Born and raised in Southern California, Van Wolslagel was an avid surfer and worked a variety of odd jobs growing up. At 20 years old, he decided to take a semester off of college for a surf trip in Hawaii. Upon his return, he was drafted into the United States Army and began his three years of service.
Van was stationed at Fort Ord Army base in Monterey, California for basic training. He remembers Fort Ord fondly, “It was right along the coast with views of the ocean so it was not a bad place to be.” As time went on, advanced infantry training brought him to Fort Gordon and Fort Benning, both in Georgia, and he held four different Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) classifications. Van’s jobs included being a sniper, door gunman on a helicopter, mortar platoon leader, and weapons specialist. Van noted, “Back then you did whatever job that needed to be done at a moment’s notice.”
In August 1969, Van went to Vietnam. He spent almost two years in the jungles of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos as part of a Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) team. Van said coming from Southern California, the rain in Vietnam was the most intense he had ever seen, “It would come down in sheets so hard that you could not see in front of you. I’d never seen anything like it.”
In May of 1971, he was released from the Army, and at the time of his departure he held the rank of Sergeant. Upon return to the US, Van hitchhiked down the coast from Washington back home to Fullerton, California in uniform.
Van feels the Army did a good job as far as preparing soldiers for what life would be like when they returned home and how combat would affect them. He took advantage of financial support for his education and trained to be a commercial pilot under the VA. Van then went back to college to receive a degree in Business and a minor in Computers. He said, “That was when computers took up a whole room. They were about the size of the big milling machines at Elite.”
In 1972 Van married his wife of over forty years, Carol, and they eventually moved to Big Bear, California. Van and Carol made a decision that would alter their lives forever by becoming a foster home for children, fostering about forty seven children throughout the years. In the late 80s they decided to adopt three children as their own. They now have two grandchildren and several foster grandchildren around the country.
Van says the Army made him organize his thoughts of what needed to be done to finish a task. Van says, “As a teenager, I would quit a job or school to go surf. The Army taught me discipline and a different way of looking at work.” Finally, Van says when life throws the tough challenges his way he has the perspective to say compared to his time in the service “everything else is gravy.”