Monthly Archives: December 2014

Richard Durant – First Sergeant

Cover 5 - Courtesy Dave Fitchpatrick
Cover 5 – Courtesy Dave Fitchpatrick


First Sergeant

The highest ranking sergeant in the battery

With few exceptions the people who served with First Sergeant Durant, officers and enlisted, insist he was the best First Sergeant in the history of B Battery. I talk to him by phone and from the start his warmth and instinctive feel for people comes through.

During his time as the ranking sergeant at LZ Sherry he lost seven boys killed in mortar attacks, mine explosions and a tragic firing mishap. He was there for the bloody summer of 1969, when the mortars fell almost constantly and wounded most of the boys there. He asks me if anymore were killed after he left, and I tell him of two more who died.

He talks less about the fighting, and more about personalities and the funny stuff. One story pulls forward another he thought he had forgotten. Throughout he calls the boys under his command “kids.”

First Sergeant Durant Checking out a tank on Sherry’s perimeter Courtesy Rik Groves
First Sergeant Durant
Checking out a tank on Sherry’s perimeter

I put things out of my mind years ago and don’t talk about it. But about three years ago my daughter came into the room and said, “Captain Parker wants to talk to you.”

 I said, “I don’t know any Captain Parker.”

 “Well he knows you and would like to talk to you.”

 So I got on the phone with him. He said, “This is Captain Parker.”

 And I said, “I don’t know any Captain Parker.”

 He said, “Damn it, I was your battery commander!”

 I said, “Are you talking about Lieutenant Parker?”

 He was a lieutenant when he was my battery commander and I couldn’t associate him as a captain.” He was my commanding officer until we could get a replacement after we lost the other commander.

 I was 35 in Vietnam; I was grandpa. I’m what you call the old soldier.

I was first in the Air Force for ten years, as a bomb navigation mechanic on the B-47 and then on a Titan One missile launch crew. I was in four years and made staff sergeant, which in the Air Force that’s pretty good. So I reenlisted, and then spent another six years and never got promoted. I thought there’s got to be something else. So I got out of the Air Force and went to work for the Martin Company in Denver on the Titan One missile. After awhile the Air Force came back and got me. I was on the Titan One when Castro tried to go across our blockade. I was sitting there at that console. That was the highest state of readiness we were in since WWII.

So I went into the Army, I had two months of electronics and of all things they put me back in missiles, the Pershing missile system as a surveyor. Then I got promoted to first sergeant in artillery. If you can imagine that, being in survey and getting promoted in artillery. Then I ended up in Vietnam and I couldn’t tell you which end of a howitzer a bullet came out of. And here I am an artillery first sergeant. I thought, Boy oh boy.

Listening Skills

I ask how he adjusted to the job not knowing anything about artillery.

So I learned a lot at Sherry … tell me about it!

I asked questions. When I got there we got mortared all the time, every third night, and you were out there every night with the guns firing perimeter defense. You just sit there and you talk to the guys. This is how you cut powder charges: charge 7 you leave all seven bags in the canister. Shooting a charge five, you cut two off. And you sit and you listen. This is fuse quick, this is air burst. You listen and pretty soon you got a pretty good damn idea of what’s going on. What type rounds they’re shooting and how they’re doing it and all that.

 I was fortunate, I never had any young officers come in and start giving orders. I’m glad for their sake. Nobody ever did that. You know, we were there to protect one another. If you didn’t work together at Sherry, you weren’t there too damn long.

They always sent the duds and shit and the trouble makers to Sherry. If they were doing drugs and that, they sent them to Sherry. I just happened to be in the rear area at Phan Rang and one son of a bitch lobbed a fuckin’ M79 grenade in our hooch, into the senior hooch. (It did not go off.) We chased the bastard down, and two days later I’m back at the firebase, and guess who comes in? The same kid, and he already had the name Frag. (Andy Kach had given him the name minutes before on the chopper pad.)

We had a little talk and I said, “Let me tell you something, little man. You can frag my ass, but if you do, (points around) this guy’s gonna kill ya, and this guy’s gonna kill ya, and this guy’s gonna kill ya, because we all look out for one another. You got your fuckin’ choice. You can straighten out and be a soldier, and do what you are supposed to do, and cooperate and graduate, and you’ll be all right. You fuck up and you’re gonna get shot.” That’s all there was to it. That was ol’ Frag. And you know, he turned out to be a good soldier.

