Henry 'Pete' Erbe joined the U.S. infantry in 1958 after graduating from Middlebury College in Vermont. He completed basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, also going through Ranger and Airborne school. He was assigned as a second lieutenant platoon leader in Erlangen, Germany, during the construction of the Berlin Wall. After his return to the U.S., Erbe taught leadership and tactics at Fort Benning until he left to serve in Vietnam as a sub-sector and battalion adviser to the Vietnamese military army. After serving in Vietnam, he earned a master's degree in American History from American University in Washington, D.C, and went on to become an associate professor of American History at West Point, helping to establish an American History curriculum there. Erbe also became involved in establishing the recruiting program for the all-volunteer army in the early 70s. Afterwards, he served in Korea as the Chief Operations Officer for a combat support coordination team. When he returned to the states, Erbe was asked to return to teaching at West Point during the 1976 integration of women into the corps cadets. Before he retired, Erbe served as chief of the Readiness Group, working with the National Guard and Reserve in New England.
Zarbock: Good afternoon. My name is Paul Zarbock, a staff member with the University of North Carolina--Wilmington's Randall Library. This videotape is part of the uh.. military reminiscence division of Special Collections. Today is the 4th of August in the year 2005, and we're at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Zimmerman in Saint James Plantation, Brunswick County, North Carolina. Our interviewee today is Mr. Pete Erbe. Good afternoon!
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: Good afternoon.
Zarbock: Tell me: When did you go into the military? Where did you go into the military, and why did you go into the military?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: Okay. Good. Number one: Pete is my nickname. My actual given name is Henry Herman Erbe, Jr., a good German name. Uhm.. I became involved in the military because I attended Middlebury College in Vermont, and it was a land grant college. And back in the '50s and '60s uh.. land grant colleges were required to have ROTC- Reserve Officer Training Corps, which is the preparation for the military. So, I had to take ROTC for my first two years- my freshman and sen- freshman and uh.. sophomore year. You then elect and also are selected to continue with the ROTC program as a junior and senior. And one of the reasons that I continued is the fact that uh.. you were paid $120 a month, which helped me pay my fraternity- my fraternity bills. Uhm.. However uhm.. in my- between my junior and senior year, we attended ROTC uh.. summer camp down at Fort Devens, Massachusetts. And I became very enthusiastic because there were conflicts going on in the world at that point.
Zarbock: What year are we at?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: We are at uhm.. 1958. Uhm..
Zarbock: And you're how old at that time?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: At that uhm.. '58, 22. 22 years of age. Uhm.. After ROTC summer camp, returned to uh.. Middlebury College uh.. and I was the second in command of the corps cadets uh.. at Middlebury. Upon graduation uh.. I went into the infantry. In the infantry uh.. we started out by going to Fort Benning, Georgia, the home of the infantry to go through basic training. Uh.. I went through basic training there as an infantry officer; I went through Ranger school; and then went to Airborne school. Uh.. Ranger school- one of the things you did was to learn to uhm.. wrestle with alligators and Airborne school, you jumped out of perfectly good airplanes. Upon finishing Fort Benning, I was s- uh.. sent to Germany. Uh.. Upon arriving in Germany I was uh.. assigned to Erlangen which is a uh.. town outside of Nuremberg, and assigned to the Fourth Armored Division. The Fourth Armored Division was made up of armored rifle battalions; made up of armored personnel carriers and tanks. Uhm.. I was assigned as a second lieutenant platoon leader. Uhm.. During the time that I was in Germany uhm.. I had a son born, by the name of Hank. He was born when the Berlin Wall was going up. I uhm.. had to go out on alerts uh.. We went to our GALE positions uhm.. General Alert Uhm.. Operation Positions, in case we went to war. So when- when the 'Wall' went up uhm.. we would go on alert, taking all our gear and our armored personnel carriers and tanks and go to our alert positions, not knowing whether we were gonna' go to war, or whether it was just an exercise.
Zarbock: Again, for the purpose of posterity, when you mention the Berlin Wall, what is the Berlin Wall?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: Okay. The Berlin Wall was constructed in the 60- and uhm.. '60, '61, '62 timeframe. It started out by being a barbed wire fence between uhm.. Germany and North Germany. Uhm.. It- it then went from barbed wire to uhm.. stones uh.. to then a massive wall, fortified from one end to the other.
