tv Oral Histories Richard Cole West Point Interview CSPAN February 25, 2018 10:30pm-11:41pm EST
is a link on our website on >> next on american history tv. u.s. military academy graduate richard cole talks about his experiences as a west point cadet and his vietnam war service including his second tour of duty in 1973 during the american withdrawal. he was awarded three silver stars for his actions in vietnam. the interview was held by the west point center for oral history and is about 70 minutes. reporter: good morning. i am here in the west point center for oral history. it is june 20, 2017, and i am here with richard cole, class of 1963. welcome back. richard: thank you.
reporter: what are you in town for? richard: for the funeral of a classmate, art ryan. reporter: right. we interviewed him, fortunately. and are sorry to hear about his passing, but we are glad to see you in town. tell me about your childhood, where did you grow up? richard: i was born in 1939. i grew up in the mountains of georgia where tennessee and north carolina come together. reporter: is that fairly close to chattanooga? richard: it is southwest of chattanooga. or east. reporter: what did your parents do? richard: my daddy was an engineer. civil engineer. he built dams.
my mother was a schoolteacher. reporter: siblings, did you have any siblings? richard: yes, i have an older brother, two years older, and an older sister, three years older. i was an oops. reporter: tell us what it was like growing up. in a seven acre farm up in the mountains. rural, very poor. a big bootlegging county. my best friend nearby had a lot more money than we did. i told dad, the wilson's have a lot more money than we do. i said why don't we make more money? he said i would but your mother won't let me. [laughter]
when i was in high school i rode the school bus for 25 miles 20 day -- twice a day. reporter: wow. richard: that must've taken -- yeah, it was pretty remote. reporter: that must've taken nearly an hour to get to school. richard: yep. reporter: was at the same school your mom taught at? richard: no, she taught at the local grammar school. she taught me for the first through third grades. then i moved on. to the next school. then she quit teaching. her health was very poor. when i was born she was told that she would never get out of bed again. the beauty of it is when she died at the age of 92, she was walking half a mile two days a week.
reporter: that's wonderful. ok. and your dad was an engineer? richard: yes, he was from georgia tech. reporter: was there any military tradition in your family? richard: no, not at all. reporter: what were your interests as a young boy? richard: oh, hunt, fish. i took school seriously because i knew it was important. i enjoyed farming. i had a pet cow. reporter: did you have a lot of animals on your farm? richard: we had, i think, a dozen cows and a couple of pigs, and the chicken house. a big chicken house, that really helped our income. reporter: sure. richard: chicken eggs. reporter: did you sell the eggs? richard: yes. we had roosters so we sold fertilized eggs which brings a
better price than regular eggs. funny thing, you know, in the chicken house, you don't want all this but -- reporter: this is interesting, this is american history right here. richard: the chicken house had nests along the side, they built a little trolley where you put the chicken and basket in and you just get the eggs. every once in a while you would think what is that? raise it up. and there would be a little king snake eating the eggs. [laughter] you had to get them out and haul them away so they can't kill the king snake. they are good snakes. reporter: because they eat vermin? richard: yeah, and they will kill other snakes. they will kill a rattlesnake.
that was sort of neat. reporter: well. do you remember the first time you reached in and grabbed a snake? richard: i don't remember the first time. it got to be sort of old hat. reporter: that's nice that you had all sorts of animals on the farm. i imagine that taught you responsibility at a young age. richard: yes. i had to milk a cow every morning before going to school. reporter: what time did you have to leave for school? richard: i don't remember. reporter: you must have had to get up early to milk the cows. richard: yeah, i probably left the house around 7:00. and then walk half a mile to catch the school bus. reporter: wow. richard: that was ok. reporter: did you play any sports? richard: as a senior in high school, the first time our little high school got football. i played football as a senior. reporter: what position did you
play? richard: i was a blocking back. we ran a single wing. it was fun. reporter: how did you hear about west point? richard: i guess i saw it on the long gray line on television. i'm pretty sure that was my first introduction. i was impressed. dad told me and my brother, if either one of us were interested in going to west point he thought he could get us an appointment. my brother was not interested at all. daddy didn't have enough money to send me to a regular college, so i thought i will go to west point. it will be free. [laughter] reporter: ok. where did your brother and up going? -- end up going?
