Jeff Rudolph knew he was destined to become a part of the Vietnam War—military involvement was in his family.
“I knew I would probably end up in Vietnam eventually,” Rudolph said. “My father was in World War II. He was an engineer in a B17 bomber in the Air Force.”
Rudolph, a Boiling Springs native who served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970, enlisted in the Air Force himself in 1968. He completed basic training in San Antonio en route to becoming a military police officer.
“I wanted to become a military police officer in the Air Force,” Rudolph said. “That was what I wanted to do.”
Rudolph’s first duty as a Security Forces Specialist was an assignment at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, located just outside of Detroit, Michigan. However, it was on Dec. 3, 1969 that a much larger call of duty presented itself. Rudolph was sent into Vietnam, where he was stationed at a marine base in Da Nang, the largest city on the southcentral coast of Vietnam.
“When I left here to go over (to Vietnam), it was the first part of December and it was pretty cold, and when I finally landed, it was so hot and humid,” Rudolph said. “It was a big difference because it had been snowing when we left. Then I had to catch a C130 to Da Nang, and when we got there it was monsoon season and there was torrential rain. It was definitely a big reality check.”
Rudolph and his fellow Security Forces officers acted as part of a special responsibilities unit and held the duty of keeping the base secure. They were responsible to defend one side while the Marines oversaw the other side.
“We secured the base,” Rudolph said. “Most of the time it was during the night or early morning hours. Our main job was to keep the perimeter secure and to defend several gates leading into the base from the outside. Halfway through the tour, we joined with the Marines in some of the duties. We basically responded to enemy intrusion and things like rocket mortar attacks and the aftermath.”
Rudolph spent just over a year at Da Nang. He began his trip home on Dec. 6, 1970.
After being discharged from the Air Force in 1972, Rudolph continued to serve as a police officer — this time by becoming involved with local law enforcement in Cumberland County.
“Before I was discharged, I was offered a pretty lucrative position (with the Air Force), but my goal was to come back to my roots,” Rudolph said. “I was married by then and had a child, so we wanted to come back and see what life meant back home.”
Rudolph spent a year with the Sheriff’s Department, five years with the Carlisle Police and 32 years with the North Middleton Township Police, the last of which he retired from as chief in 2011. He said that while the experience in Vietnam had its own unique learning curve, his time in the military helped prepare him for certain aspects of the civilian job.
“It’s always a learning experience no matter what you did before,” Rudolph said. “There are always new experiences. Things change and you have to adapt to those changes, so I think my experience did make it somewhat easier because I did have four years of military service compared to someone who never did. It certainly made me grow up really quick.”
Rudolph said his time at Da Nang yielded a variety of experiences and memories.
“There are quite a few (memories),” Rudolph said. “You don’t forget certain things. I do keep in touch with some of my buddies that were stationed at the same base with me. A lot of them ended up doing the same thing that I did—they went into the law enforcement after they were discharged.”
Rudolph said he remains in contact with old friends and fellow officers through a Facebook group.
“I was just asking (the other people in the group) about what they had eaten for Christmas when we (were in Vietnam),” Rudolph said. “I also asked them about when Bob Hope came to Da Nang towards the end of (the tour); I was on post, but I remember I was in earshot and could hear the applause. Certain things I see on TV or hear during times of the year bring me back to it all.”
Today, Rudolph said he enjoys spending time with his family. He is a member and former commander of Boiling Springs VFW Post 8851 and a member of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 542.
“I enjoy my family,” Rudolph said. “I’m married and have three children, seven grandchildren and two golden retrievers that certainly keep me active. I do what I can.
“Sometimes I think that maybe I should have stayed (with the Air Force) and retired sooner, but it all worked out,” he added. “I have no regrets.”