Zarbock: It really was an armed, guarded wall. Is that correct?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: Yes, with- with towers o- overlooking it. When we went up uhm.. to see the wall- well, let me back up. My wife and I uhm.. went to uhm.. up to the wall, because we had to drive through East Germany in order to be able to get there. What the military wanted us to do is to be in uniform and to drive through, challenging the East- the East Germans to, whether they would interfere with our travel. So, as we were going- arriving at Berlin, we saw in front of us tanks facing us, but we went through Checkpoint Charlie. Checkpoint Charlie was the checkpoint that we went through in order to- in order to get into Berlin. Uhm.. We went into Berlin and we were able to go by bus uhm.. to see the Wall. And we could see the towers; we could- uhm.. and then we could see the East Germans uhm.. on the other side. But the- but the reason for going was for us to demonstrate that we would not be stopped, and uhm.. that's one of the reasons that I drove our little Opel into- uhm.. into Berlin. Uhm.. One of the things, okay- let's take a short break for a minute, please. While we were on the uhm.. tour by bus in Berlin, one of the things we received were uhm.. stories about people attempting to cross. Tu- tunnels were built under the Wall; people got into trunks of cars in- in order to come through; people would try to run across and were killed doing it. So, when we talk about a wall, it wasn't only a con- concrete feature, but it also was a-
Zarbock: A social barrier, wasn't it?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: A way of keeping the- the East Germans from escaping in the West- in- into West- West Berlin, so- so that they could have freedom. Uhm.. Okay. That uhm.. When- when I returned- When we returned to- to Erlangen uhm.. I wanted to go on leave. I had a- I had a- a two week leave and what I wanted to do was to go to Italy. So I went in- into my battalion commander. A battalion commander has four companies. I went up to the battalion commander and said uhm.. "Sir uh.. Colonel Karen [ph?] uhm.. my wife and I are gonna go on a trip down to Switzerland in- into Italy and we're gonna' leave our son with friends here." And he looked at me and he said, "Peter, you take your son with you. He's six months old. If we go to war, your son and wife are gonna' have to get on a ship and they'll ship them back to the United States and you've got to come back here and fight a war. So, you take your son with you." And so our- our little six- six month old son uh.. a- accompanied us on that trip into Italy. We did not go to war, but this was the start of the Cold War. And we were there at- at the start of it. Upon returning to the United States from Germany, I was stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, where I went for basic training Airborne and Ranger. And I taught there tactics uhm.. I taught leadership and tactics. One of the problems that I ran- I had a uhm.. class of 200 students, OCS can- Officer Candidate School candidates in the stands. And I had uhm.. jet planes come in and drop napalm. And therefore, I would be speaking and saying, "Okay. The planes are arriving." And they would come from- from left to right. And they- and they would drop napalm- this tremendous burst of- of uhm.. fire and uhm.. to- to demonstrate to these uhm.. ca- cadets, candidates what power we had to support them. Unfortunately, on one occasion the air force was off-target by a couple of miles and dropped the napalm off-post. Fortunately, no one was killed. However, I had rather a- a strange reputation for- for having participated, and fortunately no one was injured. Uhm.. Upon finishing uhm.. teaching at uh.. at Fort Benning, Georgia uhm.. I was sent to Monterey, California for six months, to study Vietnamese. Languages have always been my most difficult subject. I couldn't speak a work of- a word of Vietnamese today, but I spent six months in Monterey. And then I was shipped to Vietnam. In Vietnam I was uhm.. a sub-sector advisor and also a battalion advisor. I was located uhm.. in uhm.. Ba Xuyen province, which was down in the fourth corps, which was down in the far southern part of uhm.. Vietnam.
Zarbock: Whom were you advising?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: I was advising the Vietnamese - the Vietnamese civilians and the Vietnamese military army.
Zarbock: And advising them on what topics?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: On military operations and also on civic affairs, in other words, we assisted them in building schools, but we also participated as a battalion advisor running military operations against the Vietcong. Uhm.. In this- in this role, I worked as an advisor to a uhm.. Vietnamese major, initially, and then a new captain came in. Uhm..
Zarbock: What was your rank at the time?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: My rank -- I went over there as a captain and I was promoted to major while I was there. By the way, I was promoted twice below the zone, which means each year they will promote 10- 10-percent of a group a- a young group into the next rank. I.e., I went from captain to major a year before uhm.. 90-percent of the same people that graduated uhm.. in my class. And I was also promoted to lieutenant colonel. 10- 10-percent below the zone, so I was very, very fortunate. Uhm.. In- in Vietnam uhm.. I saw the VC. One time we were -- oh, for me to get into my headquarters, the only way in and out was by helicopter. We had no roads uhm.. We- we had a Boston Whaler, that I used once a month in order to go from our headquarters in- into the next higher headquarters.