richard: he flunked out of georgia tech. then he flew airplanes for delta until he turned 60. during that time he went to georgia state and got a bachelors in business administration or something like that. reporter: how about your sister? richard: she got her masters in fine arts from the university of georgia. she loved to do it but never really made -- didn't really do anything, didn't make any money with it. she got married i think three times. young boys. richard: -- reporter: you showed up to west point, you must have showed up in 1959. richard: yes, right. reporter: what is your most vivid memory of your first day at the academy? richard: it is all sort of hazy.
i was getting screamed at. i wasn't expecting that. but that's what happens, so that's what happened. reporter: how was your summer training? richard: it was very, very good. and very demanding. i was not expecting it either. but i appreciated it. i really did. reporter: what was your favorite part of the training? not the running. [laughter] i guess the shooting, i grew up hunting. i was a pretty good shot. i enjoyed the rifle and pistol. reporter: did you shoot m14's or m1's? were m1s. think they reporter: you were shooting
world war ii era rifles with the eight round clip. richard: yes. reporter: excellent. tell me about what it was like once the academic year started. richard: it was demanding but it was enjoyable. i went to college for two years before i went to west point. reporter: where did you go? richard: i went to young harris college for a year. a little methodist college. and north georgia college for a year. north georgia college is a fine college. it really is. i went to young harris because daddy told us kids we can go anywhere he wanted to as long as we went to young harris. [laughter] then i told him i wanted to go to west point, and he said well we better tell -- better send you to north georgia
to get you squared away. reporter: what did north georgia help you with? with respect when you came to west point? richard: all the military discipline. the marching. north georgia is one of the five military colleges. bmi, citadel. i have forgotten what the other ones were. but it was the only one that was coed. reporter: was it coed back then, too? richard: yes. reporter: how was that? richard: that was good. it was nice to have girls on campus. anyway, that was good. reporter: you were prepared for the marching and some of the military study. you felt pretty prepared academically? richard: yes, i did. reporter: what were some of your favorite classes? richard: math, chemistry, and mechanics. my worst class was spanish.
i have no knack for foreign language. reporter: physically how was it for you? richard: it was fine. i was in good shape. it was fine. reporter: militarily, your summer training how was it what sort of training did you do? richard: count buckner was the best. that was field training as well as physical training. i learned a lot at camp buckner. this is what a patrol is. this is how you do stuff. reporter: do you feel that west point prepared you adequately for when you got into the army and went to the basic course, rangers course, things like that? richard: absolutely.
reporter: as you went through west point, it became time to choose a branch. what were you interested in and why? richard: armor for the first couple of years. that is the combat arm, looked pretty exciting to me. then i figured there is no place for armor in vietnam, so i'm going to go infantry. reporter: was vietnam starting to get ramped up? richard: it was getting started. yeah. reporter: what were you hearing about vietnam as a cadet? richard: not much other than the communists were invading the place and we were trying to protect them and save them and stuff. we were there for the noble cause. reporter: ok. how was graduation for you?
richard: it was wonderful. reporter: were your folks able to come up? richard: my dad was. that was neat. reporter: what did he think about it, when was the first time your dad came up to west point? richard: graduation. reporter: what did he think of the place? richard: he was impressed. he doesn't say a lot about being impressed, but he was. reporter: after graduation, tell me about some of the courses you had before you got out to your unit. richard: basic force, jump school, ranger. i guess that was it. then i got to the 82nd which was great. reporter: who were you with? 325 alpha company.
reporter: you arrived in time for the dominican republic. tell me about that? that is something not a whole lot of folks know about. richard: that was excellent. i had my second company commander then. my first one was west point graduate. he moved on. this guy was a north georgia graduate. atorter: had you known him north georgia? richard: yeah, he was class of 1959. neat, neatguy -- guy. we got in town, unopposed landing. went in by airplane, c-130s. he told me, ok, take your platoon and go down these two blocks. and set up a blocking position.
