As part of my continuing efforts to honor veterans, here’s the latest entry. This week, I interview Tim Dittmer, who spent some tough days in Vietnam.
Where were you born?
I was born in Springfield, Illinois. Most of my growing up years were spent in Gary, Indiana. I graduated from Emerson High School in 1968.
When did you serve and where? Also rank attained.
I enlisted in the Army as a Medical Corpsman on September 23rd in 1968, did Basic at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. I went to Fort Sam Houston in Texas for medic training, then was sent to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. It was great duty in Hawaii, but it was there I volunteered for Vietnam. When it took too long for me to be sent over, I reenlisted for Vietnam service, thinking it would get me there quicker. That extended my 3-year enlistment.
In Vietnam, I was assigned to 1st Infantry Division at Lai Khe, about 60 miles northwest of Saigon. My unit was mechanized (using Armored Personnel Carriers), and we stayed out in the field for months at a time, with periodic stand-downs when we went back to base or a stand-down center. We were highly mobile, moving across our Area of Operations, overrunning and destroying enemy base camps. When 1st Infantry was rotated back to the States in 1970, I was transferred to Long Binh, where I served out the rest of my tour as a REMF (Rear Echelon MF).
At the end of my tour, I was assigned to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where I met General Patton’s son. We were providing medical support for his unit while it was on a field exercise. Then, I was promoted to E5 and transferred to 56th General Hospital in Bad Kreuznach, Germany. I served the rest of my enlistment there, working in the ER. I was discharged at Fort Dix on the 22nd of March in 1972.
Who was your childhood hero?
I had a lot of them. Zorro was my hero at a very early age, and I later moved on to Crazy Horse, the Lakota war leader, and Geronimo, the Apache leader. About the time I graduated from high school, my admiration turned to one of my uncles who served in World War II. He was in the Navy, in a unit that worked at clearing obstacles at the Normandy landings. The family story is that he was one of the first underwater demolitionists.
What made you want to join up?
I had a cousin who served in Vietnam, a medic with 101st Airborne. The way he carried himself and the respect the family had for him made me think it was a good thing.
Tell us some of the big lessons you learned from serving.
I guess the biggest lesson I learned in the Army was teamwork. I’ve always been a loner, and the Army was big on teamwork. They really drilled it into us in basic. I also met, and learned to work with, people from just about every social stratum in the U.S.
What was your most harrowing experience, that you’re willing to share?
In Vietnam, we had sent out a patrol from our platoon’s position. They were hit and we loaded up the APCs to go support them. En route to their position, the .50 gunner of the lead APC opened up. The column stopped and I went prone on the track to make myself a smaller target. Our .50 gunner swung the barrel over my head and opened up. It was so loud, and the barrel was so hot that I slithered under the barrel and down the front of the APC. I worked my way around the side of the APC, looked around and realized there were enemy bunkers on both sides of us.
What do you wish those who have never served better understood?
The price that is paid by those who serve.
Are there any service members that you know, or served with, that you’d like to honor their sacrifice by naming?
I served with a guy in Hawaii, that was kind of an inspiration to me. I won’t name him, as I’ve lost track of him and am not certain he’d want to be named. He was a Tennessee boy, full of piss and vinegar. He and I went through medic training together at Fort Sam Houston, were both put through Leadership Preparation Cadre courses, and ended up posted to Hawaii together. We volunteered for Vietnam at the same time, but while I got antsy and reenlisted to hurry things up, he stayed the course. He ended up going to Nam before I did, was assigned to 101st Airborne. Before he shipped out, I asked him what he thought of all the talk about how the war was morally wrong and the U.S. was evil, etc. He said, “It’s my country. I’m gonna support it.”
What are your thoughts about the two major wars going on right now? Iraq and Afghanistan? Or any other thoughts on foreign policy that just frustrate you to no end.
I sure hope somebody knows what they’re doing.
Tell me the most heroic thing you ever saw, if you can.
I won’t cite a specific case, but I saw instances of guys standing up to the risk to get the job done. From night patrols to rolling into enemy base camps. I can still see them, firing into the night, calling in artillery or air support, waving an arm to position somebody. They were something.
Share with us a story of a leader who inspired you while you served.
My platoon sergeant in Vietnam, an Army Ranger, was quite the guy. When the shit hit the fan, he knew what to do and made sure people did it. He also did a good job of keeping the squabbles down and kept us well supplied. If a letter needed to be written to the next of kin of a KIA, he took care of it and made sure we all signed. He held stuff together.
What do you wish for the country?
I’d like to see the anger and hatred toned down, opposing views presented truthfully, with more logic and less heat. I’d like to see a return to reason.
Any closing thoughts or anything you’d like to add?
Thanks, Stan for asking me to do this. It’s an honor for me, a guy who is no kind of hero, to be thought of in a positive light by a fellow veteran.
Closing remarks from Stan: I really want to thank Tim for doing this. When I asked him, I wasn’t sure he’d do it. We’ve talked offline for a few years as we’ve both done the writing thing, and Tim isn’t one to tell a bunch of BS war stories. Or real ones, either.
One of those guys I’ve just come to respect and appreciate through the years. He’s an author, too, and a damned good one, though you’ll never hear him talk about it. Here’s his website: https://twdittmer.com. And if you want to check out a book that’s deep and still has me marveling several years later, check out The Valley Walker.
Tim had no idea I was writing the latter part about his writing, and he’ll probably be a little frustrated with me, but I’ll take the brunt of that. He’s done a lot to help me with my writing through the years, so he’ll just have to tolerate me mentioning his books.
And I’ll just add one thing: it was quiet, reserved men such as Tim, who had served in Vietnam, that I looked up to growing up. That made me want to serve my country and put on a uniform.
It was also men such as him, and men before him who served in World War II and Korea, that always caused me to feel I never quite measured up. I think us veterans never feel we quite did enough.
I’ll never forget an old man who cut me off once, as I was sharing a story about a man that had won the Medal of Honor.
He was a decorated veteran himself and he cut me off and pointed right at me, and he said, “Son, just stop right there. You’re a hero.”
I asked him what he meant, and he said, “Well, didn’t you go over there to Albania? Help rescue a lot of Americans?”
I said, “Yes, but I didn’t –“
He cut me off. “You’re a hero. You volunteered. You did your duty. And you would have paid the price if it was necessary. So just stop right there. You’re a hero.”
He went on to add that even those who served and never deployed, they were heroes for even signing up.
So to the veterans out there, of any branch, of any MOS, I say this: “You’re a hero. You’re the 1 percent.”
And in that line of thinking, I need your help. If you know a veteran you’d like to have honored? Email me. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll take it from there.
Hope you enjoyed the article, and thanks again to Tim. Now, get me some nominations. I need lots of help making this happen.
I really would like to do this on a pretty-regular basis, as just one very small way for me to help honor those who have sacrificed so much.
Stan R. Mitchell
About me: I write exciting, fast-paced thrillers. Both military action and mystery whodunnits. Ten books penned. 70,000+ sold. I also try to only write about positive things on my blog, so please consider subscribing. Or, you can sign up for my new release mailing list, where I will literally only email you when I publish a book. And obviously, if you’re looking for a quick, fun read, then click the link to check out my books. #USMC #SemperFidelis