Joel Trautmann grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with two brothers and a sister. He decided to volunteer for the draft rather than wait for his number to be called. He completed Basic Training and Advanced Infantry Training at Ft. Lewis, Washington, and was selected for Officer Candidate School at Ft. Benning, Georgia. After OCS, he served as a training officer in a Basic Training unit at Ft. Polk. Prior to deploying to Vietnam, he completed Airborne School, and Jungle School in Panama. When he arrived in Bien Hoa, he was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, and completed SERTS (Screaming Eagle Replacement Training School). He linked up with his platoon in the field, and learned a great deal from his Platoon Sergeant, SFC Perez, and his Squad Leaders. Operating in the A Shau Valley, he remembers that Firebase Berchtesgaden was “a spooky place” where the enemy was constantly probing their position. The Battle of Hamburger Hill (Dong Ap Bia) was the culminating event during Trautmann’s deployment. He notes that everyone was anxious about operating in the A Shau Valley, stating that he’d “never seen so many helicopters in one place before.” On May 13, 1969, his 1st Platoon linked up with the 2nd and 3rd Platoons of C / 3-187. As they were preparing their NDP (Night Defensive Position), two of his Soldiers were killed and one was wounded. The NVA had their position zeroed in. The next day, May 14, C Company was tasked to assault the hill, and 3rd Platoon led, with 2nd following. Trautmann’s platoon was left guarding the NDP because one of his squads had been tasked out to another unit. When 3rd Platoon’s advance was halted by enemy action, and 2nd Platoon had moved to their left flank, the Company Commander called for Trautmann to bring his platoon forward. Arriving at the front, Trautmann encountered chaos due to much of the leadership being either wounded or incapacitated. He had to organize parties to move ammunition forward to the other two platoons and evacuate the dead and wounded to the rear. After seven hours of fighting, Trautmann supervised the withdrawal back to the NDP, where they met an element from B Company led by LT Frank Boccia, who then led the survivors from C Company to the Battalion Headquarters area. On May 18, Trautmann’s platoon was ordered to charge up the hill once again. He recalls that his men were demoralized, and many refused to go. Trautman grabbed his rifle and said, “Come on, let’s go,” and his Soldiers followed. In this engagement, Trautmann was seriously wounded in the leg, six inches of his femur being pulverized by a bullet, and was left on the hill for several hours before he was evacuated. Seven months of hospitalization, surgery, and rehabilitation followed, and he was medically retired from the Army in 1970 as a Captain. After leaving the Army, he entered the business world, and later became a lawyer with the Army Corps of Engineers.
In this interview, he describes, in great detail, fighting on Hamburger Hill. His recollections of what happened on each day are the result of having seven months in a hospital, much of it in traction, to reflect on the events of the battle. He also reflects on the importance of reunions, noting that “there was no one to talk to before reunions.” An interesting recollection for Trautmann is the importance of music in conjuring up memories of different times and places. He also notes that Vietnam was not all bad, and he discusses the simple pleasure of taking a ten-minute break on a beautiful hillside on a sunny day, and the sheer bliss of smoking a cigarette. Finally, he talks about what his service means to him.