i said ok. i put half the platoon on the sidewalk and told them to go forward and left, half the platoon on the sidewalk, look forward and right. i will just go down the middle. and i did. first time i got shot at. no damage done. i was surprised at what incoming rifle fire sounded like. very sharp crack. it was, everybody shot a little bit. settled down without incident. i went up on the second floor and i hope you're going to edit this stuff. went into this room of this little hotel, immediately it was obvious that it was a brothel.
that is the only time i spent the night in a whore house. [laughter] reporter: was it a good vantage point? richard: yes, it was. and all the girls were gone. there was nobody there. yes, it was a good vantage point. reporter: what were we doing in the dominican republic? richard: somebody was trying to overthrow the government as i understand it. i don't remember the names. somebody that we thought was communist was trying to turn it into another haiti, and we went down to stop it. and i think we did. reporter: you must have been rigged to jump, or did you know that you're going to do an air landing. richard: we knew that we were going to do an air landing. reporter: aside from the sporadic fire that you took walking down the street, was there any other firing at you? richard: no.
reporter: how long were you there? richard: two months. during that time i was able to go to a beautiful beach. i didn't know it had such beautiful beach. but it did. from there i went to vietnam. reporter: what did you do for the two months that you were in the dominican republic? patrols or just security? richard: i guess it was all just security. it was all in town. reporter: did you draw any lessons from your time in the dominican republic that helped you in vietnam? just what incoming rifle fire sounds like. that's something good to know. reporter: sure. so when you hear it again and it is more powerful, you are not as surprised. richard: right.
reporter: so your first time in vietnam was from 1965 to 1967. who did you serve with? richard: the first year i was with the vietnamese airborne and we were eighth battalion based in saigon and we traveled all over the country except the fourth core. never met the fourth core. the eighth vietnamese battalion was the finest troops i've ever served with. they really were. in fact, on one particular operation, they got the american presidential unit citation. reporter: wow. what made them the finest troops you ever served with? richard: to give you an example, in this particular operation, our battalion only had about 350 men.
we were always a little standby. the whole regiment tried to attack, supported with tanks and armored personnel carriers. stopped, turned, and ran. have you ever seen a whole division run? it is just awesome. our little battalion commander said we go, we go. and we did. went through where those guys had turned and ran, and it was good. the company commander was a super guy. he came back to go to the infantry advanced course when my parents lived in georgia. he spent the weekend with them.
reporter: nice. richard: they thought he was great, he he thought they were great. reporter: did he get a lot of georgia home cooking? richard: yeah, he really enjoyed that. in this assault, we were really bogged down getting into the village for a few minutes. he pulled out his little derringer pistol and i thought he is going to start shooting his troops. i can't let this happen. so i jumped up and ran over here and said i will go over here on this side and as i was going up a molotov cocktail at the mud and went sideways. it went off. i remember sailing through the air. when i woke up they were next to me.
doing very well. i got up and trotted over to him and he looked up and, oh, i thought you were dead. [laughter] not yet. that was good. reporter: what sort of training did you do with the vietnamese soldiers? richard: actually, i did not do any training with them. i just worked with them on operations. my biggest job was to coordinate air support. we never had artillery. always out of artillery range. reporter: ok. how responsive was the air support? richard: very, very, very good. it was excellent. reporter: what would you usually call for? did you call for a particular type of air support or whatever was up there? richard: just whatever was available. ordinarily, nothing bigger than a 250 pound bomb.
that is uncomfortable. the strafing. sometimes rockets. sort of a neat thing. we have a place down on the beach in eastern north carolina. there is a little golf course there that i got to know and play there some in the wintertime. we got to two telling lies and war story sunday. i knew that he was in the navy. we started telling tales and identified three different times when i was stomping through the jungle and he was helping out in his a6. reporter: that is pretty neat. richard: it is. fantastic. it really is.
reporter: so you call him in and they would come in and help you out? richard: yeah. we always had a pack with us, so the pack would control the airplane. reporter: that's wonderful. was it mostly jets or did you have helicopters coming as well? reporter: i had helicopters some, what i really liked was the big old a1e. that thing would come in real slow and real accurate. and if it got hit a couple of times, it didn't care. [laughter] reporter: did you ever have the opportunity to jump with the vietnamese? richard: yes i did. reporter: how is that? -- how was that? richard: that was excellent. it was, i got in the country and a week later we had our little combat jump. it was unopposed, which was good.
