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