Zarbock: That's a boat, isn't it?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: That's a boat, yes. Uhm.. Therefore, for 12 months, my only way in and out was by helicopter or by going by a- a boat. And an aside: six months after I had left, the people that took over my team from me were using the canal that we used, almost on a daily basis. I received a letter about, maybe it wasn't six months; maybe it was three months after I had left. And this person, a guy- fellow by the name of Tom Hicks [ph?] who had worked with me, he said, "Peter, the Boston Whaler has just been blown up." What happened is they had been using that canal so much, that what the VC did was to put a cable across the canal, so- so when the Boston Whaler came along, the motor hit the cable; chew it over here, and there was a machine gun and that killed uhm.. my bodyguard, my interpreter, and two Americans. And this friend of mine, Tom Hicks said in the letter, he said, "Pete, were they asking for it?" And then he said, "You don't have to answer. I know what your answer is." But that's- that is the type of the environment that- that we had. I had a Vietnamese on -- The Vietnamese were on a patrol. They had someone that was wounded. I- I was able to get a Medi-evacuation helicopter to come out; pick me up and we went out; dropped down and picked this person up. He was a sergeant uh.. that worked on what- at our compound. And as we were flying to the hospital, he died in my arms. So uhm..
Zarbock: As a general, reflective comment, what was your opinion of the Vietnamese soldier?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: The Vietnamese soldier were good soldiers. I enjoyed working with them. I was very comfortable in the fact that they -- Oh! My team was made of anywhere from three to five Americans. Everybody else was- everybody else was Vietnamese. Therefore, we lav- lived in a Vietnamese military compound, protected by the Vietnamese and I had a great deal of faith in the fact that I was- I would be well- well protected. On operations uhm.. I've seen- I saw several of my Vietnamese counterparts be killed. Fortunately, during the operations none of my American teams uh.. team members were- were killed. One- one was wounded uh.. and- and he- and he received a Purple Heart plus a Silver Star for- for his operations.
Zarbock: And refresh my memory, how long were you in Vietnam?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: 12 months - 365 days.
Zarbock: Was that the standard?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: That was the standard.
Zarbock: Tour of duty at that time?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: Tour of duty. And then upon returning to United States, we were almost uhm.. guaranteed three years back in the United States before being redeployed. And I'll make- bring us up to 2005, and realize that the people that are in the military today, being stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, in some cases are there for a year; they come back, and they will go back a little- a little more than after a year, which to me is devastating for them plus families, to have that type of stress go on. But I was fortunate; I came out uhm.. I- I returned- I returned to the United States and uhm.. I had been selected to go to graduate school in American University in Washington, DC to get a master's degree.
Zarbock: Again, reflect. What was the nature of the social attitude towards the Vietnamese conflict at the time that you returned from Vietnam. You're out of the jungle; you fly to the United States; you land. What's the nature of the news? Are you the villain?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: The nature was real negative, very negative. I mean we uhm.. me with a short haircut. I don't have any hair now, then I- then I had a short haircut. The- the way I'll- the way I'll respond to it- here I am, just getting out of Vietnam. And I went to graduate school in Washington, DC. And went- and to be in class with people that were anti-Vietnam, anti-military, anti-everything, was a very difficult thing for me, having just put a year of my life on the line; leaving my family. At that point I had two children uhm.. Mark Steven had been - Erbe had been born in- in Fort Benning, Georgia. So- so when I was in Vietnam, I had two youngsters. By the way, I was able to go to Hawaii on an R&R - rest and recuperation and I was able to see my two sons there.
Zarbock: How long does R&R usually last in your case?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: 7-10 days. That was- that was the one break that I- that I had when- when I was in Vietnam. So uhm.. Here I am going to American University to get- to get a degree in American history; a Master's Degree in American History. Why? The United States Military Academy at West Point found out that during the '60s the cadets were graduating from West Point with absolutely no appreciation of American history. They were taking civics; they were taking world history; they were taking European history, but absolutely no American history. So, we had cadets arriving at West Point, spending four years there. At West Point, the only thing offered was European history; they were graduating with no understanding of American history. So, I was selected in order to get uhm.. a degree in- in American history uh.. When I arrived at West Point we- they had and I had not yet established the American history track. I had to teach European history the first year. And my European history had been two courses and so I spent every night boning up on the next day's lesson so that I was prepared to go in- in to teach cadets.
