Vietnam War

Oral History Interview: Richard Hertel


Richard Hertel in August 1969 on duty with the 520th Transportation Battalion in Phu Loi RVN.

Courtesy Richard Hertel

Between 1969 and 1970, Richard Hertel served as a personnel clerk and chapel organist in Phu Loi, Vietnam during the Vietnam War.  

When he was drafted, he decided to go to Officer Candidates School because he had a bachelor’s degree. After hearing stories about fragging at induction, he decided to instead become a personnel clerk.

While Hertel did not experience combat, he witnessed the effects of drug use and prostitution on the base of Phu Ly and during rest and relaxation leave in Thailand.  On the plane ride home from the war he had a revelation. He realized his life had been saved, and he had to make the most of it.  

At first, this meant going to graduate school and doing his best for his wife and daughter. Later in life, this meant being true to himself as a gay man.

Hertel has been with his now-husband for more than 30 years. Hertel says at the time he wouldn’t have said being drafted was a good thing, but looking back the Vietnam War changed his life for the better.