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Author Richard Schaefer

Sioux City author Richard Schaefer shows a copy of his book "Path to a Lonely War," which details his experience as a U.S. Naval Hospital Corpsman during the Vietnam War. The book's cover feature a photo of Schaefer that was originally published in Life Magazine in 1965. 

SIOUX CITY -- Richard "Dick" Schaefer pulled out a copy of Life Magazine, dated Sept. 3, 1965, from a brown folder.

Inside the magazine was a photo of Schaefer when he was a U.S. Navy Corpsman carrying a Vietnamese patient to a medical evacuation helicopter during Operation Starlite, the first major offensive regimental-sized action conducted by the United States during the Vietnam War.

"My parents didn't subscribed to Life but plenty of people in my hometown of Hooper, Nebraska, did," Schaefer remembered. "They showed the picture to my mom and my mom wrote me a letter asking, 'Is that you?'

"Yeah, that was me around the time of my 21st birthday," he said, looking at his younger self. "I spent my birthday in Van Tuong, South Vietnam."

A retired GELITA North America quality assurance director, Schaefer has written a book, "Path to a Lonely War: A Naval Hospital Corpsman with the Marines in Vietnam, 1965," which chronicles his experience.

The 160-page book, which also includes Schaefer's reflections on America's involvement in the war as well as his reintegration into civilian life, can be purchased through Texas Tech University Press as well as online book retailers like and

"I wrote the book because of the way the Vietnam War has been presented in the media," the 73-year-old Sioux Cityan said. "We weren't the 'Greatest Generation' but we deserved more respect than we received when we got home.

"Most of the guys who served weren't political and neither was I," Schaefer said. "We had a job to do. It was as simple as that."

Indeed, he looked at military service as a way to get into college.

"I had a desire to go on to college after high school," Schaefer recalled. "In reality, I may have liked the idea of going to college more than actually attending classes."

Even though his family wasn't poor, money was tight. 

"I had two younger brothers and a sister at home," Schaefer said. "That meant I needed to serve in the military to qualify for the G.I. Bill."

Impulsively, he enlisted with the U.S. Navy in the summer of 1962.

"I wasn't aware of the increasing military action in Vietnam," Schaefer said. "I don't think anyone was."

Eventually, he was assigned to become a naval medical corpsman assigned to a U.S. Marine Corps unit. That was also his role when he was shipped off for a year of duty in Vietnam, beginning in May 1965.

"I was involved relatively early in the action," Schaefer said. "The war became more controversial as the years went by but it was never, ever popular." 

However, his service gave him the opportunity to earn a bachelor's degree from Wayne State College and a master's degree from the University of Nebraska in Omaha.

When he and his wife Joann were raising their three children, Schaefer seldom talked about his military service. "It wasn't a topic I'd ever bring up myself."

That is, until after Schaefer retired from a 33-year career at GELITA in 2007.

"I never had the dream of writing my own book," he said. "Still, I wanted to compile my Vietnam experience before the memory left me."

To Schaefer's surprise, those memories never went away.

"Everyone who served left a part of themselves in Vietnam," he said. "Even after more than 50 years, it feels as if it was yesterday."

Now through "Path to a Lonely War," Schaefer will be able to discuss the war with his grandsons Harley and Jett.

"When they ask me what I did in the war, I'll be able to tell them," he said. "I'm the man I am today because of my service. It truly shaped me."


Food and Lifestyles reporter

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