would go out and uh, go into villages and do different things like that, and uh, it was uh, well I don't really remember We had a lot of different types of equipment and stuff, but most of it was done on foot with smaller patrols and if we needed any more support most of us just called for air support.

David Rebinski:

Did you, like, um, as you were fighting did you still do drill training and stuff?

Richard Wolfe:

Actually we trained the dogs during the day to keep them, to keep them on their toes and other than that individual training, no we didn't. It was more like a regular job we didn't, you were trained for your job but like the dog, you worked with the dogs every day, you know, to keep interested so to

David Rebinski:

All right, urn, what was the food like?

Richard Wolfe:

We - actually the first six months I was there we didn't get any real food I was all dehydrated, it came out of a can or a box. It kept you alive, that's about all I could say for it.

David Rebinski:

Did you have to like cook it in a fire or did you have a little mini microwave or something?

Richard Wolfe:

I don't know, uh, well actually we could either eat it cold or if you had an opportunity you could heat it up. Like I said it kept you alive it wasn't. Later on towards the end of my tour they went to what's called LRRP rations.

David Rebinski:

Lurk Pleasures?

Richard Wolfe:

LRRP.

David Rebinski:

Lurp?

Richard Wolfe:

It stands for Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol. It's just dehydrated food in a plastic bag and you added water to it.

David Rebinski:

Sounds good. Ha, Ha. Um, did you keep any type of lucky charm or

Richard Wolfe:

No, I didn't, I didn't really have a lucky charm.

David Rebinski:

All right, how about a diary? Did you keep a diary about the days that went by and stuff? y

Richard Wolfe:

No, What we did keep and what the majority of the people that I know kept we kept what they called the short time calendar.

David Rebinski:

A short time calendar?

Richard Wolfe:

And everybody had a, had a short time calendar and every time a day would go by you would cross that day off, cause you would know it was one day shorter before you got to go home.

David Rebinski:

All right. Um, after the war like when you came back to your home how did your family feel? Did they miss you a lot? Have reunions and all of that or?

Richard Wolfe:

Yeah, it was a pretty emotional thing when you came home. And it didn't, it didn't really strike me that I was at home until I actually got home. When I came home it was at night, and I can remember walking through the yard and I can remember seeing my mom and my dad, my mom started crying, I started crying, and it, it was pretty emotional.

David Rebinski:

So like, do you have any brothers or sisters or anything?

Richard Wolfe:

I have three sisters, no brothers.

David Rebinski:

Did they like feel really emotional?

Richard Wolfe:

Yeah, yeah.

David Rebinski:

All right, um when you got back did you, were you involved in any more veteran stuff or anything like any groups or anything?

Richard Wolfe:

Well, at that time we were eligible to join the, uh, VFW and the American Eagle and stuff like that, but uh, most people involved with those organizations at that time didn't consider Vietnam a war, so they had to let you join but they didn't really want to so, I was always the kind of person that if somebody didn't want me there I wouldn't be there, so.

David Rebinski:

All right, how about um, Did you keep in touch with any of your friends?

Richard Wolfe:

Yes, yes I still keep in touch with some of my friends. As a matter of fact, last year, uh, I saw a friend of mine I hadn't seen in thirty years. It, it was a good reunion.

David Rebinski:

So, like, speaking of friends, like back at the war, like how did you keep in touch with your family and friends and stuff?

Richard Wolfe:

About the only way you could keep in touch was by writing letters.

David Rebinski:

Letters? So like military mail people would come in and get all your letters and stuff.

Richard Wolfe:

Well, they had a, they had a, had a general place that you would um, drop them off and pick them up and stuff like that. Mail call was a special time of day because your standing there waiting for a letter, of course you know there's always a good looking girl your waiting to get a letter from, but sometimes you do sometimes you don't. Though, next day it would be my turn, so.

David Rebinski:

Um, what kind of career did you have after the war?

Richard Wolfe:

Well, after um, after, after Vietnam I uh, uh, before I went in I was working at Pennsylvania, so when I came back I went back there for a while and then, uh, while I was in the army, I had uh, military police training and stuff like that, so, uh I went to work in Ohio in a prison system, so I, I guess you could you say my military police training paid off, so I had a pretty good career after that. I worked as a security officer in a, in a prison for a lot of years and uh, I work security now so, it's followed me pretty much in the security line since right there.

