Air Force Academy Grad Shares Vietnam Experience With Cadets
by U.S. Air Force Academy Jennifer
July 30, 2019
One hundred fifty-one graduates of the Air Force Academy died in
Vietnam but not Hank Hoffman.
He knows he’s one of the lucky
Hoffman graduated in 1963. He went to Vietnam
immediately after flight school, where he flew in four combat tours
in B-52 and A-37 aircraft.
Retired Col. Hank Hoffman, a 1963 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, shared stories of his Vietnam War experience with cadets, April 25, 2019. Hoffman flew four combat tours over Vietnam as B-52 and A-37 pilot. He's seen here onstage at Arnold Hall will three cadets. (U.S. Air Force Academy photo by Jennifer Spradlin)
“I have been waiting more than 40 years for someone to truly ask
me about the Vietnam War,” Hoffman said from the stage of Arnold
Hall while briefing cadets. He showed them a cramped photograph of
17 cadets taken in his Vandenberg Hall dorm room.
Five in the
group became colonels (including Hoffman), six retired as lieutenant
colonels, and another -- Lance
Sijan -- would posthumously receive the Medal of Honor for valor.
Of Vietnam, Hoffmann used the expression “no battle plan ever
survives contact with the enemy,” to describe the strategic missteps
the Air Force made during its air mission.
“During the Cold
War, we operated under the mutually assured destruction model. The
Air Force model was to fly from Europe to drop nuclear bombs on the
Soviet Union, and when the aircraft ran out of gas, its pilots would
hopefully bail out beyond the contamination range,” Hoffman said.
“We were not prepared for this war in the jungle.”
encouraged the cadets to learn military theory in preparation for
their possible role in counseling high-level civilian leaders who
oversee military operations. Based on his experience in Vietnam, he
encouraged cadets to follow the principles outlined in the Powell
Doctrine. He said, “Don’t go [to war] unless you know exactly what
you want to do. And if you go, bring everyone.”
Class Adrienne DeBauche said the presentation underscored the
connection between strategic decisions and the experiences on the
ground and in the air for the warfighter.
“What struck me the
most [listening to the presentation] was his humility,” she said.
“Colonel Hoffman has more than 18,000 flight hours, far more than
most career pilots, and he flew in 377 combat strike missions. He
claims that he was just another pilot in the war; however, Colonel
Hoffman is just as much a hero as the others he singled out for
The entire auditorium stood after his presentation
and clapped -- a reaction that was in stark contrast to the
reception he received, he said, at the height of the war when a girl
spit on him in an airport.
“I don’t think we ever got closure
on the war,” he said. “Whenever someone thanks me for my service,
and they still do, I always try to talk to them for a few minutes to
explain I much prefer hearing ‘Welcome Home,’ which was something we
didn’t have back then.”
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