very, very high trees on the lz. a couple of vietnamese got caught in the trees. they slid down as far as they could and then turned loose. they broke a leg or broke a back. they were way up there. reporter: it is high, tall trees. any other operations while you were working with of battalion that stand out to you? we used to go to do go a lot. it was a special forces camp. we always ran into stuff there. when night, -- we always had a
vietnamese doctor with us. he went to my boss and said that we have the medevac. we have to do it tonight. i had malaria. i did not realize how bad it was. a helicopter came in in the middle of the night, took me out and took me to the hospital there in saigon. a half. was 104 and they immediately stripped me off and put me in a bath full of ice water. this is real icewater because a bunch of ice cubes are floating around in it. in a little while, and a nurse came in and said the fever was broke. let's get you out, dried off, and put to bed. i said ok, good. i got up and looked down at
myself and you are going to have to edit this, there was nothing there. i said, my lord, you have turned me into a woman. [laughter] she said, don't worry, it will come back when you warm up. [laughter] things like that you remember. reporter: sure. so, you broke your fever. richard: yes. reporter: did you get back to the vietnamese? when did you switch to a different unit? richard: i was in the hospital about four or five days. a couple of captains there -- one was shot, who had written a book. i think he was class of 1961 or something like that. anyway, he and another guy brought me a bottle of rose. they did not bring the bottle
opener. so there we are at the deck at the hospital. you can't pull a cork out, maybe can push it in. we found a jack handle and started pushing the bottle exploded. wine and broken glass and a female nurse comes around the corner. what the hell is going on here? those two captains just disappeared. she said, lieutenant, you get back to your bed and i will decide if you need an icewater enema. so i ran back to bed and started snoring a little bit. a couple minutes later i heard the door open and close. nothing more was ever said. i was there for about a week and went back to the battalion.
and stayed till the end of the year. reporter: how many american officers were with you in the battalion? richard: let me see. in the battalion there was only two officers and and an seo and usually a sergeant first class. reporter: and did you have an interpreter? did you speak french with the vietnamese? did they speak enough english? richard: i could speak a little bit of vietnamese. we had a course before going over. i could speak a little bit. some of the officers could speak good english. the one i told you about who went to the advanced course spoke excellent english.
i could speak no french. my boss could speak no french and our battalion commander spoke good french because he was with the french before north vietnam fell. he refused to speak english, so i am not sure how they communicated. reporter: ok. you mentioned the 86th pilot. tell me one of the times that he was the one who came to your aid. richard: this is when we were -- near the coast, and in jungles. he needed help we were near a town, a coastal town. we saw them come in and zoom and said hey that was great. come a little closer. it was just super.
reporter: you said you got all up and down the country. what was your favorite area to operate in? or least favorite? richard: i guess my favorite was first corps. the terrain was good, the weather was good. it was exciting being near the border. down in, further south, near the cambodian border, i did not like that.
because we kept having to go back over and over and over again. reporter: ok. that must've have been the year of 1965. richard: yes, 1965, 1966. reporter: then from 1966 to 1967 you were in an american unit. richard: yes. reporter: which one? richard: the first wolfhounds. first of the 27th alpha company. reporter: by this time you were a company commander? richard: yes, right. one of the senior advisers in the battalion, in the vietnamese airborne, was selected to command the battalion as a major and i said hey, sir if you give me a company i will extend.
he said ok. he gave me a company and i extended. two of us did, actually. the other one did not extend, the other was a company commander. a neat guy. he got killed. he got killed in the operation where bob foley got his medal of honor. reporter: he must have been the turley company commander -- been the turley company commander then? richard: right. reporter: when you arrived, as a new company commander, you already had a year of experience in vietnam. what did your soldiers think about that? richard: i think they thought it was a good idea.
