"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Monday, August 30, 2010

Richard Schwartz: Thoughts and Memories

"Per correr migliori acque alza le vele ormai la navicella del mio ingegno che lascia dietro a sé mar sì crudele."  [Opening lines of Dante's Il Purgatorio]

"For better waters that are heading with the wind, my ship of genius now shakes out her sail, and leaves the ocean of despair behind."  [Dorothy L. Sayers Translation]

Richard Schwartz
Thoughts and Memories
by Richard Schwartz
Co D, 2/327 Battalion
2nd Bde
101st Airborne Division
Phu Bai, RVN

On 10 July 1970, I was a legal clerk in an office at the headquarters of the 101st Airborne Division in Phu Bai, RVN. I had been in combat for 6 months and then the Army discovered I could type.

I was helicoptered out of the jungle and transitioned from being a dirt covered grunt to a legal clerk in a brigade HQ office where I got a clean uniform to wear every day and, best of all, I could take a shower every day. The water for the showers was unheated but after 6 months hiking around in the jungle and getting shot at occasionally this was a huge improvement.

Part of our job at that office was forwarding notices of those who were killed in action. I remember that July date as the day that we received the notice that Daniel Hively had been killed. He was in my platoon while I was in combat. It struck me as I read the notice, there was a family in Danville, Ohio, that didn't know that their son was coming home in a box. But I knew... and the sorrow of what they were going to experience overwhelmed me. I didn't let my emotions show when I was in combat, but I could afford that luxury now because I was in a secure area.

Daniel Richard Hivley was a tall gangly guy with an infectious smile. He was liked by everyone in our platoon. When a new guy arrived, Dan was the first guy out to enthusiastically meet him and introduce him around. We even had a standing joke about him. We said that the first thing he would tell anyone is, “Hello – I'm Dan Hivley... and I know everything!”.

As I was a science kind of guy who also loved politics, Dan and I spent many a jungle hike debating those topics. I gave the name Daniel as the middle name to one of my boys so that Dan's name and memory would carry on for at least one more generation in my family. I've tried to find his family in Ohio to let them know that I gave Dan's name to one of my sons but couldn't find anyone. I know he has a sister who's name is Shirli Anne Rickert, but I can't seem to locate her.

Our platoon had been hiking around the humid jungle in 100 degree+ heat for a number of weeks and we really hadn't had a chance to wash during this time. I mentioned to our lieutenant that we should find a place to wash up as we were smelling so bad even the mosquitoes weren't landing on us. We found a 20 foot wide stream that was about a foot deep. After posting sentries I decided to just lay down fully clothed in a small pool of the stream.

As I luxuriated in the cool water I noticed that the clear water cascading over my left sleeve was actually turning grey as it headed downstream. Thats how dirty I had become. I remember digging a bar of soap out of my pack and soaping up my entire uniform while I was still wearing it as I thought that would be the best way to clean it. I rinsed the clothing and put it on some rocks to dry. I remember that I had to wash my (short!!) hair a number of times to get all the sand and dirt off my scalp. A few hours later we were back to hiking and I thought that I must have gotten clean as the #%&! mosquitoes were landing on me again.

During my 2nd week in Vietnam, we were taking a break from our seemingly never ending hikes near a bridge over the Troi river. An old Vietnamese lady slowly walked past us. One of the Vietnamese children (who followed us everywhere when we were were near towns) told me she was “more than 90.” She had a thoroughly wrinkled face. Her shoulders were bent forward and her spine was curved as if she had spent many years carrying heavy loads on her back.

She held a walking stick in gnarled arthritic hands and walked with a slow gait as if each step was painful. I walked next to her for a few steps and asked her if she thought the Americans would make things better for the Vietnamese. Her gaze shifted from straight in front of her to glance up at me. Without slowing her measured gait she smiled briefly at me and told me, “A young Frenchman asked me the same thing 20 years ago.“

We had been hacking our way through some heavy jungle growth. We cut a trail up to the top of a small rise and set up for the night. I was pulling guard duty on the trail in the middle of the night. I sat with my legs folded and my M16 across my lap. There was lots of moonlight so I didn't think anyone could come up the trail we had cut without me being able to easily spot them.