Zarbock: That's racing down a hill, isn't it?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: You better believe it. Okay. The following year uhm.. we established the Ameri- American history track, where if someone arrived at West Point that was a young- a new cadet, if he had taken European history, he was required to take American history. If he had taken only American history, he was required to take European. If he had had both, then he could take either- either one. So, I was the Associate Professor of American history, helping establish an American history track at West Point.
Zarbock: Did all cadets have to get-
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: They had to take a history course, yes.
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: As a- as a part of the curriculum.
Zarbock: And it was an elective on their part, which course they would take?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: Yep, it was elective, except if they had not taken American, it was not an elective. They were required to take it.
Zarbock: But the emphasis I'm making is that all cadets had to have American history.
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: That is correct. That-
Zarbock: Well, that was a challenging job for you, wasn't it?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: It was a challenging and- and exciting. Uhm.. Being, I mean I felt that it was an honor being selected; being sent to graduate school, and being able to be there uhm.. be- be there as an instructor. And P.S., by the way, during that period that I was there, I was uhm.. a father with a son living there. I was a single parent with my son, Hank, and we spent three years at West Point, 1969-'72, and to realize that in- in that environment, for a military officer man to be in as a single parent was some- very much of an oddity there. Uhm.. It was not always easy for my son Hank, or myself, but uhm.. we had a good time. And uhm.. played hockey; played football; my son did and uhm.. we had a good time. And my son Mark would come up and visit. So, it was okay, but that's an aside; that's- that's a part of who I am. That's a part of- that's a part of my life. Upon leaving uhm.. West Point, I was stationed at- at Fort Monroe, Virginia which was uhm.. TRADOC headquarters, Training and Doctrine Command headquarters. There were two- two major headquarters in the United States then; training and doctrine and the other one was FORSCOM- Forces Com- which all the active army uhm.. units, divisions, etcetera were under. TRADOC was totally for training. And during that period, they established uh.. the all volunteer army, so I became involved in establishing the recruiting program for the all-volunteer army in 1972-'73 and '74.
Zarbock: Well, let's oppose that- the all-volunteer army as opposed to what?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: As opposed the army- the army worked uh.. there was a draft system and if your number came up you- you went in the army, navy, or air force whatever- whatever it happened to be. In other words, everybody was in the same pool. Uhm.. Some exemptions were given if you- if you were in college and your- your number came up you'd- you'd and if you were taking an ROTC, you- you did not go. But it was- it was uhm.. dictated, as compared to the all-volunteer army that we presently have today.
Zarbock: At a time of draft, you cannot send a note to the draft board saying, "I respectfully decline."
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: You better believe it! You cannot. And the only thing that you could do, is you could escape to Canada and be a draft dodger. And being a draft dodger ha- had a tremendous, onerous impact upon young men that- that went ahead and did it.
Zarbock: But the army in which you were serving really went through a fundamental policy change at that time.
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: Totally!
Zarbock: It was a shift from draft to all-volunteer.
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: That's right.
Zarbock: Did you notice the difference in personnel?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: Well, I won't say that I- that- that I could at that point, because it was, I mean it was- it was being implemented during- during that period that I was there. The soldiers that I ran into and met then as compared to those uh.. before of the draft system, they were both dedicated people those- those that I encountered. And another P.S. I was at uhm.. Fort- Fort Monroe, Virginia. I was- had- I was blessed with uh.. marrying my wife Dana. We have been married now for 33 years. And I put together a family of four; Hank Erbe, Peter Lee Swartz, Mark Erbe, and Lauren Swartz. Phew! I'm lucky. Uhm.. During uhm.. I was there for- for three years. At the end of the three years, I went to the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk- Norfolk, Virginia. Uhm.. This is comparable to uhm.. the Command and General Staff College at uhm.. at Leavenworth. But, the Armed Forces Staff College had representatives from- from many different companies and many different services. All the services were- were represented, whereas the uh.. Command and Staff College basically is for army. They do have representation but the uh.. what I went to, was across the board. Uhm.. Upon completion of the Armed Forces Staff College, I was to be scheduled to go on short tour. A short tour means that you go for 12- 12 months to 24 months. You can go unaccompanied or accompanied. And I was gonna' go to Korea and at- at that point, I did not want to take my family out of the United States and bring them to Korea, so I went un- unaccompanied to uh.. Korea.