Then we had another kid come out from the rear who was dealing drugs. He was one that didn’t listen. He lasted one day. During a mortar attack, he’s running around outside with nothing on, no helmet, no flack jacket, lookin’ at all the explosions. He looked too long, because one of them got him. It just about blew his brains out. Took the top of his head off. We Medevac’d him. He’ll never be anything but a vegetable.

Mess Sergeant

 His name was John J. Cunnane, a single guy from Germany. When he got to Sherry, I don’t think John had ever been in the sun, he was as white as the fallen snow. And then you put him in them camouflage shorts, and them combat boots, and that helmet and flack jacket. We’re under attack, and you see John running around with that pistol hanging half way down to his ankles. It was the funniest sight in the world. He looked like a snow man in camouflage.

When I got to Sherry we had a lot of ham, to where you got sick of it. I asked him why that was and he said because it didn’t spoil. Because we didn’t gave any refrigeration we had to eat perishables right away and ham was the only meat that kept. “You get me a reefer,” he said, “and we’ll eat a lot better.” I still had a lot of contacts in the Air Force back in Phan Rang who I did a lot of transferring back and forth with, if you know what I mean. I’ll give you this if you give me that. So we got a reefer for the mess sergeant and pretty soon we had steaks and burgers, and we even had ice cream for the kids. I’m proud of that.

We got hit one night, and I ran to the mess sergeant’s hooch to see where he was – everybody checked on everybody else at Sherry – I opened the door and see blood all over everything and he wasn’t there. It panicked the hell out of me. So I’m out looking for him, and I hear him screaming down at the end of the mess hall. He’s got the KPs chewing gum to plug holes in his water cans from shrapnel.

What I thought was blood in his hooch was ketchup. Ketchup was hard to get and he was storing it in his hooch lined it up along the wall. A mortar round landed right beside his hooch, the blast went through the little window and busted up all the ketchup. Then I come in thinking it’s blood. Of course afterward I laughed.

Mine Sweeping

When I got there Commo section was in charge of sweeping for mines. When we lost the two kids, (Percy Gulley and Steve Sherlock) I was still back in the rear. But shortly thereafter I was sent to Sherry. The commo section was a little leery, which you could understand. So I said, I don’t think that’s fair, we’re all going to learn how to sweep for fuckin’ mines. I had a class, and I taught all the section chiefs how to sweep for mines. The battery commander would go sweep for mines; I would sweep for mines; The XO would sweep for mines; and we switched off. We all would go out and sweep for mines, which I thought was a lot better deal. When you had your XO sweeping for mines, and the company commander sweeping, it boosted morale. It gave the commo section a break. And the guys accepted it, that was the main thing.

For The Kids

First Sergeant Durant was always looking to make things a little better for his kids.

When anybody came from the rear you were supposed to be in your jacket with your helmet, with your flack jacket laying there with your weapon and gas mask. When I got there I thought, this is ridiculous. Out there in that hot sun with them jackets and fatigues. I said, “You don’t have to wear that, you can go in your tee shirt, you don’t need to wear your helmet in the daytime, but it should be laying there with your flack jacket. But let me tell you something. Anytime anybody sees a chopper coming in here, they better be in proper uniform.” I tell you, it worked great. Whenever anybody come in, we all had our shirts and helmets on. Then when they left everybody took everything off.

I also made Sunday a stand down. Breakfast was late, from eight o’clock to 11. The only people who had to do anything on Sunday, the ammo section would resupply the guns, the gun crews would be on standby, and Lt. Clark would lay the battery in the morning (set the precise orientation of the howitzers). In the afternoon the mess sergeant would barbeque hot dogs and hamburgers. If we were lucky enough to scrounge steaks from the Air Force or Navy, we’d had steaks and beer, and the kids played volleyball. We got away from the war for a day anyway.

Gas Attack

 It came in at night. The tower out by the dump sighted something and they started shooting in that direction. After that there was a big explosion maybe 80 yards off that tower. Now everybody’s up. Next thing we heard from the tower was, “GAS.” At night everybody wore (carried) their gas masks on their hip. When you heard “GAS” you put your mask on, and you laid down and you watched to see if somebody was going to try to come in behind that. You waited for a star cluster. If a white one went off, that meant dicks in the wire. If a green went off, that meant they were insider our perimeter. Everybody was supposed to drop down, nobody was supposed to move and anybody that was moving, you shot them. The red star meant we were shooting a beehive. The direction the red star was going meant the direction the beehive was going. It’s coming our way, so get down and watch your ass.

