Earl Schorpp is the only member of his family to have served in Vietnam, but military involvement runs deep in his family tree.
“My family, going back to the Revolutionary War, has served in the military,” Schorpp said. “Somehow we missed the Korean War, but I have had (members of my family) in the War of 1812, The Revolutionary War, World War I and World War II.”
Schorpp drew on this tradition as inspiration for his own military career when he joined the U.S. Army after graduating from Dickinson College’s ROTC program in June 1968.
“The draft was also in effect, so once your college days were over, you were more than likely to be drafted—either that or you enlisted,” Schorpp said.
Schorpp became involved in Vietnam in October 1969—serving as a lieutenant with A Troop, 12th Cavalry Regiment, Fifth Infantry Division.
“I was assigned subsequently to a tank battalion,” Schorpp said. “I had three platoon commands while I was over there.”
Schorpp’s first platoon assignment was with a mortar platoon located at the border of North and South Vietnam. Here, he helped to provide mortar fire for base defense.
“Our targets were located by observation and by ground sensors in sort of what was known then as the McNamara Line, which was the brainchild of Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense,” Schorpp said. “It was an electronic monitored barrier similar to what you would find in South Korea’s DMZ area. They wanted to do that in Vietnam, but it didn’t work.”
Schorpp’s second assignment was with a reconnaissance platoon responsible for locating and evaluating enemy forces.
“We were successful in finding enemy forces, developing situations and either taking care of it ourselves or waiting for reinforcements to come in,” Schorpp said. “We would sometimes be out there for several weeks at a time and we would be supplied by air. There were no villages or civilians; it was what we called a free fire zone. We also did night ambushes.”
Several of these responsibilities carried over to Schorpp’s third assignment: an armored cavalry platoon. Except this time, Schorpp had armored assault vehicles and a mortar carrier at his disposal.
“We were a very lethal, self-contained unit,” Schorpp said. “We were supplied by air and mainly did area recon and sweeps. We could be called to move into an area and reinforce troops that were in a firefight. We did night ambushes too.”
Schorpp said night ambush missions were an especially harrowing part of his third assignment.
“I was probably the most apprehensive on (night ambushes),” Schorpp said. “Basically, you take four guys out and lay beside a trail—or where you suspect there may be enemy activity—and you wait all night. You never know if they will come from left or right, or if they will come at all. Sometimes you let one or two guys go by because they may be the lead of a larger unit. But there was one thing you knew for sure: there were just four of us.”
Additionally, Schorpp’s unit had to keep alert for landmines and other traps placed by the Viet Cong—all while enduring a variety of environmental challenges ranging from extreme humidity to monsoon conditions.
“Many of the causalities we encountered were from mines and booby traps,” Schorpp said. “Just about every one of my vehicles got hit by a mine at some point. Most times (the damage) was repairable. The crew would end up with busted ear drums and aggravating injuries. Sometimes limbs were lost. But Medevac pilots were good about coming in to help my unit.
“The monsoons would come in mid to late November and go through February,” Schorpp added. “It would be constant rain and drizzle for literally days at a time. You were constantly wet. One time we went 20 days and never saw the sun. Then when monsoon season was over, it was hot and humid. Sometimes it would be over 100 degrees in the daytime. There were lots of bugs. And the mud—I will never forget the mud; we would live in it.”
Schorpp remained involved with Vietnam until 1970. A few months after returning home, he joined with a Pennsylvania National Guard unit in Carlisle. He would go on to retire in the area while continuing to do volunteer work at the Army Heritage Center Foundation.
But Schorpp still recalls the strong chemistry within his troops that was instrumental in overcoming the obstacles and hardships of war.
“The troops I served with were outstanding,” Schorpp said. “I did not experience any drug problems with my various platoons or race problems. You had to rely on the other guy and he on you. We were all we had. We were a unit basically by ourselves, so you had to count on each other.”