GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) John Hoeft was just over 18-years-old when he was drafted in the Army with the 2nd battalion, 3rd infantry, 199th infantry brigade known as the Redcatchers.
After Advanced Infantry Training, he was sent to Vietnam where he worked with ground mortars, then he was a machine gunner, and then worked in infantry supply.
“I really had three lives over there, the bulk of it being a machine gunner,” he said.
His team was attached to the 11th cavalry, and then the 1st cavalry division.
“We protected Viet Cong from filtering in to Saigon,” he explained. “Someone’s in trouble, air mobile would take us in, drop us off to help.”
For John, he had to focus on simply making it to the next day after being involved in several firefights.
“When you’re out in the field, you don’t think of it,” he said. “You worry about survival, you think about protecting your brother, and just trying to stay alive.”
When John came home, the fight continued.
“Walking through the airport, people looked at you, turned their heads,” he said. “Other people would just shake their head at you. I said, ‘welcome home Johnny.’ It was terrible.”
John then developed an addiction to alcohol. To get his life back on track, he was encouraged to join military groups with his fellow veterans.
“When I got home everybody said, ‘hey join this, join that.’ I said, ‘I ain’t joining nothing, nobody cared about us.'”
John eventually came around, and now he’s part of eight different veterans’ groups. Those include the VFW, American Legion, VVA, and AM Vets. His most notable group is the DAV, where he was named state commander in 2010.
“Everyday seems like it’s a healing process,” he said. “My best therapy is getting involved with the military groups, by far.”
Even as the years go by, the thoughts of Vietnam still stick with John.
“Sure I’m strong, but like any human being I break down easily,” he said. “The war put a dent in me. I’m alive, and I think of those veterans that didn’t make it back. I pray for them, I pray for their families.
“I’m proud to be here. I’m proud to be an American.”
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