Al Hofacker’s Letters Home

Thursday’s post on Lance Corporal Tim Barmmer — the Staples grad killed in Vietnam — brought an email from Mary Gai.

Al Hofacker, in the 1969 Staples yearbook.

She remembers Al Hofacker. A member of Staples’ Class of 1969, he too served in Vietnam.

Al was more fortunate than Tim. He made it home.

Like Tim, Al’s letters home are available online (at Military.com). Here are some excerpts:

April 1, 1971

Dear Mom and Dad,

Well, the party’s over. They’re sending me back out to the bush tomorrow. I’ll be at CAP 2-7-6. Lt. Grebenstein called me up on top of a bunker this morning and had me test fire a 40mm automatic grenade launcher. He wants me to take it out to CAP 6 and add some firepower.

The thing weighs a ton. You carry it in front of your chest held by a sling. It’s got a magazine that holds 12 HE (high explosive) grenades and you can fire it semi or auto. The Lieutenant’s sending a guy named Cooper out with me to carry my ammo. He’s REAL happy about that.

I’m not real crazy about going back out but I’ll take care of myself. Thanks for the care package with the stuff from Joyce in it. Tell her thanks. Remember staring tomorrow my address is CAP 2-7-6.

Love,
Big Al

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April 4, 1971

Dear Mom and Dad,

Here we go again. We got hit by a couple of RPG rounds last night walking down this trail they call “Frag Alley”. The rounds went right through our column and exploded behind us, but we all turned and opened up on the trees. You couldn’t see anything, it was almost dark. I fired off two rounds from the auto-bloop and got tree bursts and had to cease-fire and just sit it out because I don’t have a sidearm.

A photo posted on the page with Al’s letters, on Military.com.

Nobody got hurt and we never found the dinks. But I got on the radio to 7th Company this morning and told them I wanted a rifle because the auto-bloop ain’t worth a damn anywhere there are trees. So they came and picked it up and now I’ve got a 16 again. There’s just too much bamboo out here.

Most of the guys here are pretty cool. I’m hanging in there. Would really like a hamburger right now. Take care, I’ll write soon.

Love,
Al The Kat

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April 10, 1971

Dear Mom and Dad,

This afternoon we were out on patrol with Sgt. Tingen and we spotted 3 people sitting on a rice paddy dyke in green uniforms, two men and a woman. Our PF’s told us they were VC so we got behind them in a treeline without them seeing us.

Then Sgt. Tingen stood up and opened fire and we all opened up and killed all three. It kind of made me sick. They didn’t have weapons. Joe Nielson was with me and he’s been low all day. There was a lot of horsing around and joking about the whole thing that didn’t sit right with me. But when the PFs say they’re VC, you gotta take them at their word, cuz we sure as hell don’t know. And if they don’t have weapons on them right then, that doesn’t mean they won’t be shooting at you later.

There sure is a lot of B.S. over here. I hope 2nd CAG gets pulled out soon. Tell Jeff Hunn I appreciate the letters and I’m glad he’s been coming over to visit. He’s the only friend I have who hasn’t written me off as a dead guy.

Love,
Alan

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April 23, 1971

Dear Mom and Dad

I’M OKAY! I’M FINE! I don’t know what you have heard or what you haven’t heard but I’M GOING TO BE OKAY! I’m at the Army 95th Evac Hospital in Danang with a small grenade fragment in my face, had a piece taken out of my scalp, and a few pieces in my leg, but I’m okay. I don’t want you to worry. I’m not crippled, I didn’t lose anything important. I didn’t lose anything period. I don’t know and nobody can seem to tell me if they notify next of kin when you get wounded, so I wanted to write and let you know I’m fine.

We got hit bad on frag alley 2 nights ago and we got our asses WAXED by about 4 or 5 VC who’d got into the bamboo around us when we were sitting around at our Charlie Pappa 1 (check point one) and they just started lobbing grenades in on us over the trees. Just handfuls of frags that kept going off. It was unbelievable. Just about everybody got hit. I got hit, Ward got hit, the Corpsman was running around with a piece in his stomach, Henkle got hit bad, one of the PF’s got his eye blown out. It was insane. We had about 4 walking wounded (including me) and about 4 stretcher cases and we had to go about a click to get up to Hiway 1 where they could bring choppers down to get us out. Sgt. Tingen wasn’t with us. He was with the Alpha team who ran a react for us. We got up there finally and two Hueys came down on the road about 20 minutes later and they had some Cobra gunships work over the place with miniguns.

So anyway, I’ve been probed and X-rayed and picked at and had my trousers cut off, but I’ll be out of here in a week or so. PLEASE DON’T WORRY. I’m just fine and the food sucks. I’ll write again soon.

Love,
Al The Kat

(To read all of Al Hofacker’s letters on Military.com, click here.)

8 responses to “Al Hofacker’s Letters Home

  1. Mary Palmieri Gai

    I did not even know he went to Vietnam until I found the letters online several years ago. Or I would have gone along with Geoff to visit his parents. He was one of my favorite people in HS.. a ton of fun. I don’t think he ever said anything that wasn’t funny.

  2. Thanks Dan…and on this Memorial Day’s eve, thank you Al Hofacker. The link Dan provides to Military.com gives you access to 5 additional short letters. Click through and read them all…incredible window to history, to a person’s life…the macro and micro. I hold my father (Naval Pilot Lt.-jg, mid-50’s) and all those that served in my thoughts this weekend. These letters bring it home…a young man from the little New England town we all hold in common.

    “Back in the bush. No more mattress, no more pizza, no more roof over my head…. / …Oh well, nobody said this was fair…. / …All of a sudden something snorted real loud right next to me and I almost freaked out…it was a HUGE WATER BUFFALO and his nose was 2 inches away from my shoulder! / …Lt. Grebenstein (is) a pretty good dude for an officer. Kids me a lot about the Coleytown Volunteer Engine Company #6…. / …The wounds are healing fine. The weather is hot and sunny. AND WE MIGHT BE HOME SOON! / Love, Al The Kat”

  3. My brother Keith graduated with Al in ’69. I remember him on the radio station, very funny guy.. Does anyone know where he is now? Blair Satter

  4. Dennis Jackson

    Last I knew, Al was with Clear Channel in North Carolina. We worked together at WNLK/WLYQ in 1976, and I remember his mentioning about having been traumatized by being fired upon while hiding underwater in a pond breathing through a hollow reed until he felt it was safe to come up. He still wouldn’t go in the water. I admired his bravery for going into the marines, for his great talent as a broadcaster, as well as for his humor and creative mind.

    • Mary Palmieri Gai

      Dennis, was he going by Hofacker then? I think he changed his name. War is hell for sure.

  5. Dennis Jackson

    For sure, Mary. He was legally Al Ryan by then.

    • Mary Palmieri Gai

      Dennis, I guess that’s too common a name to ever find on Facebook. He knows where to find us though…if he wants to be found.

  6. alex shook

    Dear Al-just finished reading most of your letters you sent back to your parents. To start, I’m very honored to have spent jr High and HS together and extremely proud of you for your time you spent in the military.
    I hope your well.
    Best,
    Alex Shook