Saltwater Portrait

John Hohman honored as commander of Milton VFW Post 6984

Vietnam veteran visits Normandy to mark D-Day
Vietnam Veteran John Hohman relaxes at VFW Post 6984, where Hohman is post commander. BY DENY HOWETH
July 22, 2014

John Hohman has spent most of his life serving others.

He served his nation during one tour in Vietnam, then served Amtrak customers for 25 years, and now serves his community as VFW Post Commander in Milton.

Born in 1947 in Ridley Park, Pa., Hohman attended school outside Philadelphia. He was preparing to go to Hiram Scott College in Scottsdale, Neb., when his life changed. At 19, he was drafted into the U.S. Army for two years of active duty in Vietnam, just six months before the military switched to a lottery draft system.

As a student, Hohman may have been entitled to a deferment; Hiram Scott College sent a letter to the draft board seeking one, but Hohman said the draft board told him they never received it.

Hohman was soon on his way to Fort Polk in Louisiana for Basic Training.

Deployed in South Vietnam as a private first class, Hohman said, life was different. He spent the first nine months stationed in the Mekong Delta, an major rice-growing area.

In the delta, Hohman was always on the move. His unit of about 65 people was in combat nearly 260 days of the year. He saw friends get shot; one who was shot in three places. Hohman dragged him to safety and stayed with him, floating in a rice field, until the battle ended.

While on the move, Hohman and the men in his unit would go as long as 20 days without taking showers. It didn't really bother them, he said.

“After a while, you were just so miserable and pissed off and it didn't matter,” he said.

In early 1968, his unit fought in the first Tet and later the mini-Tet offensive and then his unit headed toward Saigon, close to a Michelin rubber plant at the time, for three months.

After a year in Vietnam, Hohman came home to the states on leave and was stationed in Fort Carson, Colo., for his last sixth months of service. He later worked for the park service in South Park, Colo., where he got reacquainted with civilian life.

“It was different to get back from Vietnam,” he said, adding it was tough not to carry a sidearm with him wherever he went.

“It was an honor to be there. The soldier hates war more than anyone else because they're the ones who have to fight it,” he said, referencing a similar quote by Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Hohman wanted to move closer to his family and home and decided to move back to Delaware County, Pa., to work for Amtrak at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. Soon after, his parents retired and moved to Lewes. Hohman decided he liked the region after visiting them and bought property in Angola by the Bay in Lewes and later Broadkill Beach. Hohman sold his property at Angola when he bought the house at Broadkill, and on weekends came down to be somewhere quiet.

About 25 years after buying his first property in the Cape Region, Hohman retired from Amtrak as an Eastern Region Operations Manager to permanently move to Broadkill Beach.

“I found my niche,” he said. ”It looked like a nice place to relax and is nice and quiet in the winter.”

After relocating, Hohman started going to the VFW Post but insists he was a member-at-large and didn't declare his official home post until 2005.

“It's like putting the money in the money market until you decide what to do with it,” he said.

He decided to stick with Post 6984 in Milton and worked his way up to Post Commander in 2006. He has been honored as All-State Post Commander three of the last seven years, most recently in 2013-2014.

The VFW sits on an 8.3-acre plot, but Hohman and other members of the post decided to donate about seven acres for projects like little league fields for kids to play on. The post sponsors the Braves and Dodgers teams of the Milton Little League and have recently finished adding a fence and a T-ball field, in addition to two other fields.

“We thought it would be better than watching grass grow,” he said. “It keeps kids out of trouble.”

The post gives flowers to widows of veterans, helps families in distress and raises money for military assistance programs, along with helping veterans travel for special trips.

Hohman is no stranger to traveling. He attended the 70th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy this year as a goodwill ambassador for Delaware VFW posts and a representative of the 16th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division, the oldest and most decorated regiment in the United States of America, dating back to fighting in the Civil War.

He traveled with friend Bill Ryan, 89, who fought in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Ryan was among the troops who stormed the beaches of Normandy on that eventful day.

“He's a character to say the least,” said Hohman, recalling a time when the two went out to eat and Ryan said he'd pay as long as Hohman pays in France.

Ryan was wounded during the invasion but later came back to fight in the Battle of the Bulge, a battle considered by many historians the turning point of the war. The two saw many events at the anniversary, including President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande laying a wreath at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.

Hohman said the French treat Allied troops from the war like movie stars because they haven't forgotten their role in liberating France. He said the French just love American veterans.

While at the anniversary, Hohman laid flowers on the 1st Infantry Division Monument on behalf of Bandido Charlie, the official nickname for the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment.

“It was a real honor to be there and to lay the flowers,” he said.

But Hohman said he loves what he does at the post and the camaraderie with other veterans.

“It's sort of like reconnecting with the past, so to speak,” he said.

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