Hans Otto Conrad Wagner was born in 1938, an East European ethnic German who grew up in the Transylvania region of Romania. His father was a teacher who was drafted into the Romanian Army when WWII broke out, leaving Hans with his mother and older sister at home. Hans’ father was wounded at Odessa and returned home, where he worked as an interpreter for the German forces. Hans’ first memory of Soldiers was seeing the German Army pass through his town, and he was inspired by the Panzers, deciding that he wanted to grow up to serve on tanks. As a child, he remembers hearing of the twin disasters at Stalingrad and Normandy. As the war started going badly for Germany, Romania switched sides, and the Wagner family fled west to avoid the Soviets, Hans traveling with his mother and sister while his father headed west separately. They eventually arrived at a displaced persons camp in Silesia, and Hans’ father rejoined the family in January 1945. As they continued to journey west, away from the advancing Soviets, they experienced air raids and were occasionally strafed. Hans remembers seeing American Soldiers and watching German troops surrender. On May 8, 1945, the war in Europe ended, and on May 21, Hans’ little brother was born. In 1946, Hans’ father died, leaving his mother with three children. In August 1949, the family immigrated to the United States and Hans entered 6th grade, where he had to learn English. In 10th grade, he learned about West Point and took steps to gain admission, including visiting the Governor for a recommendation and becoming an American citizen. At West Point, he enjoyed the parades and summer training, and played soccer for Coach Palone. He thought West Point was the most democratic place in the world, and enjoyed his time there. He commissioned as an Armor Officer and was assigned to Germany six months after the Berlin Wall went up. While he was in Germany, the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred. After the Advanced Course, he volunteered for service in Vietnam and spent time as an advisor with the 33rd ARVN Regiment in the Mekong Delta and the 44th ARVN Rangers. On his second tour to Vietnam, he was assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group and was the XO for the 4th Mobile Strike Force along the Cambodian border. In 1971, he returned to West Point, where he served as a Tactical Officer for Company H4. Later he worked with a Readiness Group in Huntsville, Alabama, training Reserve and National Guard Soldiers. After retiring from the Army in 1983, he took a job in Huntsville, working on the booster rocket program for the Space Shuttle.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his West Point experiences, and his service in the Army. He reflects on life on the German side during WWII, and how fear of the Soviets made him passionately anti-communist. He describes his deployments to Vietnam and working with the Vietnamese. He also recalls his shock at returning from Vietnam and encountering anti-war sentiment, noting “I couldn’t handle anti-war crap.” Finally, he reflects on what his service and West Point mean to him.