Zarbock: What year is this and what is your rank at this time?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: Okay. Uhm.. I'll have to double-check. Okay. This is '75-'76. At that time I was a lieutenant colonel. Uhm.. In- in Korea I was Chief Operations Officer for a combat support coordination team, to the first ROK, Republic of Korea army. Uhm..
Zarbock: So, you're back in the advising business again?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: I'm back in the advisory business. Now, at that point uhm.. the DMZ Demilitarized Military Zone between North and South Korea was commanded by the First Republic of uhm.. Korea army here and the first- first ROK army over here. And this was commanded by a- an army general, United States Army General. It was a 4-star general, General Stillwell that was in command of both of those. But on- on the right flank uhm.. the commander was Korean. They had no Americans, so there was -- Here- here the channel -- The American channel here, Commander Stillwell was commanding, but he- he had no Americans here. So, what they did is they put together a combat support coordination team. The first- first one they have and I was the operations officer of that, and was assigned to- to the uhm.. the Republic of Korea army and I- and I reported to the operations officer of that ROK army, was a- was a lieutenant general. And I worked with him uhm.. What- what did we do? We planned uhm.. combined operations between the United States forces and the Korean forces. One of them was the navy uhm.. We- we had an exercise where the- where the navy, Korean and American came in together. We had air force operations. We also had an- an underground bunker up on the DMZ that could accommodate a hundred - no, 200 people, that if we had gone -- If there had been a war breakout, and I hope there isn't one, even as we're talking in 2005; if we had gone to war, we would've gone to that underground bunker in order to control what was going on as- as far as east- east flank of uh.. the- the DMZ, the demilitarized zone.
Zarbock: While you're in the advising business, what about language and communication with Koreans? How was that handled?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: Okay. I also took a course in Korean. And I said, I've had French, Latin, German, Vietnamese, and Korean and my worst subject in my total career has been languages. And I can't speak a word of Korean now, either. But during that time, I was able to communicate with them. But I also had an- an interpreter, fortunately. American history and American literature and all of that, I got great grades, but as far as languages, I- I wasn't very good. Okay. While I was in Korea uhm.. I received an- a communication that uh.. West Point was interested in having me come back for a second time. And the reason for this is I had gone to Middlebury College in Vermont which is a coeducational institution. I had been with women in a class for four years. I'd been at West Point for three years, in an all-male environment. 1976 the decision was made to integrate the corps cadets with women. So, they invited me back a second time to assist in the integration of women into the corps cadets of 1976.
Zarbock: And again there is a significant change in policy and you're there.
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: I was there. And- not- not only at West Point, but it was across the military. But- but for- for the Academy, West Point, for them to accept women cadets coming in as plebes, which means they're- they're freshmen, with never having been women cadets there before, here I am. I am teaching a class. The first class that I came into uh.. The cadets were- were seated around the table and when the instructor, the primary instructor walks in, attention is called by the- by the cadet who was in charge. And the first class that I walked into; called attention and it was a female cadet that saluted me. Said, "Good- good morning, Colonel Erbe." So, from then I spent the next four years assisting integrating the women into the corps cadets, and I saw that class graduate in 1981. And they started out with maybe 150 and maybe 71 graduated, some- something like that. But, what an exciting time for me to have been at West Point, as far as that is concerned.
Zarbock: Metaphorically, glance over your shoulder and feel years from now, somebody's gonna' be listening to this tape and reading the transcription. And you were there at a significant time of policy. How did that go? You've got an all-male culture.
