Mr. John Knoche served in the U.S. Army for two years, one on active duty in Vietnam. The ongoing threat of war in Vietnam caused one of the most extensive drafts in American history; between 1964 and 1972, an estimated 2.2 million young men committed to service. Mr. Knoche was part of the masses who had their draft number called and entered the service. Like most families of this time, Mr. Knoche’s family was ultimately supportive of him but naturally had concerns. They didn’t like to think that their son might not return. However, they knew that he had no choice, it was either you go in, or you get thrown into the brig until you are allowed to leave; even if that meant that you were in the brig for years, you would have to serve your time still no matter how old you were.
Shortly after being drafted into the military, Mr. Knoche was sent to South Carolina to complete basic training with other recruits. Before entering the training facility, recruits would have to be inspected and given the necessary shots if they didn’t have them already. Some of the most important training exercises were calisthenics and rifle training. Recruits had to lay down in practice ranges and shoot M-16 rifles at targets. It wasn’t just rifles they were trained to use, but also other special weapons like M-72 Rocket launchers, grenades, and knives. Mr. Knoche recalls being placed in rooms filled with harmful gas, and the recruits were tasked with feeling the gas before they could put on the gas masks. Despite all that he endured, I was fortunate to hear that Mr. Knoche’s overall basic training experience was positive.
When the time came for Mr. Knoche and his comrades to finish their training, about 1000 recruits were held in an auditorium. The colonel informed everyone in the auditorium that “Every one of you is going to Vietnam.” Shocked, everyone, including Mr. Knoche, turned and looked at each other and hoped that they would have the chance to return to their families. Shortly after the event in the auditorium, Mr. Knoche and his comrades were sent out into the jungles of Vietnam, where he would remain for the following year. While in Vietnam, Mr. Knoche would experience the tragedies that war often brings, including witnessing bombings, surprise attacks from the NVA, (North Vietnamese Army), and his fellow soldiers being killed all around him. Soldiers in his battalion had to dig foxholes with their trench shovels at night to hide and protect themselves from enemies.
Mr. Knoche shared with me an experience that shows the horrors that soldiers were forced to witness throughout the Vietnam War. One day when Mr. Knoche and his battalion of about 1000 men were camped out in the jungle, he was assigned to a squad with about eight other guys. They were instructed to search a nearby trail for signs of hostile soldiers. As they were walking down the path, the squad spotted fresh tracks and cables that were laid along the trail. In an instant, they knew that the enemies were there, but they were instructed to keep moving to “make contact” with any NVA soldiers. They ended up having to sprint back to safety while avoiding enemy gunfire and mortar shelling.
Regardless of all the horrors that Mr. Knoche witnessed, there were also times that stood out to him that were more positive. He was able to go on a vacation for R&R. Some popular destinations were Hawaii, Australia, and Japan. While Hawaii was the most desired destination, it was reserved for only people who were married to be able to meet up with their families for a weeklong vacation. Japan was too far away, and your vacation would be cut short by the flight alone. That left Australia as the most desired location for many soldiers. Mr. Knoche was offered an opportunity to be put on the list to go to Australia, to which he immediately agreed. While in Australia, Mr. Knoche purchased a camera that he used to take photographs of his positive and negative experiences.
After completing his year in Vietnam, he was assigned as an instructor in basic training for new recruits for six months. After completing his full two years of service, he returned home with two purple hearts: one earned by getting nerve damage after stepping on a mine and the other by being hit with shrapnel from an RPG blast; Mr. Knoche returned to Ridgefield, Connecticut, where he was raised. He got married and settled in the Branchville area. He became an electrical contractor and was responsible for powering many buildings within our community, such as the Keeler Tavern, Community Centers, and various homes. Even today, he continues to help people with electrical services in any way he can.
After speaking with Mr. Knoche, I learned that we should recognize all that Veterans have done for us and that we never know what they have gone through. The least we can do is thank them for their service and all they’ve done to protect and serve our country. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Mr. Knoche has the most incredible photo albums of his time in the service. It was truly incredible to see so many first-hand photographs that showed many aspects of Mr. Knoche’s time in Vietnam. Some that really stood out to me were the photographs of the bunkers, trenches, cans of food, and countless photographs of the brave men that served our country with Mr. Knoche.