We waited for someone to come in behind the gas, but they never did. We had mortars that night, couple rounds but nothing great, and no ground attack. But you just never knew.

The next morning we went to find out where they had blown the CS gas (military grade tear gas). They had also planted a mine out there and we’re tromping around the area. Luckily the fire from the gas explosion had burnt the trip wire to the mine, and we just blew it in place.

I’m trying to remember the funny stuff. I guess the gas attack was funny because nothing happened afterward.


Every night we would wait for Chickenman to come on the radio. All the guys would have their radios on and then you’d hear, “And now, the exciting adventures of CHICKENMAN.”

Double click below and see if these don’t bring back memories.

How Chickenman Came To Be:


The Chicken Missile, something we could have used at Sherry.


For all the Chickenman episodes go to:

 Shopping Trips

You know, we never got a lot of things at Sherry. If we needed a generator, we could never get one. But when we’d run a convoy, we always went in with trucks to get ammo and water. Everybody would say, “Look, get me this, or get me that, and bring it back.” On one trip one of our guys stole a 50 caliber machine gun. (It was not on the shopping list. Tommy Mulvihill saw it unattended and simply loaded it on his truck, thinking you can always use another 50 cal.)

Guess who was out to see us the next day? CID (Criminal Investigation Command).

“They said, “Did you guys take a 50 caliber machine gun?”

We said, “Oh no, we would never do anything like that.”

“Right. Where’s it at?”

“Well, it’s over here. You can have it back. Don’t know how it got here. It dropped in I guess.”

But that’s how we got a lot of our supplies. 

The Well That Wasn’t

I remember when we dug a well there, or tried to dig a well. That was a big joke, funnier’n hell. We got a drill right there beside the old mess sergeant’s hooch. We drilled down and hit some water, and I got me a pump from the Air Force, put that pump down in the ground there and that son of a bitch pumped up about two minutes worth of water.

Two minute pump
Two minute pump

 Paul Dunne

I went out every night and sat with each gun crew and bullshit with them, or reassure them, or whatever you had to do. You might fire some perimeter fire with them. Then you’d move onto the next gun, and bullshit with them. But I did not want to get too close. What I mean is, those were all my kids. I did not want to know that you’re married and are going to see your wife next month. Because if you weren’t there tomorrow, that really bothered me.

I had a kid do that. I never got tight with any of them except my driver. Paul Dunne. I’d go out at night, and he’d be in a tower and we’d sit and he’d talk. He’d say, In December I’m going in to see my girl in Hawaii and we’re gonna get married. And my dad’s a preacher.

We were due to run a convoy, and I was running it. Paul had the jeep all fixed up and ready to go: radios, weapons and everything. Commo section came over and said, “Hey look, can we run the convoy. Guys want to go in and get this and do that. Rather than you run it, let us run the convoy.”

I said, “OK. I guess you can go ahead and run it.” So I told Paul I said, “Go take all that shit back off the jeep because Commo’s running the convoy.”

He said, “Look First Sergeant, I’m all loaded up, I’ve got everything set. Why don’t I just run with them today.”

I said, “Well, if you want to.”

He got killed that day. They hit that mine and it killed him and wounded some other guys. And that really, really bothered me. So I knew the guys, but I didn’t want to know your personal life. It’s harder when you do that.


When I went to Washington with Hank Parker and Andy Kach and Jim Kustes, and we’re talking and Parker said, “You know what I remember about you?”

“No, I sure don’t.”

He said, “You remember when you used to come around and talk to us at night??

“Yeah, I remember. I used to talk to all the gun crews.”

“Remember when you told me about the snipes? When you were a kid you used to go snipe hunting. That’s what I remember. But I still don’t understand them snipes.”

Willie J. Ridgeway – Battery Commander – Part Two


Cover 4
Cover 4


Battery Commander

Part Two

Flight School

Immediately after Vietnam Willie took a giant step closer to his beloved helicopters when he entered the first phase of flight school at Ft. Stewart in Georgia. The second phase of flight school took him to Ft. Rucker in Alabama, where he continued his training and earned his wings.

His flight school classmates remember a cool headed and seasoned Vietnam veteran.