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: Okay. The way I'll answer it is, at that- at that time, okay -- My children -- Two- two of my boys applied to West Point and were accepted. Fortunately, my daughter did not uhm.. apply to West- with my boys, I wanted them to. I didn't- it wasn't a requirement to go there. I just required them to apply, so that they had that as an option. And fortunately Lauren did not- I did not bring it up with her and she didn't apply. Because I would not have wanted my daughter to have gone through the integration of the corps cadets at that time. It was tough. Uhm.. Today, in- in 2003, '04, and '05 the problems the Air Force Academy is having with- with women and the cadets, and how they're being handled, makes me very, very unhappy. And that- this is- this is '76. I mean '76, '86, '96, that's almost 30 years and the Air Force Academy's still having trouble, but the army, West Point has done much, much better. It was a very, very difficult time for the women, for the- for the male cadets, especially for the uh.. seniors. They had been through three years of an all-male environment and all of a sudden, women are there. Uh.. It- it was not an easy transition, but they had people like myself and some of the women officers that they brought in made- made the transition easier. And I think the army has done a much better j- uh.. West Point has done a much better job integrating women into the corps cadets. I also think integrating women into the forces, today uhm.. We read about uh.. an air force officer, female, flying in Iraq- Iraq. I mean, it- you know that's- that's one tremendous change that has- that has taken place in the 30 years. Uhm.. Okay. At- at the- I was going into my fourth -- no, I was going- I had completed three years at West Point. And I was to be reassigned at that point. But I went down to Washington, DC to see the infantry branch. And I said- and I said to infantry, I said, "I know that my next assignment will probably be overseas accompanied. Three years in Germany. I have three- three boys in college; I have a daughter in private school. I do not want to go overseas. What I- what I would like to be able to do is I would like to be accepted for one more year at West Point to get me four years at West Point. And then transfer me to somewhere in New England so that I can retire from there." And infan- and infantry uhm.. gave me that opportunity. I don't -- I haven't seen my records. I don't know why they- why they were that willing to allow me. So, I stayed at West Point for the fourth year so that- I got to see that class graduate. And upon graduation uhm.. I was reassigned to Fort Devens, Massachusetts in a readiness group. I was uhm.. Chief of the Readiness Group, which is working with an uhm.. National Guard and the Reserve in New England. And so my last year I became involved in running training- putting training exercises together for the National Guard and Reserve. And during- and during that period uhm.. I applied -- no, I- I was looking for- for employment. Uhm.. And a friend of mine who I go to Middlebury College with, got me- Bob Morris was with uh.. Dunhill Personnel System and uhm.. he said, "Pete, I- I think I've got a job for you in Dunhill." And I said, "Where will I be?" And I said, "I want to stay in New England." He said, "You'll be on Long Island." I said, "Well, that's sort of on the- on the edge of- of New England. I will take it." And so uhm.. I left the military uhm.. and went to uhm.. Long Island and my kids were in school, and uhm.. I became involved in Dunhill Personnel System. I was there for 20 years. I'm now down here. I'm working as a volunteer in many - community and schools - the Brunswick Learning Center. Uhm.. I- I am now working with uh.. Family Haven which is we just- just purchased a home uhm.. for $250,000 that will accommodate four homeless families that have children. And so my commitment now and I have- I have been fortunate. My country has given a great deal to me. And how I'm saying thank you is to become involved with the kids in Brunswick County and also involved with uhm.. the homeless in Brunswick County. It's my way of saying thank you. Thank you. That's it.
Zarbock: It would appear that much of your life, pre-military, military and post-military has been in or around training and education. Am I correct in that?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: Yes, you're very correct in that.
Zarbock: And you started off in -- Where did you start off at school?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: Okay. I- I grew up in a little town called Otis, Massachusetts, in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. I went to a two-room schoolhouse in eight years of school. And I had two teachers in eight years of school. I had one teacher for- for first through the fourth and uhm.. on- on the first floor. And then you were promoted by going upstairs and I had one teacher up there for four years. So, that- that was- was my background there. I went from there to uhm.. the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut which is a private, preparatory school for college. Uhm.. It took -- It's a four year uh.. institution, and it took me five years to get through.
Zarbock: You would move in, in the autumn and stay there until the spring?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: Yes, yes. It was -- Yes, it was- it was a boarding- it was a boarding environment.
Zarbock: But it was not a military school.
