Veterans Day evoked wrenching memories of Army service in Vietnam for Tracy’s Fred Hartman.
“I served 11 months in Vietnam, beginning in 1966, and then was hit in the head with a mortar round and spent the next seven months in the hospital,” he recalled Monday morning during Tracy’s annual Veterans Day observance at Tracy War Memorial.
“I was with the 25th Infantry Division, and our unit, the 27th Infantry Regiment, was involved in what was one of the most brutal battles in Vietnam,” Hartman reported. “For the longest while, I hadn’t spoken to anybody about my military service, until I moved to Tracy in 2010.”
A neighbor talked him into joining the Veterans of Foreign Wars and then eventually the American Legion. The holder of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart has since served as Legion vice commander, chaplain of the Honor Guard team and a member of the Tracy War Memorial Association board.
“I’m glad to be here today to show respect for my comrades in Vietnam,” Hartman said. “We were overrun three times in one day, and not all of them made it home.”
Supervisor Bob Elliott, principal speaker at Monday’s Veterans Day observance, stressed the importance of Friday’s groundbreaking for the new Veterans Affairs community-based outreach clinic building at French Camp, which he said will provide improved medical service to veterans in this area.
“This was a milestone some 16 years in the making,” he said. “I can remember speaking about that project 10 years ago during our Memorial Day service at the Tracy Cemetery.”
Elliott, a retired Army colonel, noted that the new VA facility at French Camp will greatly reduce the travel time for veterans who have had to drive to Palo Alto to receive treatment.
“We have now broken ground, and now we must be vigilant to make sure that it is actually built,” he added.
A bell was sounded when the names of Tracy’s war dead were read by Vietnam veterans Ted Hoppenrath and Fred Gowan. A wreath was placed in front of the monument by Albert Moreno and Art Serpa, both Korean War veterans, and George Briggs, who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
In presenting the City Council’s Veterans Day Proclamation, Mayor Robert Rickman noted the good-sized crowd at Monday’s Veterans Day program.
“By your being here today, you are setting an example for others and ensuring that future generations understand the debt of gratitude we owe those who have served and sacrificed,” he said.
The level of participation in the annual Veterans Day service by Tracy-area residents was something Hoppenrath said he experienced as something new when he moved to Tracy six years ago.
“Compared to the Bay Area where I came from, the people of Tracy are fantastic as far as honoring veterans,” he said.