2004 Veterans Day Thoughts - Al Ryder

Major Hufschmid came to Hawaii shortly after I did and took command of “B” Battery, 6-11 Artillery. I recall him entering a small auditorium and reading from his orders just whom he was and what he was assigned to do. My next memory was of him coming to the field to observe our training progress. He approached the gun I was assigned to ( Gun 6) and immediately had a fit because it had been raining and the gun had some surface rust on it. He kept us at attention while he explained what could happen if the rust was allowed to remain. I recall saying to myself what a pain in the ass this guy is going to be.

One of the guys somehow came into possession of a pair of ladies panties (Blue in color I believe) I do not recall the details of how or who it was that came into possession of this under garment but we placed them over the cover of the gun barrel and then Gun 6 became “Gun Sex”. I mention this because Major Hufscmid allowed us to continue with this attempt at humor, which was out of character for him.

The Major (who by the way was a Captain at the time) tried to discourage some of us married guys from bringing our wife’s to Hawaii but of course we did not listen and our wives began arriving. Major Hufschmid had advised us that we would be gone for several weeks to the Big Island for training but we still made the choice to send for our wife’s.

Army life was pretty much uneventful for the rest of the year until we learned that we would be shipping out for Vietnam.

My wife went back home to New York and I moved back into the Barracks. Major Hufschmid left for Vietnam as part of an advanced team, approximately December 1st, 1967 and most of us shipped out on December 5th and arrived there around December 20th.

My next encounter with the Major was down in his bunker on LZ Uptight. I could hardly believe that we had a conversation that didn’t pertain to the Army. We spoke briefly about returning home and that he came from Long Island, New York, which is where I came from. I managed to get the nerve to tell him that I was glad I didn’t listen to him and had brought my Wife to Hawaii even if it was for only a few months. He agreed that at least my wife and I had spent some time together. Sometime after that conversation I was assigned to the newly created “D” Battery and was moved to LZ Buff. I stayed at that location until the end of July 1968 When I was rotated out of Vietnam. During my time there my wife had written to me that my best friend who had gone into the Army with me had been killed in action while walking point. His body had been shipped home in a closed coffin because he was badly burned when Napalm was called in on his position. I took this news very hard and remembered how close we were. How glad I was to be returning home safely.

I was sent back to Duc Pho and then to Chu Lai where I had a chance meeting with Major Hufschmid. He called out to me “Corporal Ryder” and when I turned I recognized him and he said, “I see that it is now Sgt. Ryder. I laughed and said and I see that you are now Major Hufschmid. We had a short conversation and he wished me good luck and we both said that maybe we would see each on Long Island someday.

I returned home and got on with my life trying to forget about the war, which was almost impossible because of daily headlines as to how bad it was going and by that time a lot of protesting had begun.

Sadly, one day while reading the paper, I came across the story in the Long Island Newsday about the death of Major Hufschmid in November,1968. I remember thinking at that time what a shame. He was so close to returning to Hawaii (Two Weeks) to be with his wife. I cut out the article and put it away.

Sometime in the mid 1990’s I was watching television and heard Health and Human services Secretary Donna Shalala state that “America did not send it’s best and brightest to fight in Vietnam”. It was about the same time that I had recently returned from visiting a replica of the Vietnam War Memorial that was located near my hometown where I had taken my wife and Son. As a Veteran I was outraged by her statement  which she later somewhat recanted.

I am not ashamed to admit that I broke down when I saw the names of my close Friend Kevin VerPault from my hometown and also my Army buddy from the 6-11th Harry Desormeaux as well as that of Major Robert Hufschmid. This made her statement that much harder for me to bear. I found the article (obituary) about Major Hufschmid and immediately wrote a letter to the newspaper Long Island Newsday.

In the article the Major’s Sister Martha had indicated how Her Brother Bob had graduated 19th out of a class of 601 at West Point in 1962 and that she felt that if he had lived he could have even become President of the United States. This was always my way of thinking about him as well. Even if I thought he was a pain in the ass, later in life I realized how mature he was for his age.

The article that I wrote, appeared in the Newspaper, somewhat edited, but at least it was in there. To my surprise I received a phone call from the Major’s Brother-in-Law John and then his sister Martha. We had a long conversation and they thanked me for my words of support. I also received a call from one of his close friends from his hometown. A year or so later (May, 1997) I received a letter and invitation from The Major’s Sister to attend an Alumni Breakfast at Major Hufschmids old High School where he and others would be inducted into the “Alumni Hall of Fame.”

For me it was quite an honor just to be there and meet his family and old friends. They made me feel like a VIP. I was introduced to many of his friends including a Gentleman named Rick who apparently was his closest friend. Rick was the one who had called me after he had seen the article. Ironically Rick did not normally read the paper and only came upon my article while picking up the paper for his neighbor. He told me that he was just flipping through it and spotted the Major’s name. He spoke with admiration of the Major and how sad he was to have lost a good friend and high school buddy. Rick also indicated that he had been to West Point to visit Major Hufschmids grave site.

 I was surprised  how eager everyone was to talk about the war and what kind of an officer Bob Hufschmid was. Of course this was many years after the war had ended. Many questioned as to how the Major felt about the war and I simply stated that he was aware of the job he had to do and of the enormous responsibility he had. I indicated that he did his job well.

It is noteworthy that in the Alumni induction ceremony booklet I was given it is written that Major Robert Hufschmid was being recognized for his Leadership at the High School, the United States Military Academy at West Point and as an Outstanding Officer in the United States Army who died in Vietnam.

Major Robert Hufschmid's picture dressed in his West Point uniform hangs proudly in the hallway of the High School from which he graduated and was later so honored. 

Respectfully Submitted, 
Alfred E. Ryder

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