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Farmers cultivate generation of leaders, service members

By Sgt. 1st Class Abram Pinnington | 1ST INF. DIV. PUBLIC AFFAIRS | June 11, 2014

In the nation’s heartland, in a small rural town known as Tribune, Kansas, one man’s story of fortitude and selfless service inspired an entire generation to follow in his footsteps.

Capt. Casey Wolfe, commander, Commanding General’s Mounted Color Guard, 1st Infantry Division, credits his grandfather for his family members’ ambition to join the U.S. military. “Growing up, (we) all wanted to be like grandpa,” Wolfe said. “I saw my grandfather as one of the toughest guys I had ever known.”

Wolfe’s grandfather, Staff Sgt. Thomas Dittmer, served for more than nine years during World War II and the Korean War.

During WWII, Dittmer served with the 1st Inf. Div. as a prison guard along the Danube River. He guarded German prisoners in Germany and Austria. While serving in Korea, he would experience the other side of that duty.

In 1951, during combat operations near the 38th parallel, Dittmer was wounded by shrapnel in his shoulder and leg. He was soon captured by Chinese forces and became a prisoner of war. Dittmer, wounded and suffering from a broken arm, marched more than 300 miles north to the Chinese border, and spent the next 36 months in captivity. Many Soldiers did not survive that harsh trek to the camp or the detention.

After his release Aug. 25, 1953, Dittmer settled down with his wife, Betty, in Tribune. Their small farm grew into a more than a thousand-acre operation by the time Dittmer died Oct. 25, 2004.

Dittmer’s story made a tremendous impact on many in the Kansas-Colorado border town, including his own family.

“Of the six grandchildren who lived around our grandfather, five of us are currently serving in the service,” Wolfe said. “The other is currently too young to join – yet.”

All five of Dittmer’s grandchildren are officers. One is a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy, three are Army captains and one is an Air Force captain.

Just before Sept. 11, the oldest grandson, Capt. Masey Wolfe, a West Point graduate who is assigned to the Pentagon, was the first to follow in Dittmer’s footsteps.

“Masey was the first person to be accepted into a service academy from Greeley County, Kansas,” Wolfe said.

Before Dittmer died, he proudly watched two of his grandsons receive commissions and serve the country he sacrificed so much to defend.

In May 2008, Wolfe was commissioned from the New Mexico Military Institute and joined his family as their newest officer. Soon after, he was assigned to Fort Riley, the same place his grandfather served.

“There were a lot of stars aligning, fate involved, with me coming to Fort Riley,” Wolfe said. “It put me close to home. My wife had just gotten into Kansas State University, and my grandfather spent the majority of his career here with the 1st Inf. Div. Coming here felt right.”

While assigned as a platoon leader with the 4th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div., he deployed in 2011 to Afghanistan.

While serving in Kandahar Province in December 2011, he was struck by an improvised explosive device, losing a portion of his foot. The incident pushed Wolfe to reflect on his grandfather’s struggles as he attempted to overcome his own adversity. While Dittmer’s service shaped his grandsons into leaders, it was his story of resiliency on which Wolfe came to rely on. “I had spent 60 to 65 straight days in the hospital,” Wolfe said. “Before the doctors would release me, they needed to complete a couple more surgeries, and they would have to keep me a little bit longer.

“If my grandfather can do 36 months in a POW camp, I’m sure I can do a couple more weeks here in the hospital,” he said. “My grandfather’s strength and courage helped me get through my tough times.”

Wolfe witnessed his grandfather endure the physical pains from war and how he continued on – a motivation he said he uses every day.

“We knew our grandfather was going through a lot of pains on particular days due to his injuries he suffered in Korea,” Wolfe said. “I wear a prosthetic. I’ve got a lot of scars. I have days where it’s tough to walk around. He showed the perseverance that is required to get through day to day.”

Wolfe said he wants the memory and influence of his grandfather to continue for generations.

“I hope my children serve some day,” Wolfe said. “Teach them how you can succeed both in the military and civilian life. How you can start from the very bottom and work your way up from your struggles, and learn your way from them. My grandfather had to do that, and I hope to pass his lessons along to my children some day.”
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