David Rebinski:

All right. Um, how did the war change your life? Did it change how you felt about...

Richard Wolfe:

Well that's a tough question. Because you don't know, you don't know how your life would have been if you didn't go, so you don't have anything to compare it, other than other people. Uh, I think it changed my life, sometimes for the worse and sometimes for the better. It's, it's hard to say. You know, which, which is which.

David Rebinski:

All right. Do you have like any memorable, special events or anything that happened that you can remember that was during the war?

Richard Wolfe:

Well, there's a lot of special events that you can remember. Happy events, there, believe it or not there are happy events in wars, I mean it's, you do have good times. You know, because you have, uh, you have friends and you, you know, comrades that you know you play cards with, even drink beer with sometimes, but, uh, there's a lot of detailed stuff that are good events too, you know, and some not so good. I remember, I'll tell you this one, but when I first, you asked me earlier if I was scared when I first went over there and I told you yes. I can remember being fired at and I can remember the bullets coming so close that you could hear them, you could actually hear them go by. And you know that's sort of scary. But a friend of mine who'd been there longer than I had, he told me, he said, you know, he said, uh, I told him I said boy I hate to hear that, that makes me scared. He said not me, he said, I love to hear that. I said are you crazy? He said no, he said I'll tell you why, he said, because if you can hear them that means they ain't gettin' ya. He said you can't hear the one that gets ya. And I never did forget that and I eased up pretty, pretty much after that.

David Rebinski:

Well, you see like, I know it's during war time and stuff, but did you see any big explosions?

Richard Wolfe:

Oh yeah! There were all kinds of big explosions. They, they used a lot of napalm in Vietnam. When that hits ya, it rolls on the ground and bums the whole area and is pretty effective.

David Rebinski:

Did you have like any usual weapons to get away from that or..?

Richard Wolfe:

Well, actually there's nothing you can do to get away from that. But that, that was mostly from our side.

David Rebinski:

Oh, all right.

Richard Wolfe:

You know, on the other side, they had mortars and firearms and artillery and stuff like that, but where I was at, there was mostly firearms and mortars.

David Rebinski:

Right, um, can you kind of like, tell me how a typical day in the war was, like, like, um, like in the morning or whenever you start your work?

Richard Wolfe:

Well, uh lets see, that, that, there was never two days exactly the same, it's, it's pretty much the same, pretty much routine, but ah, lets say if you were working at night, it depended on circumstances, for a lot of it, you know, a lot of times you, you worked filling sand bags, you know to make bunkers and stuff like that out of it. Sometimes you didn't do anything. I mean ya just... whenever a situation rose that there was something that needed to be done you would do it, but you know, you, you'd get up, eat, more or less go to work. That's about all.

David Rebinski:

Did you like, during your work, did you have to like fight off any one, or...?

Richard Wolfe:

On several occasions, yes.

David Rebinski:

Well, uh, what kind of dogs did you use?

Richard Wolfe:

We used German Shepard Dogs.

David Rebinski:

German Shepard Dogs?

Richard Wolfe:

I use to have a lot of pictures of my dog, but uh, I had them stored at my sister's house and they, they got lost. And uh, they uh are very intelligent animals, you know. Uh, they saved my, each person that was in the canine had a dog. That's the dog that you had to train out. It was a friend, it was actually your eyes and ears.

David Rebinski:

Did you get to like, keep him after the war?

Richard Wolfe:

I only wish that we could have. That was, that was probably one of the saddest things I ever had to do was leave my dog. Because he had saved my life, and a lot of other people's lives. To have to leave him there was a sad, sad thing to do.

David Rebinski:

Um, did you have like a beeper collar or something on him or did you use a leash?

Richard Wolfe:

Well, you used a leash. But other than that it was just all uh, signals you know voice commands, hand signal commands.

David Rebinski:

Were they like trained to like hunt down and find the people or trained to kill or...?

Richard Wolfe:

Actually both, because they would, they would hunt and find people because if you were to, if you were to turn them loose, they would, they would kill a person.

David Rebinski:

Urn, did your family like share like any of their experiences or stories that they heard on the news or anything while you were over there?

Richard Wolfe:

Well, actually when you were over there you, you don't want to, when you write home you don't tell anybody how bad it actually is. You tell them how good, you tell them the good things, because you don't want your family to worry about you. And they don't talk about that either because they want to more or less give you news from home, you know, tell you how everybody's doing and stuff like that. Since you're there they know you know what's going on, so they pretty much defend you.