i am still in contact with a couple of squad leaders and that company had experienced a very bad experience in july, before i got there in september or august. they took very heavy casualties. the company commander was relieved. one thing that is second nature is you are always with the company. if the company was on the ground you are on the ground. you do not fly around in the helicopters. you lead on the ground. that was recognized and appreciated. that became a real fine company. it really was. reporter: where were you stationed? richard: just out of saigon.
where the tunnels were. great, -- right, the iron triangle. richard: no, the iron triangle is a little north. it might be part of the iron triangle, i'm not sure. reporter: what sort of operations did you -- richard: air assault. after you make the air assault you try to attack and go in deeper and see which you can find. reporter: and you ran into a lot of contact? richard: a good bit. yeah, we did. reporter: did you receive all three silver stars with this unit? richard: no. i had a silver star with the vietnamese. and two as a company commander. reporter: do you want to tell me about the one with the vietnamese? richard: yes, that was the
operation where we saw the whole division turn and run. we basically went in and did good. reporter: is that the one where you got blown up? richard: yeah. and getting there, at the edge of the village, i felt a wasp sting high on the inside of my left thigh. after things settle down, i looked and sure enough there was a little hole in my pants. a little bloody hole. we had an american doctor then. i got him to check. the doctor said oh yeah, we can fix that. hand grenade fragment. we can fix that with a band-aid and iodine and a purple heart.
i said, come on. it is just a scratch, not a purple heart. he said well, if that fragment had been a quarter of an inch to the right you'd be singing soprano instead of base in the church choir. i said ok. i guess i will take a purple heart for that. reporter: wow. ok. that was the first experience. tell me about your next silver star. richard: that was in the operation where fred was killed and they attacked through us. and got to the little company that we were trying to get to and we just could not get through it. the vietnamese were counterattacking as well as
defend. reporter: it was a large north vietnamese unit? richard: yes it was. ,reporter: a whole battalion or more? richard: i don't know. bob was able to go a little bit on the right flank. and a stay on the high ground and make it up to where we were. we were caught down on the valley and couldn't do anything. reporter: and your company was trying to reinforce charlie company? richard: we had picked up what was left of charlie company. what was left of charlie company i made my fourth platoon. we had picked them up and tried to get on to bravo company. reporter: how did the operation start, bravo company got in trouble? richard: yeah, i don't know how bravo company got to where they were. the battalion commander never told me enough about the overall
operation for me to understand it. i should have pushed him, but i didn't. reporter: bravo company is in trouble and charlie company tried to come to their aid? and then charlie company got chewed up. was fred henderson still alive at this time? richard: no. i'm sure he was not. reporter: and then your company came in. so you picked up the pieces of charlie company and continued the attack. and then what company did bob foley have? company of had alpha the second of the 27th. we were with the first of the 27th. reporter: and he came in on your flank? richard: he came in right behind us. reporter: and then worked around to the high ground. richard: yes. reporter: tell me about your actions during that battle.
one of the biggest lessons i ever learned was as we were going up we were stopped and had these high trees and you could see there were snipers up in the trees as well as people on the ground. so i looked and i thought hey this is just like shooting squirrels at home. so i am laying down here propped up on my elbows, i had a couple of good shots. and then a bullet hit right under my elbow. did not hit my elbow, but it knocked my elbow out from under me and i went down on my face. i looked up with a sheepish grin on my face. the first sergeant was standing next to me by a tree. a big guy, super guy, he reached down and grabbed me by the
collar. drag me up to the tree and said captain, the men will fight the vc. your job is to fight the company. now do your job. so i never fired my rifle again for the next 30 hours. reporter: the next 30 hours, so it was a long -- richard: it was long. yeah. reporter: what else happened during that engagement? richard: just getting bravo company and pulling back. pulling back without turning our backs and running. they pull this out. this is something that always bothered me. we pulled out and got out, there is the rice paddy area just full of u.s. first infantry division.
