Brad Byrd In-Depth: Randy Mills talks about book on local veteran

His name was Richard "Dick" Wolfe, and he was a soldier from Princeton, Indiana who wrote letters telling his remarkable story during his time in the Vietnam War. He opened his heart to his family and his friends.

His story is now shared in a book titled "Summer Wind: A Soldier's Road from Indiana to Vietnam." It's co-authored by Randy Mills and his wife, Roxanne Mills.

Brad Byrd talks with Randy Mills about who Dick Wolfe was and how his story about serving in the Vietnam War will touch the hearts of readers.

Transcript of interview:

Brad Byrd: "And welcome to In-Depth. His name was Richard 'Dick' Wolfe - a teenager, a soldier from princeton indiana who loved to write letters. Well, he may not have realized it at the time, but in those letters -- he told a remarkable story during his time in Vietnam. He opened his heart to his family, his friends. It will touch and probably hurt  your heart when you read this new book 'Summer Wind: A Soldier's Road from Indiana to Vietnam co-authored by Randy Mills and his wife Roxanne Mills. Randy joins me tonight. Randy, it was a decade that, I personally feel, changed america forever the 1960’s. And Dick Wolfe loved to write letters but he was stickler for detail and sometimes those letters were long and he wrote a lot of them."

Randy Mills: "Yes. And sometimes they were very vivid. Must have been disturbing to his mom and dad but he did not hold anything back that I could tell or that we could tell. And his mother said at one point in a letter that she appreciated him doing that because she wanted to know everything that was going on with his life."

Brad Byrd: "You told me an interesting story about him trying to chase down an aircraft."

Randy Mills: "Yes, yes. The way this all started, a fellow came to my office an older student that come back to school and he’d found out that my wife and I had written some books about military history - about basically, ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. And he had gone to vietnam with Dick Wolfe, they were dear friends and before they left, they made a  vow that they would come back to princeton alive and tell war stories to their grandchildren. And I think that was kind of a magical thinking sort of thing that would protect them and bring them back. Well, unfortunately, it didn’t work in Dick’s case. Butch Davis was the name of his friend. And Butch was stationed  at the (inaudible) air base which, at the time I think, was the largest in the world during the war. And Dick Wolfe, the fellow that wrote the letters, was out in the field most of the time but he would come and visit Butch and one time - one evening - they comandeered a jeep and decided they were going back to Princeton, and were going down the flight line chasing a jet plane with their hands up in the air trying to reach the plane - I think they had probably been drinking a little bit too at the time." 

Brad Brad: "Possibly so." 

Randy Mills: "But I do remember Butch saying that after that was over with, he looked at dick and he said, 'They’re never gonna believe this back in Princeton, but some day we’re gonna be telling this story.'"   

Brad Byrd: "Alright. Well, chris, show me a picture now of this young man, Dick Wolfe, and  we’re talking about a period between the summer of 1967 and January of 1968 when he died in action and, through his letters, what you tell me, is this was a very troubled boy in Princeton, Indiana."

Randy Mills: "Yes."

Brad Byrd: "You said he was a ... he felt like he was a failure."

Randy Mills: "Yes. I’m not sure how troubled he felt. He was rascally. He was mechanical. He had an older brother that was very successful in school - would later become a doctor. He was part of a car wreck fatality that he was responsible for that took a teacher’s life. It wasn’t purposeful, but nevertheless, that hung over him. He probably dropped out of high school because of that. He finished through correspondence school and then he went away on the east coast to a heavy equipment operating school, flunked out of that. Came back home. Became a mechanic. Gained a lot of weight and then he got drafted. And in those letters and in the pictures that we have that the family shared with us, you could see the metamorphosis. He changed from someone who just couldn’t  find his way to a very functional, highly respected part of a rifle company in Vietnam. And his letters really drill that home. Even in the pictures he goes from being overweight to being trim… well you can.. if you saw in the pictures."

Brad Byrd: "Yes, we have seen some of those there.. right now. This was just a very, this war, guerilla warfare, it was not a conventional war at that time."

Randy Mills: "Correct."

Brad Byrd: "That America ... it divided america in many ways. And he ... the changing of Dick Wolfe that you portray in this book, in many ways it’s redeeming, but it’s also heartbreaking because once he becomes that young man now, and not that failure that he thought he was, his life ends in Vietnam."

Randy Mills: "I think the hardest part of the book is those last letters. By that time, his parents were writing him, telling him how much they could tell he had matured. His letters were more mature. And they talked about it, they said that was their Christmas present to see him mature and become a valuable person. A person that was going to come home, he had a young son, he had been married before he went to vietnam and was going to be a good husband. And his brother, who was in the Army in Germany, sent this wonderful letter saying 'Dick I’ve read your letters, the things you’ve done, I couldn’t carry your canteen. You’re our hero. You’re our community’s hero. We can’t wait to see you when you get back.' And the very saddest thing about all that is he never got to read those letters. If you look at the date of his death and when those letters were sent, he had already been killed and the letters came back return to sender.  Deceased."

Brad Byrd: "There were 16,000 american military funerals in 1968 alone and one of those military funerals was that of Richard "Dick" Wolfe. And the book is titled, "Summer Wind: The Road from Indiana to Vietnam". And Randy, and your wife,  Roxanne, you’ve done a remarkable job. It is being released this month I understand." 

Randy Mills: "Yes, you can pre-order and it may be shipping out as we speak."

Brad Byrd: "Alrighty. Well, thank you very much for taking the time. We could read these letters all day."

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(This story was originally published November 8, 2017)


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