Half way through my one hour shift I heard a noise coming from a few feet in front of me. “Oh, God”, I thought, “Someone got in front of me.” I immediately rolled onto my side, expecting to see the flashes of my enemy's rifle firing at me, and fired a burst from my M16 at the foe.

The moonlight then revealed the terrified and now screaming face of a small monkey who noisily tore his way into the jungle. I didn't hit the monkey, but my platoon mates teased me mercilessly the next few days as the “Mighty Monkey Shooter”.

I didn't fear being killed as much as the thought of being captured and tortured to death. My fear of being killed really had more to do with what my family would go through if I was killed.

We had been ferried from our usual jungle area of operations to the highlands for a mission. We were in large grassy open areas and had stopped for a break. Suddenly we had some elephants coming into view. They were some distance away but would occasionally look in our direction and raise their trunks high into the air as if checking the air for our scent. I remember a guy from Kentucky, who loved hunting, whispering to the rest of us, “Don't shoot at 'em. These little M16 rounds will probably just piss 'em off!”

One of my platoon mates received a wound that opened up the top of his thigh like a plow opens a furrow of dirt. I had run out of thread to close wounds so I gathered safety pins - a trick I learned from reading a book about infantry soldiers in WWII. I laid across his stomach so he couldn't see what I was doing and closed the wound with the safety pins. He was cursing me mightily from all the pain I was causing him while I closed his wound. He didn't pass out however until I got off his stomach and he saw the row of safety pins holding his thigh together.

During my year in Vietnam my mother watched in horror as a car with Army markings slowly cruised our neighborhood as if looking for an address. That's how relatives were informed that their sons/daughters had been killed. The car drove on and wasn't seen again but my Mom told me she was in such shock that she couldn't get anything done until she had received a letter from me dated after the date that the Army car had come by our home.

I had a brief correspondence with a girl from New Jersey. After exchanging a few letters with her she wrote how she spent a day decorating a gym for an upcoming dance. It wasn't fair of me but I felt angry that she had spent an entire day making and placing decorations while my friends were still being shot at. I didn't write to her again.

During the 1st Iraq war my Dad called me to proudly let me know that, “Your buddies from the 101st did one hell of a job over there.” I realized then that the 101st would always be a part of me. As I was talking to some friends at a Tea Party Rally last month it came out that I was a 101st vet. One of the younger people in the crowd immediately held out his hand and thanked me for my service to the country. Wow! That was really appreciated.

When ever I see someone in uniform or wearing some item that lets me know they were in the military I always take the time to shake their hand and thank them for serving. I don't want anyone to feel that their service is not appreciated as many of the Vietnam era vets were made to feel when they came home.

My Uncle Mike and I had never been close until I came home from Vietnam. He was also a combat vet of the 101st and was at Bastogne (“Battle of the Bulge”) among other WWII actions. One entire evening he and I swapped war stories. It turns out I was the only person in the family that he had talked to about his WWII experiences. He thought I was the only one who would understand the mental and physical challenges an infantryman goes through.

My father in law died before I met and married his daughter. Although we never met, we would have been close because he was a fellow combat soldier and there was and is a brotherhood of those that have been in combat.

The good Lord watched over me that year in Vietnam and I came home healthy both mentally and physically -- unlike many of my fellow Vietnam Vets who suffer to this day.

Many thanks to CJ for putting this website together.

Richard A. Schwartz
Digital Anvil Technology
27708 246th Ave SE
Maple Valley, Wa. 98038

Thank you, Richard, for sharing. "Welcome Home".


  1. My brother, it is amazing how wonderful and how hard this was to read. I thank you for sharing your history and your heart so others can know, really know some little bits of how we lived in Phu Bai for a little while but an important while in our lives.
    No Slack

  2. What Mike said, goes for me too. Welcome home brother.

  3. Thank you sincerely for your comments, Michael and Craig. May I also extend my "Welcome Home" to you both.
    With my warmest regards and respect,


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