David Rebinski:

Well like, what about, did you ever, like something you heard on the news when you came back did you prove the news wrong?

Richard Wolfe:

Well that's been done a lot. In the news they over exaggerated to some extent. There's a lot of things that people in the news did in Vietnam that was, I don't think should have been sent back, because it was, I'm not, I'm not sure of the word I'm looking for, but it was, it was something the everyday person shouldn't have to see. And they, they capitalized on one incident that made all of Vietnam look bad. All of Vietnam wasn't bad. You had to go there to do a job. If that meant killing people, that was a part of your job. Either kill or be killed. It didn't matter if it were an old man or a young man, if you had a gun shooting at you and you had a gun, common sense would tell you to shoot back. A lot of things they, they put on TV was just to make news, and it wasn't actually the true story.

David Rebinski:

Urn, did you get like any special awards or medals or anything like that?

Richard Wolfe:

Nothing special or out of the ordinary that anybody else didn't get.

David Rebinski:

Urn, like, I think I asked you this before, but were did you usually stay, did you stay in a, did you guard a village or stay at a base or a ship?

Richard Wolfe:

Well we had a, we had a outpost. We did work and uh, I did work in a, I'll give you a good example. With working them canines we had a, we had different assignments for different companies. The last company I was with was an Aviation Company. It didn't actually have anything to do with aviation, we more or less guarded the perimeters around the planes and helicopters and people. We were actually with an aviation company, but we were separate. We had ah, we called them hutches, they were actually tents. And you pretty much spent all your time in the tent. It wasn't bad.

David Rebinski:

Was there any nights that you like, got really sick or anything from the cold?

Richard Wolfe:

You never got cold. You got wet. You got hot and wet, and hot and dry, and dirty.

David Rebinski:

So, well, how'd you get like, food and water. Did they bring it in on tanks or something?

Richard Wolfe:

Well actually we had a, we had a, trucks that came in from the base camps, we got our, got our sea rations and other rations that way, but uh, the uh, the outfit that we were stationed with had a mess hall, that's were you go eat, the name mess hall tells you any indication of what the food was like, but it wasn't bad. All in all it wasn't bad. So they tried, they tried, they tried if you were in the area they tried to get you at least one hot meal a day. So, it wasn't it wasn't like...

David Rebinski:

So, you had like mashed potatoes and steak and stuff, or was it like Salisbury steak and..?

Richard Wolfe:

No, they had instant mashed potatoes that came out of a box. A lot of dehydrated stuff that uh, that could be kept, a lot of stuff, and the fresh food didn't last very long because it was too hot and it had so far to transport that it wouldn't keep. So if it came out of a can or a box that was pretty much it. Occasionally you got, occasionally you got, you know, later on you got some beef, but it wasn't, it wasn't the best, but it was all right.

David Rebinski:

The friends that you made, did they like, did they have the same job you did, or did they have different things that they did or... ?

Richard Wolfe:

My closest friend had the same job. Other companies that we were associated with, you met other people that had different jobs.

David Rebinski:

How did you like come together to meet them?

Richard Wolfe:

Well, uh...

David Rebinski:

Did you all like gather up in a big ol--, one of those planes or something?

Richard Wolfe:

Well, actually when you work in different areas you go to different, like in the mess hall, you meet people, and they had one tent set up were you would go for like ah, to relax a little bit and you meet a lot of people there.

David Rebinski:

Was there any like, ah, earthquakes or floods?

Richard Wolfe:

A lot of rain. They had what they called the Monsoon Season. And ah, you could almost set your watch by what time it was going to start raining. It rained so hard that, that you couldn't see your hand in front of your face, and ten minutes after it rained the ground would be, the ground would be dry as dust, it was that hot.

David Rebinski:

So, it would be like it never rained?

Richard Wolfe:

In the Monsoon Season it rained for about four months. Everyday. It always rained at the same time everyday.

David Rebinski:

So did you like work around that period.

Richard Wolfe:

Oh yeah, yeah.

David Rebinski:

Took a lot of mud baths.

Richard Wolfe:

A lot of mud baths!

David Rebinski:

All right. Do you have anything that, any stories or anything to share that you would like to share? Anything you can think of?

Richard Wolfe:

I'm trying to think. No I don't think, I think you about covered everything.

 
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