Richard Hertel served as a personnel clerk in the 520th Transportation Battalion in Phu Loi, South Vietnam and as a chapel organist in Cu Chi, South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. While Hertel did not experience combat in Vietnam, he witnessed the effects of drug use and prostitution on the base of Phu Loi and during rest and relaxation leave in Thailand. On the plane ride home from the war he had a revelation. He realized his life had been saved, and he had to make the most of it. At first, this meant going to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and doing his best for his wife and daughter. Later in life, this meant being true to himself as a gay man.