On Friday, November 12, Mr. Jim Dittmer visited Mrs. Lauren Lemmon-Hoffman’s ninth grade history classes to share with the students his experiences fighting in the Vietnam War. He talked to them about when he was drafted, the training he was given, how they passed the time while in-country, and the effects that those experiences (including exposure to Agent Orange) has had on him and his fellow veterans.
Below is some background on Mr. Dittmer, who has graciously agreed to assist with previous Veterans’ Day activities as well.
- Sgt. Jim Dittmer was born and raised in Herman, PA. Sgt. Dittmer was drafted at 19 yrs. old, the day before his father’s birthday. Since he was drafted, he didn’t get to choose the branch of the military and was enlisted into the U.S. Army. Sgt. Dittmer served in Vietnam after the Tet of 1968 in February, but he served his year from June 1968-June 1969. While in Vietnam he was a soldier in the 11th armored cavalry regiment. Sgt. Dittmer actually looked forward to going to Vietnam as he had been laid off from Pullman Standard and his unemployment checks were running out and he knew that he needed to find another job. By January 1968, he had been drafted. As he explained the climate of Vietnam as he walked off the "jailbird" (the plane that took him into the country), it took a while for him to catch his breath. He served in the "bush" (as there were no front lines in Vietnam) with a tank division. He enjoyed this because it meant that he didn't have to walk everywhere he went. He served in the southern portion of Vietnam near the Cambodian border and often went across the border, too. He and many of his friends were exposed to Agent Orange. He explained how the chemical worked and killed all the vegetation so that the Viet Cong and the Northern Vietnamese Army couldn't hide in the greenery anymore. He also mentioned how important a P-38 can opener was in order to eat his C-rations and if you didn't have that, you didn't eat. He explained how terrible it was for P.O.W.s in Vietnam. He had a friend who was chained to a wall for 2 years in Cambodia.
- Upon his return to the U.S. he explained how excited he was to board that "freedom bird" that would be taking him home to the U.S. Upon arriving in Oakland, CA, the soldiers were on a bus to go to the terminal in order to be processed to go home. On the way, the bus broke down and some people started to complain. He asked why they were complaining because the bus was air-conditioned and no one was shooting at them. He said when he made it to Pittsburgh, it was early in the morning and he was hungry. So, he went to a cafe at the airport to wait for his family. All he wanted was a "good American hamburger" but the waitress said they couldn't make it for him as they were only serving breakfast at that time. Another woman in the kitchen overheard the conversation and made sure he got that hamburger he was longing for! He said that it tasted so good as he hadn't eaten a hamburger in a whole year! Upon seeing his father for the first time after being in Vietnam, his father, a WWII veteran, had tears in his eyes because he didn't think he'd ever see his son again. But, Sgt. Dittmer said, "I told you I'd be home in a year!"
Thank you to Mr. Dittmer for sharing his experiences and for his service, along with that of all our other local veterans!