we were evacuated by helicopter and all these first infantry division people were supposed to go in and take care of it. the next day my commander told me to go up there and brief the battalion commander and anyone else that would listen to me. so i did. nobody was interested in talking to me. the people were still out on the rice paddy area. i guess i saw two sorties in the woods. i don't know when or if anybody actually went in there and clean that area out. that's sort of, damn it. reporter: yeah, you have a whole bunch of them in there. what was the biggest challenge during that fight? richard: keeping the platoons
from getting panicky. they didn't. they were good. one of them really got upset. but i stayed calm and firm with them. they do good. reporter: how were your platoon leaders and platoon sergeants? richard: they were good. my best platoon leader was actually a sergeant e7. super guy. i had two lieutenant platoon leaders. they were both good. one of them was a little bit excitable, the other one was
very, very calm. they did their job very well. reporter: so that was the experience that resulted in your second silver star. what about the third silver star? richard: what really surprised me, we were outside of saigon somewhere. at a rice patty. trying to assault a village. a wooded area. i was just totally caught in the rice paddy. a battalion commander said i'm going to send in charlie company, where should i put him? down here, 50 yards away was a prominent dike up to the woods. i said put him on that dike and we will be close enough that we could support each other.
then we could go on in and do great things. he said ok. we kept trying to get in and still could not get in. i looked down and about 200 meters away i saw these helicopters going in. i told the battalion commander, i said, what the hell is that? i told you where to put them. why didn't you put them where i told you to? now you have two companies up to their ears in alligators and now we can't support each other. gun damage. it.god damm
he said alpha six, you just talk to me now. he said what can i do for you? i said i would love to have some artillery. we got into the wood line. charlie company never got out of the rice paddy. spent the night down there. part of the reason is their m-16s would not work. one thing i learned from the vietnamese was that the m-16 is an extremely sensitive weapon. you do not oil the m-16, you keep it clean, clean, clean, and no oil. that was one thing i learned from them. the company they always had gallons of kerosene. you take your weapon in, take it apart, clean it with this kerosene. rinse it out in the other
kerosene. to let any oil get anywhere near it. try it off, and put it together. i told john when he took charlie company that that was what he needed to do. he did not do it. their weapons did not work and he spent the night in the rice paddy. after i came home, after i chewed out the battalion commander, i was walking on thin ice. when i came home, the guy who had been my second battalion commander, company commander down in the dominican republic, i ran into him. he said hey, congratulations on your silver star. i said what silver star? he said i just saw it in the army times.
you got another silver star. so i went to the headquarters and said, hey, i'm told i have a silver star. is that right? they said yes, here it is right here. i said why didn't you send it to me? well, we didn't know where you were. [laughter] that was sort of a neat thing too. after i extended, my mother got a phone call from the third army. some captain said, argue the mother of captain richard cole? said, yes i am. he said, ma'am can you tell me where he is, we have been carrying him awol for months. i said i think you can find him in vietnam. reporter: that means you are still getting paid, right?
richard: yes, i was. reporter: you would have found that out. how would you classify your time in vietnam for the first tour? richard: it was very exciting, very educational. and i thought very worthwhile. richard: -- reporter: and how much coordination did you do with the other company commanders? what was your relationship like? richard: that's a good question. very little. usually, we were not in mutual support. this one time when we should have been, we weren't. very little direct interaction between companies.
reporter: when did you return to the states? march of 1967. reporter: ok. what was it like coming home? richard: it was good. it was fine. i taught rotc up in georgia. reporter: so you returned to north georgia. richard: to teach rotc which was coed. i met this young girl who was teaching girls physical education up there. we met in march. got married on the third of september. that was 50 years ago. incidentally came up to west point on our honeymoon. had to go to niagara falls. reporter: so you stopped by west
point. you were telling me about her already, she was deployed to the philippines with the peace corps. richard: right, when i was in vietnam. reporter: tell me about what she had done. wasard: she said she primarily teaching filipino teachers english as a second language. what is her name? richard: her name is barbara. she was raised on a chicken farm in north carolina. reporter: so you had a lot in common? richard: yeah, we did. reporter: how were things in north georgia? richard: they were great.
really liked the cadets. i taught military history, map reading, and squad tactics. all of which i really enjoy. i was the faculty advisor for the order of colombo mountain platoon. this was probably way before your time. there was a korean world war ii and korean war veteran with a mountain ranger camp. when i was going to school. he was still there when i came back. he got these younger student cadets and formed a little order of colombo mountain platoon. we would go doing patrols up the mountains. i taught them repelling.
