A RIPCORD LEGEND CROSSES OVER TO THE HIGH GROUND
On November 8, 2011 our good friend, a steadfast and loyal comrade, and an unsurpassed American patriot and warrior passed from our ranks. Cpt. Dave Rich, whose courage, fortitude, and soldierly skill during the Battle of Ripcord as the Battery Commander of B/2-319th Field Artillery were legendary, died as a result of injuries sustained in a fall at his home in Maine. We shared a common experience that was forged in combat fighting the enemies of our country; an unshakable faith in the American soldier and an enduring belief in his courage, commitment, and competence; and an abiding love of our country and all those who choose to defend her. On receiving the news of his death, my mind was filled with many thoughts concerning this most unusual and remarkable man.
The first thought that came into my mind was “undaunted courage in battle”. As we all know, Dave was the most decorated soldier in the Ripcord battle as he received the Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star, multiple bronze stars, and seven purple hearts during the fight .Dave was the master of “ counter battery fire”. When enemy mortar rounds would hit Ripcord, Dave, at great risk to his life, would immediately rush to the incoming mortar impact area and conduct a “crater analysis”. Upon reaching the bomb crater, Dave would get down on his hands and knees with a level and Aiming Circle to determine the azimuth and angle from which the enemy round was fired, then he would calculate the range and compute the necessary data to immediately place counter battery fire on the enemy mortar positions, which reduced or in many instances ceased the incoming enemy fire on Ripcord. Dave was a soldier who defied the enemy, and his unparalleled courage and leadership was an inspiration to every soldier who fought in the battle.
The second thought that came into my mind was “dedication to victory”. Dave was not typical of the soldier of the era. He was different in the way he viewed the Vietnam War and his role in it. He fervently believed that when you went to war, you should remain in the war zone until the war was over and victory had been achieved. As a result of that belief, Dave served continuously in Vietnam for the better part of four years and reluctantly returned to the States after his request to extend his tour for another year was denied. I don’t believe Dave ever came to grips with how the Vietnam War ended in light of all the sacrifice he had seen during his time in Vietnam and his view that winning the war was essential to the nation. Dave left all of himself on the battlefield.
The third thought that came into my mind was “master of his craft”. I don’t know that there was a junior officer in Vietnam that knew more about the use of artillery in battle than Dave. Dave’s knowledge of artillery was “dug out of the dirt” as in his early tours he was an enlisted man (prior to obtaining a battlefield commission) who learned the craft from the bottom up. Dave not only mastered the technical procedures that relate to the effective use of artillery, he also mastered the tactical techniques that enabled him to put rounds on the ground “on time” and “on target” in such a manner that would best support the soldiers in the field. Dave fully understood that with his expertise and experience he could save the lives of the embattled soldiers in the bush who needed his help over and over again. History will not record how many lives Dave saved with his actions, but I can assure you that every infantry leader in the Battle of Ripcord will agree with me that the losses incurred would have been significantly greater had it not been for Dave Rich and those magnificent soldiers that served under him in his battery.
The fourth thought that came into my mind was “casualty of war”. I don’t know that there was a soldier that survived the Ripcord battle that suffered mentally from his Vietnam experiences more so than Dave. Although Dave remained in the Army for a number of years after the Ripcord battle before he was medically discharged, he had great difficulties assuming what we would call a “normal life.” Dave was unable to replicate in peace the strong “relational” bonds that he had fashioned in war. He devoted most of his later life to educating himself by taking numerous courses offered by a university in Maine near where he lived. He eventually decided that he would master the Russian language and after doing so he traveled to Russia for additional studies and at the same time taught English to Russian students. He very much enjoyed this role late in his life as it gave him a sense of fulfillment that he had not experienced for a long time. I believe he was as happy as he could be in this environment, and it helped relieve the torment he suffered every day of his life from his war time experiences.
The final thoughts that came into my mind relate to my own personal experiences with Dave. Although I only knew Dave in passing in Vietnam, having exchanged a short couple of conversations with him on Ripcord and during the standdown before the siege of Ripcord, Dave and I became friends after meeting back up at the Savannah reunion. I cannot recall Dave either in Vietnam or in the number of times we were together afterwards ever being without a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Dave was a “free spirit” and could regale you with endless dialogue on a variety of subjects, but when the conversation turned to the war, he would become intense and you could see the torment and pain in his eyes. He once stopped in to visit me down here in God’s country and we spent a day and a night in a secluded cabin deep in the piney woods of East Texas. Throughout a night of chain smoking and sipping on a little Kentucky whiskey, the depth of the man was revealed in all of his complexity. I learned or perhaps relearned that at his essence Dave Rich was a Soldier and his essential qualities were courage and obedience. Under a resplendent Texas sky, as old soldiers are apt to do, we spoke of former comrades and past battles. We spoke of missions accomplished, obstacles overcome, and duties performed. We spoke of those things that are understandable only to Soldiers. We also spoke of the indomitable spirit and enduring nobility of the American Soldier. Lastly we spoke of the immense honor and privilege it was to lead American Soldiers. Throughout I was moved by the abiding passion that this remarkable man had for Soldiers and Soldiering. When he got ready to leave, I walked him to his car and told him “Dave, you are one of a kind and an awesome warrior whose courage in battle inspires us all. I love ya man” as I embraced him with a hug. He broke down and started crying and you could see the excruciating pain in his eyes. It was the pain and suffering that knows no peace in this life. My friend Dave has finally found that peace as he now rests in that special section of heaven reserved for warriors who left it all on the battlefield. God bless you my friend