Manitowoc, Wis. (WFRV) – Tom Hoffman was born in De Pere. His family moved to Thorpe, Wisconsin where he worked as a sheet metal apprentice after high school, deferring him from the draft for the Vietnam War.
But he went in eventually.
“I knew I was going to get drafted. My twin brother was a plumber in the union in Wausau and the Navy was running around looking for construction guys,” recalled Hoffman.
“So, they went to all the union halls looking for fourth and fifth year apprentices, knowing we were all going to get drafted. So he called me up and told me about the Seabees, and of course I’d never heard of a Seabee before. I called the recruiter and he drove 60 miles to see me that same night,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman’s brother would head to Vietnam later.
Hoffman still remembers vividly his plane ride into Vietnam.
“My friend Amen was sitting next to me and I said, ‘I don’t want to be here.’ He said, ‘Me neither, I’m not getting off this plane.’ Well, you know how long that lasted.”
‘Here’ was Da Naang, Vietnam.
Now 1969, he was a Seabee in The Navy headed to the war in Vietnam.
Primarily in Da Naang and Phu Bai, Vietnam, Hoffman was assigned to the Naval Support Activity group, where he worked on construction projects.
“If you’re a steel worker or an iron worker or a builder or whatever it might be, you did whatever you had to do to help everybody out. Part of that though, was once you get it done, you get the heck out of there and go back to Da Naang,” said Hoffman.
Hoffman returned from Vietnam in 1970, his brother would make it back safely too.
While he was searching for a job back home in Wisconsin, he came across something that would change his life.
“I was riding around town. And I can still remember going past the flame,” said Hoffman.
Hoffman first came across the eternal flame at the Manitowoc Veteran’s Memorial in 1971 while he was driving around town before a job interview. Little did he know that less than 30 years later he would be the Chairman for the committee to keep the eternal flame burning.
“The next day I asked him, ‘What’s the flame all about’ and he told me it was for veterans and that totally impressed me,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman organizes fundraisers each year to keep the flame burning, to keep honoring those veterans. His most recent one raised $200 thousand for the memorial.
“There’s flames for this, there’s flames for that. But this is just veterans, and I think it’s so important to keep that thing going and keep it running, and that’s really why I do this,” he said.
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