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: No, had nothing to do with the military, no. Uhm.. And at- and at Hotchkiss uhm.. I struggled- I struggled a- academically uhm.. and- and that's the reason why I got to be- become a junior. The headmaster uhm.. the man by the name Van Sanford [ph?], called him 'The Duke,' made that decision. He knew that I wasn't prepared yet to go to college and so he had me repeat my junior year. I can assure you that it was tough. I was- I played football; I was captain of my ski team; I played baseball and I had to return for a second junior year with my classmates going on to senior year and graduating. But uhm.. at the end- at the end of that year, when that class graduated, the Class of 1954, that I was initially in. I was up in the balcony watching and as my friend Henry Pillsbury uh.. the Pillsbury Mills family was ge- was giving a valedictorian presentation, I was up in the uhm.. balcony with tears streaming down my face, as I watched that class leave. I came back as a senior. I was captain of my football team; captain of my ski team. Uhm.. Academically uh.. I was able to prepare myself in order to- in order to go to college and I- I applied to three colleges, Middlebury, Brown University and Dartmouth. I was accepted at Middlebury and Brown; was put on the waiting list at Dartmouth. And one night uhm.. I- I went down to the headmaster's uh.. house and I knocked on the door. And he looked up and he said, "Yes, Peter, how can I help you?" And I walked in and said, "Sir," I said, "I'm having a problem. I'm trying to decide where I should go to college." I said, "I've been accepted at Middlebury and Brown; put on the waiting list at Dartmouth." And he looked at me, and here is a man that has watched me for five years and he was in his 25th year of headmaster at Hotchkiss, and he looked at me and he said, "Peter," he said, "You can go to- go to Brown and be a little fish in a big pond, or you can go to Middlebury and be a big fish in a little pond." He didn't say anything more than that. I walked out into the hallway and I made a reverse charges call to my parents. My dad answered the phone and I said, "Dad, I'm gonna' go to Middlebury." So, I went to Middlebury and that's- that's what gave me the opportunity to become involved in the military and- and to go through what the military career that I've just- just been talking about.
Zarbock: What was the student population, do you remember, when you were at Middlebury?
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: It was 1200. Uhm.. 700 uh.. men and 500 women. Uh.. I was president of my class; I was president of my fraternity. Uh.. As I said, I was the second command of my ROTC uhm.. regiment uh.. at Middlebury and I was chief- chief justice of the judiciary council. And I don't say that bragging. I'm saying that that's who I am. That that is what I was able to do at Middlebury. Why? Because 'the Duke', the headmaster at Hotchkiss had watched me for five years and knew that the environment that I needed to go in, and by him saying, "Being a big fish in a little pond," maybe that was ego. Whatever the reason was, I- I made the right decision.
Zarbock: We've got to get a plug in for your fraternity.
Henry 'Pete' Erbe: Chi Psi Fraternity. I was uh.. the fraternities are no longer at- at Middlebury. By the way, I- I have a niece by the name of Heidi-Hi-Heidi-Ho Erbe who is now a junior at Middlebury. My brother went to Dartmouth; my son Hank went to Dartmouth; my daughter went- Lauren went to Dartmouth; my daughter-in-law went to Dartmouth; my nephew, Heidi's brother went to Dartmouth, but I finally got one! Heidi is the one that is at Middlebury, the one member of the family and I'm very proud of that. Okay. That's my education background. Okay? What did I do in the military? I taught at West Point for seven years; I was a trainer at Fort Benning; Uhm.. Impacting upon young people has- has been a driving force of- of who I am. Uhm.. After the military uhm.. I went into the franchise business. I went- I became director of training; director of operations, responsible for training. And now that I -- in the environment down here in Brunswick County in North Carolina, I've been here for five years. What am I doing? I'm impacting upon youth. Uhm.. And I'm in Kiwanis and I uh.. teach at the Brunswick Learning Center. The profile of the kids at the Brun- Brunswick Learning Center, there are high school dropouts, uhm.. students 13-17 that have attendance or disciplinary problems, and unwed mothers. That's the profile. I run a cour- course there that's called 'Career Development' which assists them; they learn where their strengths are. I have them prepare goals; I have them prepare resumes. They- they go through mock interviews. And- and I'll show one thing, which is probably a capstone of my- of what I have been able to do. I received a letter within the last month from a young gal that was looking -- she is now in uhm.. Western North Carolina. She was looking through her papers and she sent me a letter. She started off by saying, "Mr. Erbe, I hope you're well. I was a student of yours uh.. about two years ago. Uh.. And I was going through the papers because I kept all the notes that- from your class. And I found your business card. And I'm sending this letter to you because I want to thank you for doing what you did for me. I would not be where I am today and I have to- I have to admit that you're the one that gave me the ability and the opportunity to be able to do what I'm doing." And she said, "Mr. Erbe, I'm doing well. My little daughter is doing well." Uh.. The little daughter is now three years old and uhm.. She talks about the environment of the people- people that she's working with. So uhm.. that- that sort of wraps up who I am. I'm proud to be an American! Thank you.