Book tells forgotten story of fallen Vietnam veteranAugust 8, 2018
By LEANN BURKE
JASPER — When southwest Indiana writers Randy and Roxanne Mills were sorting through a box of letters from the Vietnam War for their book, “Summer Wind: A Soldier’s Road from Indiana to Vietnam,” they found roughly 120 negatives taken by Richard “Dick” Wolfe, an area soldier from Princeton who was killed at Xom Bung in 1968. Randy figures the negatives, along with the letters, hadn’t been looked at in almost 50 years.
“It sort of captures how all this (about the Vietnam War) got forgotten,” Randy said.
Randy and Roxanne of Oakland City made it their mission to tell the stories of common soldiers like Wolfe — who was an infantryman in the Army’s Alpha Company — and the families and communities they left behind.
Constructed from interviews with Wolfe’s family and fellow Alpha Company soldiers, countless Wolfe family letters, photos and journal entries, “Summer Wind” uses the Wolfe family’s story to paint a picture of what so many families endured during the Vietnam War that ran from 1955 to 1975.
At 1 p.m. Sunday, Randy and Roxanne will be at the Dubois County Museum signing copies of the book as part of Military Appreciation Day. The book is also available on Amazon, and at Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million.
Randy and Roxanne, both professors at Oakland City University, got the idea for a book when one of the soldiers who served with Wolfe came into Randy’s office. The man, now an elderly veteran, shared his recollection of Xom Bung and Wolfe with Randy, including how he’d carried his friend’s body back to camp.
“He was very adamant that that story be told,” Randy said. “These stories (of common soldiers) get forgotten so quickly.”
Randy and Roxanne often team up on local history articles and books, so Wolfe’s story fit for them. They set to work.
When they interviewed Wolfe’s fellow Alpha Company soldiers, they learned Wolfe’s peers liked and respected him. They also learned about the fear the soldiers felt in Vietnam, both for themselves and their friends fighting alongside them.
As the interviews continued, Randy and Roxanne also uncovered mystery around Wolfe’s death. On Jan. 6, 1968, Wolfe and his unit were on patrol in the area around their fire base. Unknowingly, they walked into an enemy base and came under fire. At some point during the battle, Wolfe’s peers lost sight of him. When they found him again, he was dead. No one knows for sure when or how he died during the hourslong fight.
As the interviews with the soldiers continued, Randy and Roxanne began to see the cathartic power of their project. Calls and emails of thanks from the veterans and their wives later confirmed it.
“When these guys (the veterans) get together and tell their stories, there’s some healing,” Randy said. “A lot of these guys are struggling with (the war) even 50 years later.”
Randy and Roxanne also dug into Wolfe’s family relationships and his community during the Vietnam War. That’s when they found the untouched box of letters and photo negatives Wolfe’s family had kept tucked away for decades. As Randy and Roxanne read through the Wolfe family artifacts, they again saw fear: the fear of a family worried they’d lose a son; the fear of a solider worried he’d never come home; and the fear of a new wife and young mother, worried the war would bring an early end to her marriage. But they also saw love and support in those letters. The story, they decided, was in the myriad emotions people grapple with every day in war time.
“It’s not a happy story,” Randy said. “But it’s a story that needs to be told. This is the story of 58,000 families who lost soldiers in Vietnam.”
In addition to the book signing, the Dubois County Museum’s Military Appreciation Day on Sunday will also include stories from local veterans and a special flag exhibit. The museum will be open from 1 to 4 p.m. Adult admission in $5.
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