i also taught barbara repelling. for parents' day at the college, always had the order of colombo mountain platoon repelling off the science building as part of the show. we were practicing one day and she showed up. she said ok, i'm ready. i said ok. i will go down and malay you. get cadet so and so to make sure you are hooked up right. she said ok. she got on the edge of the thing and shouted out,on repel. here she came. landed perfectly. i hear this little cadet say my god, a whole family of rangers. [laughter] reporter: that's wonderful.
when you were working with the cadets, how did you share your knowledge of vietnam with the cadets? richard: in military history, i did not like the standard military history textbook. i made all my presentations using d'esposito's military history book. and my own personal experience. it seemed to be appropriate. reporter: i imagine the cadets got a lot out of that. richard: they did. they really did. once in a while you'd hear one snore but you would bounce a piece of chalk off his head. he would wake up. reporter: how close were you to your folks? they were still in
marietta, we were about 80 or 90 miles. reporter: close enough where you could get to them. did you manage to get home quite a bit? richard: a good bit. reporter: after teaching in rotc, is this about the time that you headed back to vietnam for your second tour -- i guess your third tour? richard: no, let me see. after rotc i went to infantry advanced course in fort benning. and then went to georgia tech for my masters. and then went back to vietnam. reporter: what did you get a masters in? richard: operations research. people say, what is that? it beats the hell out of me. the utilization tour, after i
came back from vietnam, was in california. doing tests and evaluation. i really enjoyed that. that was good stuff. reporter: we will get to that after we talk about your second time in vietnam. from 1972 to 1973. you were with mcabee headquarters? richard: yes, i was with mcabee. i started off with cadet stdat 158 which was what was left after max had gone. the strategic technical directorate and assistance team was what was left of it. reporter: ok. richard: and had this little compound upcountry.
and we would do a little patrolling and stuff. nothing big. as we pulled down and i had to come down to saigon until it finally said the war is over and you have to come home. reporter: so you were there at the very end? richard: mhmm. reporter: how were things changing? as the last tour progressed? richard: it seemed like if nobody had given up -- the bad guys had not given up. but they were not near as aggressive as they were. and it looked like everybody was just biding their time. that would be the best way to describe it.
reporter: do you still have any contacts with the vietnamese that you served with in 1965? richard: no. the detachment commander that i was with at the last before we pulled out. i said, ok, i hate to see you leave, i said i hate to leave. he said yes, well, you know, about six months after the americans leave, my family and i will be dead. i don't know if that happened or not. it did very well may have. i don't know. reporter: what was it feeling like in the american headquarters as everything was shutting down?
richard: i think most of us were regretting it. a lot of them were saying, finally we are going home. this is over. it is hard to say. reporter: right. did your wife remain in north georgia? or, what did she do while you are gone? richard: she found out that the army would send the family of a deploying soldier anywhere in the united states, so she decided hawaii. so she had the army pack us up, out, outp, -- ship us to hawaii. that is where she waited for me. reporter: so she spent a nice
year in hawaii. [laughter] when you return from your second tour, i guess it was technically your third tour. richard: first tour was a tour and a half. the second war was almost a year. reporter: ok. was that when you went to fort ord? tell me what you were doing there. richard: general lepew was a trade ops commander and was a strong believer in suppression. he rightly said, you don't have to kill them, all you have to do is suppress them. i was an infantry rep. one of my jobs was to go to the infantry school and try to solicit work for them. i went in and met this little captain, and he said, what we want to do is we want to know what should they dispersion
be for the m-16 rifle. i said, you want to know how inaccurate the m-16 rifle is? he said, i guess so. let me think about it and i will get back to you. i did. to make a bottom line short, i said, what we are going to do is we are going to dig eight foot foxholes, put soldiers in them with periscopes, and they will be attacked live with live rounds by soldiers coming up. these guys in the foxholes you can talk and we will get you on the radio. if you are up high enough so that you can see and report, that is good. if you can push it up higher and fire your gunfire simulator,
that is better, but if your silhouette gets hit, you are out. they said, ok. they got the idea. bottom line, what we found out is by far the best way is for the m-16 not semi automatic, not fully automatic, but three round burst. that is where we found the three round burst. as far as i know that is still there. the three round burst is accurate, most suppressive. after three rounds, the other rounds are up in the sky, totally ineffective. reporter: that is neat, talk about the development of that. ok. what started out as a crazy question ended up with a real good answer. richard: i think so. reporter: how about that.
