May 22, 2023 – Bob Scholz sent his family through Clovis public education, watching four of his five children pass through Buchanan and Clovis High School and more grandchildren do the same.
The 76-year-old Southern California native endured sacrifice to put his lineage in such a position – not only foregoing his first chance to start a family, but finding a new one in the United State Army.
The Vietnam War Veteran received the opportunity to revisit past fallen friends on the Central Valley Honor Flight, which took him to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on May 17.
For Scholz, serving his country was a no-brainer. He grew up with a guy who embodied American heroism on the silver screen – John Wayne, a native of Newport Beach, which resided not too far from where Scholz was raised.
The cowboy movies, the war films, even his personal favorite of Wayne’s, The Quiet Man – all of it ignited a fire within a young Scholz.
So, too, did the military history of his predecessors. The Scholz name meant something in the United States Armed Forces, considering his ancestry dated back to the Revolutionary War and his great-great grandfather served as scribe to Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War.
Scholz wanted to serve – he felt it was his civic duty – but his girlfriend wanted him to stay home, get married, and start a family. The decision weighed heavily on him.
“I felt like something was missing,” Scholz remembered. “I loved war movies back then. I liked patriotism. I thought to myself, ‘I can’t give this up. I gotta go.’”
Leaving his civilian life behind in 1966, Scholz forged ahead to Fort Ord in Monterey, California. He attended language school, hoping to serve his country through communications, just like his great-great grandfather more than a hundred years earlier.
At the start of language school, he picked three languages he would’ve liked to learn. He received notice that all three of his requests were rejected. Instead, he was assigned Vietnamese.
It became obvious to Scholz where he was headed.
Unlike past family members, who were Navy, Scholz spent over two years with the Army Security Agency as a Vietnamese linguist. Among the perks of his lineage, since some of his ancestors acted as spies, was the top-secret crypto clearance he received. It gave him access to information that few others had in the Vietnam War.
Yet he was not withheld from other personal tragedies that many suffered in the war. While in Vietnam, Scholz suffered two gaping wounds – one through his foot, and one through his heart.
In the mail one day, a Dear John letter arrived, addressed to Scholz. His girlfriend that he planned to marry ended the relationship, stating she would’ve liked to date other guys.
“That killed me,” Scholz said. “You only had to put 12 months in. Everyone had to put 12 months in – unless you left in a body bag. Well, I re-upped three times.”
Heartbreak a contributing factor, Scholz extended his stay in Vietnam from 12 to 27 months.
It’s a tradition in Vietnam to receive a gold bar on the lower sleeve of your Army jacket for every six months served. When soldiers discovered six bars on Scholz’s arm, they almost did a double take.
“I didn’t want to go home,” Scholz said. “I didn’t care what happened.”
He worked mostly with the First Infantry Division, at times on the front lines and other times in the jungle. Shortly after turning 19 years old, on a mission to collect classified information in radios and relying on his knowledge of Chinese and Russian, Scholz made a severe misstep.
The Vietnamese were creative in using land resources to create booby traps. One of these contraptions was a long bamboo stick, sharp as a knife, hidden on the ground by leaves and vegetation, nicknamed a “punji stick.”
While trekking through the dense jungle as quietly as possible with his rifle squad, Scholz stepped on a punji stick.
“It went right through my foot and everything else,” Scholz said.
He was medevaced two hours later before the injury worsened, but tensions heightened until help arrived. The Vietnamese typically preyed on the wounded like Scholz.
“You couldn’t see very far, and they could always see you,” Scholz remembered. “They were small, and they hid in the jungle. You were scared to death most of the time.”
Thankfully, he was not alone – “The biggest thing was, you just never left a brother behind” – and made a full recovery to return to action.
Another of Scholz’s recollections from the Vietnam War was the dangerous tasks his rifle squad carried out. The country was littered with underground tunnels, teeming with enemy soldiers waiting to ambush Americans.
If Scholz’s squad found a tunnel, they assigned one of their own to search the tunnel with a .45 caliber handgun, knife, and flashlight.
“I didn’t do it, because I had clearance,” he said. “I could speak [languages]. I had a little value, so they didn’t want to lose me. But I’ve seen grown men cry, pee their pants, and everything else. They’d say, shoot me now.”
By 1968, Scholz completed his service and earned the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
‘We didn’t care about medals,” he said. “All we wanted to do was get the hell out of Vietnam.”
After getting out at age 22, he worked 30 years in real estate for Santa Fe railroads before moving to the Fresno/Clovis area in 1992. Scholz purchased five acres of land outside town.
He raised crops and livestock including chickens, ducks, pigs, turkey, and 40 emus.
“I’m a Southern California surfer,” Scholz said. “I didn’t know how to do any of that stuff.”
He did it well enough, though. He adopted the Central California lifestyle and sent his kids through some of its top high schools.
Two children, Jason and Ashley, went to Buchanan; Jason Strickland currently works in the Hanford Elementary School District. Two grandkids, one of them recently accepted into nursing school and the other a Veteran Marine and fireman, graduated from Clovis High.
Another grandchild is serving in the Marines in the Philippines, out of Clovis East High School.
The Scholz family is full of individuals serving the public good, due in large part to the Vietnam War Veteran who risked his own future to make a better one for his children and grandchildren.