Palmerton man has no regrets about war
Envision, for a moment, what it must have been like to be 21 years old and stationed in a foreign land.
Forty-five years ago, John Woginrich, then a young, bright-eyed upstart, didn't have to imagine how such a scenario would unfold.
He lived it.
Nearly a half-century later, Woginrich didn't hesitate when asked if he'd go back to battle in the name of our country's freedom.
No questions asked.
Upon graduating from Lehighton Area High School in 1966, Woginrich enlisted in the service in April 1968, at which time he went for helicopter training.
After completing basic training, Woginrich went to Fort Wolters in Mineral Wells, Texas. While there, primary flight took five months, followed by the next four months at Hunter-Stewart in Savannah, Georgia, with his last month in Cobra Training to be qualified in Cobra Gunship.
In June 1969, Woginrich went over to Chu Lai, about 50 miles south of Da Nang. He flew the Cobras for about two months, and then volunteered to go into OH-6A Loach helicopter, and was assigned to B Company 123rd Aviation Battalion.
"We were known as the Warlords; it was an Aero scout," Woginrich said. "Basically, our job was reconnaissance, where we'd get a grid, a Loach, two Cobras and a Huey with seven infantry in it, and if we took fire, the Cobras would come in and cover us."
Woginrich said the reason for the infantry was twofold.
"If anyone got shot, they'd get our butts out of there," he said. "And if the loach found military-age males, the Huey would come down, and the infantry would take them back for questioning."
During his time in Vietnam, Woginrich said he was shot at many times by the enemy, but never actually shot.
However, he was struck in the arm by a piece of shrapnel from a grenade after he told his gunner to stop shooting at the enemy.
"From there, we would do about three or four of these reconnaissance missions, and we actually flew down to Duc Pho, that was the 196th Infantry Regiment, to support them."
After his tour in Vietnam, Woginrich came back and went to Belvoir, Virginia, until September 1971.
"We flew VIPs around out of the Pentagon," he said. "And I got to see Bob Hope on Christmas Day 1969 after he came right on our base in Chu Lai."
Just 21 years old while stationed in Vietnam, Woginrich said he felt he was prepared "to a degree" for what he was about to encounter.
"We were totally prepared that you were going to Vietnam," he said. "Going through it in actuality was a little different. It took several months until you became a pilot someone else could trust."
Transition back to civilian life
Ironically, it turns out the worst part for Woginrich was actually returning home.
"The attitude (due to a huge anti-war movement around 1970) of the United States toward the returning soldiers, it was horrible," he said. "You left the airport and people are yelling at you, calling you 'baby killer.'"
Woginrich said he has no regrets from the experience.
"I wasn't sorry I went," he said. "I would do it all over again. I think it was valuable."
Life after the war
Years after he returned from Vietnam, Woginrich attended Kutztown University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in economics.
He went to work in the transportation industry and credits his time in the Army with making him the person he is today.
"You learn responsibility for equipment, and that people depend on you for their lives," he said. "It's a lesson you carry with you."
Woginrich is currently employed as the Northeast region manager for Brigade Electronics, with a branch office in Palmerton.
Woginrich said he recently attended the Vietnam Helicopter Pilot Association reunion several weeks ago, as well as a mini-reunion for his aviation battalion.
"I got to see four of the pilots I actually flew with," he said. "A general comment from them was made that the experience of Vietnam contributed to the person you are today."
Woginrich, of Palmerton, is married to his wife of 37 years, Patricia. Together, the couple has two daughters, one son and two grandchildren.
He is the son of the late John Woginrich Sr., a veteran who served as a turret gunner on a B-26 bomber with the Army Air Force during World War II.
Name: John Woginrich
Military branch: United States Army
Years of service: 1969-1970
Medals: Bronze Star, Air Medal