richard: even lepew said he liked it. he said these experiments are good. [laughter] reporter: what other projects did you work on? richard: i think that was the only one there. reporter: after that, was that the time you were a battalion commander? richard: from there we went to the naval war college, and from there we went to germany. reporter: you commanded 113th infantry. richard: right. reporter: what was that like? richard: that was fantastic. that was in germany, a great big training area. in germany at that time, units were having trouble getting training areas because requirements here, requirements there, and this training area is not available and stuff.
when you are right on the training area itself, when it is vacant, you just pack your troops up and head out. that was great. it was really good. had to go to language school for six months of german so i could communicate with my foreign battalion. when i got there, come to find out my part of the time was a french regiments. i could not speak one word of french. [laughter] reporter: did the commander speak english? richard: very, very little. he could speak more than he did. the french are pretty arrogant. they don't want to speak your language. i want you to speak my language. he was a neat guy. colonel david was a neat guy.
and his wife was also. reporter: how were your soldiers in germany? richard: very good, enthusiastic. they enjoyed the fact that we could do more field training than most anybody else. i think troops like field training. reporter: did you have any trouble with drugs or discipline or things like that? richard: not that i was aware of. none of it ever reached me. i'm sure we had some, but they took care of it. reporter: how were your company commanders? richard: very, very good. oh boy. i can't remember their names. reporter: that's all right. i am catching you off guard here. richard: their names ought to be right on the tip of my tongue. they will be after i leave. reporter: exactly.
what did your family think of germany? richard: they loved it. they loved it. reporter: how were the german people? richard: excellent. we loved them too. one thing barbara did while we were there is she got little wineglasses, lean stem, grape vines around the edge of it. she is down to one. in september, i think it is, we are going to take a river cruise from amsterdam to prague. one of the purposes is to get her more glasses. we think a river cruise will be a lot of fun. reporter: when you got back from germany, what did you do to round out your career? richard: let me see.
oh, went to the army war college and then the pentagon. reporter: ok. how was that assignment? richard: oh, i enjoyed it. i was in war plans. that was good. then got promoted and went to office of secretary of defense, and for research, development, and engineering with other countries. my countries were the far east, trying to share information with
japan without giving secrets away. that was good. reporter: when did you retire? richard: 1985. reporter: ok. what have you done since retiring? richard: i was a beltway bandit for near 20 years. that was working with supporting the joint chief of staff exercise program. what we would do is write doomsday scenarios, ok the nuclear exchange has happened, this is what is destroyed, this is what is still functional. let's see what you can do with what you have got. that was sort of neat.
reporter: now you are retired for good. richard: totally. yes. reporter: and enjoying life in north carolina? richard: i sure am. reporter: as you look back on your career, what does west point mean to you? richard: it gave me the base. it gave me the motivation, i think, but it gave me, you know, this is truth if you will, and this is what you operate from. i guess that is motivation. reporter: yes. sir, i am so glad you came to talk to us today. and share your experiences with us. this has been absolutely wonderful hearing your stories. richard: good. i hope i didn't bore you. reporter: not at all. thank you. richard: thank you.
announcer: you're watching american history tv, all we can come every week and on c-span3. to join the conversation, like us on facebook at c-span history. announcer: next, jon grinspan talks about how youth were involved in 19th century politics. he is a political history curator and author of "the virgin vote: how young americans made democracy social, politics personal, and voting popular in the 19th century." we recorded this interview at the american history association annual meeting in washington dc. it is about 15 minutes. susan: this is jon grinspan and i should tell audience that we have met him in the past and we have had the fun job of collecting memorabilia for his organization. which is the smithsonian national history museum. he is the curator p