Jim Stanley knew the chances were high that he would be drafted into military service.
It was 1969 and the United States was deeply involved in the Vietnam War, with more than 500,000 troops involved in the conflict. Stanley soon became one of those men and was drafted for a two-year term of service.
Stanley, then 20 years old, went to Fort Polk, La., for basic training with the U.S. Army.
“At the time it was the biggest infantry training center in the United States,” he says. “I thought I was going to end up in the infantry because when you’re drafted you don’t have a choice.”
Instead he was assigned to combat engineer school in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. He was later assigned to the 14th Engineer Battalion and stationed in the Quang Tri province in Vietnam. He also was assigned with the 101st Airborne Division.
Stanley of Adel was part of a “line platoon” and helped construct bunkers and perform mine detection. A few months later, he became a heavy equipment operator and drove an end loader and dump truck. He helped build roads, helicopter pads, support bases and perimeter fences. He spent 11 months in Vietnam — nine months in the field and the remaining time at Camp Evans base camp.
“One of the main things we had to worry about were land mines,” Stanley recalls. “They were very crafty, the Viet Cong. They could plant land mines at night, and you couldn’t tell where they had disturbed the dirt.”
He saw several men meet their fate to land mines. And several times, the group he was with would be hit by incoming artillery fire.
Stanley was lucky and made it home without a scratch. He found a land mine once when it was his turn to sweep for them.
“I was more worried about stepping on one than when I found it,” he recalls, adding that soldiers had been trained on how to probe for one, dig around it and safely set it off.
Stanley says he had little interaction with the Vietnamese people. There were numerous small villages near where he was stationed, but the fear of the enemy was too great.
“They said there was too many Viet Cong; that’s why everything was off limits,” he says. “It wasn’t secure enough.”
Stanley remembers eating C-rations while in the field. Soldiers rarely ate hot meals. Instead, they received a small box of canned foods: meat, crackers, cookies and fruit; and a little bag with silverware and napkins. He laughs as he remembers the meal box also included five cigarettes courtesy of the U.S. government.
Stanley was discharged in mid-1971. He returned to central Iowa and worked at Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel Co. and later John Deere Des Moines Works.
He served with the Iowa National Guard for three years in the 1980s.
Howard Geddes’ service in the U.S. Air Force took him all over the world including Vietnam and Southeast Asia.
Geddes was 21 years old in 1954 when he was called into active duty with the U.S. Air Force after he graduated from Drake University as a second lieutenant in the ROTC program.
He received his pilot’s training on various types of planes from the B-25 to the C-130, and he also was an instructor. He volunteered to go to Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, where he piloted planes that transported men and supplies. He dropped flares at night and large bombs to make instant helicopter pads.
“I wanted to be a pilot; ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a pilot,” Geddes says.
Geddes’ 20 years in the Air Force gave him the chance to participate in Operation Deep Freeze, where he flew supplies into Antarctica. He also was the aircraft commander for an experimental flight to Antarctica with jet aircraft.
Geddes was part of classified missions in various parts of the globe. His service took him around the world and from the North Pole to the South Pole. He finished his military service in November 1974. He was later a pilot for 13 years for Japan Airlines and flew between the United States and Tokyo, Japan.
“It was all worthwhile,” says Geddes, who retired as a lieutenant colonel. “There’s no greater feeling than serving your country.”
Bob Wolfe still has the copy of the draft notice he received almost 62 years ago from the U.S. government. It was December 1950, and the United States had become involved in the Korean War. He was 22 years old, living in Des Moines and working at Maytag in Newton when he received notice to report to duty 14 days later on Jan. 11, 1951.
He spent four months in basic training at Fort Riley, Kan.
“I think they did a thorough job,” Wolfe, now 83, recalls. “They didn’t push us right over there.”
He later boarded the USS Marine Phoenix and spent 12 days at sea until the vessel docked in Japan. It was his first time out of the Midwest and his first time on a boat, though he didn’t get sea sick.
Wolfe says he had accepted his fate as he waited what was to come once he arrived in Korea.
“Even though I was drafted against my will and I had things I wanted to do, I decided I wasn’t going to fight it and I was going to make the best of it,” he says.
He and other soldiers traveled by train across Japan to Korea, where they boarded a landing craft tank that took them around the bottom of Korea to the western city of Incheon, which had been destroyed from the war.
Wolfe was stationed with the 7th Infantry Regiment in the 3rd Infantry Division near the 38th parallel. He spent almost all of his time in Korea within 50 miles of that location.
Wolfe had trained as a rifleman and served as one in a combat infantry company for about two months. Ironically, Wolfe’s mother worked at the Des Moines Ordnance Plant. His gun shot caliber .30 M2 ammunition, which had been made at the ordnance plant.
As a result of so many soldiers’ deaths, Wolfe says he became a squad leader of a group of riflemen. Eventually, he was promoted to corporal. His assistant squad leader and best friend was Corp. John Doyle, a rookie police officer from Dallas. In December 1951, Doyle was killed by a mortar round.
A few weeks later on Dec. 23, Wolfe, who had been on the front line, went back to get hot chow for lunch. During the daytime, it was quiet and there was little to no fighting. At noon, soldiers were served a hot meal.
Wolfe left his position to get his food, and a mortar round dropped behind him. Usually, he says, one could hear the whistling that accompanied it before it hit and went off. But in this case, he only heard it go off. He remembers it knocking him to the ground and then being put in a jeep and taken to a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH).
Four other men were injured, and two were killed in the attack. Wolfe sustained two wounds in each leg, one in his right arm and another in his back, waist high just left of his spine. An X-ray showed that a piece of steel had gone three-fourths of the way through his body. He has a 10-12 inch scar on the front of his torso from where surgeons removed the steel and repaired his intestines.
“You get wounded, and you get a Purple Heart,” Wolfe says. “I had a guy once say: ‘So, you have six.’ No, you just get one.”
He was sent to Tokyo General Hospital to recover. Some time while in the hospital, he received a Purple Heart for being injured in battle.
In another strange coincidence, Wolfe’s younger brother, Jimmie, was in the Navy and on a ship in the Pacific Ocean. The boat docked in Tokyo. His brother was granted a leave so he could visit Wolfe in the hospital.
“That’s a small miracle to make that kind of arrangement and for us to be in the same part of the world that close together,” Wolfe says.
While Wolfe was in the hospital, it was discovered that the piece of steel had sliced through one of his kidneys, but it had not been visible during surgery. A trip to the bathroom uncovered that he was bleeding internally. Surgeons opened him back up and removed the kidney. He lost so much blood that he had to have blood transfusions.
“I was young, strong and in perfect health when they drafted me, and when I came back, I was bent and broken with one kidney gone and scars all over my body,” Wolfe says. By the time Wolfe returned to the United States several weeks later, he was down to 116 pounds.
He spent time at the Army-Navy Hospital in Hot Springs, Ark., gaining weight and finishing his recovery. He finished out the remainder of his service working as a clerk at Camp Chaffee, Ark., because his injuries had left him unable to return to work as a combat-infantry rifleman.
He was discharged on Oct. 10, 1952, and returned to Des Moines. He married wife, Shirley, the following February, and later owned his own television repair business.
Korea and Vietnam changed the way Americans look at war, perhaps forever.