Dan Oates flew O-1 Bird Dogs in Vietnam, a single engine reconnaissance plane with pilot and passenger seats front and back. Today he works at a Christian ministry focused on combat veterans with post traumatic stress.

Willy was older than most of us and therefore, assumed a little bit of an older brother role. I remember Inga and their daughters and how much he seemed to enjoy the parties that we had in flight school. It was a carefree time and we all knew what was in front of us. Since Willie and a couple of the other guys were combat veterans, their insight was helpful in preparing us for combat.

We did ground school together and we attended social gatherings. He was always under control. As I sit here I can see him with that confident look and his gray flight suit and red hat (We were the Red Hats). Each class had its own color hat to represent the class.

Ridgeway center with Red Hat class
Captain Ridgeway center with Red Hat class

Jerry DiGrezio flew O-1 Bird Dogs in Vietnam and over the course of his career qualified in six aircraft. After seven years on active duty and 23 in the active reserves he retired a full colonel.

We were all pretty close in flight school. I remember Willie as a very good guy, a little older than the rest of us. He was 29 years old, while most of the guys going through flight school were 23/24. He was an old man.

He was a very cool character. When we were getting ready to graduate we were flying the Birddogs without instructors. I was flying the aircraft and he was in the back seat. I was landing at Cairns Field at Ft. Rucker. The Bird Dog had very springy landing gear, if you landed too hard it would spring you back up into the air. And when I came in I made a horrible, horrible landing and it bounced back up into the air. Willie never said a word. I would have freaked out if someone had done that to me.

Ed Cattron graduated from West Point and like Willie had a tour in Vietnam before flight school. On that tour he earned a Silver Star for his actions defending a tiny firebase of less than 100 troops, LZ Peanuts up near Khe Sahn, against a 14 hour onslaught of over 500 North Vietnamese regulars.

Willie met his wife Inga in Germany, and by the time we were in flight school they had the two girls. Peggy and Debbie. Willie and I shared a love of flying and both had a tour in Vietnam before flight school. We trained in a single engine aircraft called the T-41.

Willie was so quiet, and very intense. He told me a lot of stories about the supply depot in Vietnam (having been a supply sergeant in Germany) and about “combat losses.” There was a policy about flight sunglasses. You could only get them replaced if the lens was broken. Someone came in looking for a new pair due to a chip on the edge. The supply personnel told him he could not get a new pair unless the lens was broken – chipped did not qualify. So the guy broke the lens on the corner of the counter and said, “OK, now it’s broken.” Stories like that.

Back To Vietnam

Willie got his wings at Ft. Rucker in September of 1969. The Army’s helicopter school was also at Ft. Rucker. Instead of taking an assignment Willie was able to remain there and finally, finally transition to helicopters. Three months later on December 31 he reported for duty in Vietnam to the 219th Aviation Reconnaissance Company known as The Headhunters. There he was assigned to fly not helicopters but the O-1 Bird Dog reconnaissance airplane. Any veteran will tell you the Army put you where they needed you, not where you wanted to go.

O-1 Bird Dog on duty
O-1 Bird Dog on duty

The unit history of the 219th tells the rest of Willie’s story.

In March (1970) Captain Slimowitz was called to company headquarters in Pleiku to assume the duties of operations officer. Captain Slimowitz’s replacement as platoon leader was Captain Willie J. Ridgeway, a second tour aviator who was newly arrived in Vietnam.

The serene winter experienced by the aviators of the second platoon in Kontum erupted violently in the spring when on 1 April, the infamous battle of Dak Seang erupted. The first aircraft on the scene that morning was a birddog piloted by HEADHUNTER Gary P. Lowery, and during the ensuing days while the battle for the besieged strategic border camp raged, there were few moments of the daylight hours when a HEADHUNTER of the 2nd platoon was not nearby overhead directing airstrikes, and giving valuable visual reconnaissance information to the ground troops in the area. Before this fierce enemy attack was repulsed, there were many casualties taken by the allied defenders of the camp, and unfortunately the HEADHUNTERS were not spared. On 3 April, Captain Ridgeway was killed in an accident as he was returning to Dak Seang from Kontum to continue aviation support.

There is only speculation around the cause of the crash. The only known fact is that the crash occurred on takeoff after multiple runs to support the troops still under siege.

Ed Cattron

My wife discovered he had died through a Red Hat newsletter. She kept in touch with Inga for a while. I was back in Vietnam for my second tour when the accident happened. I heard about it from my wife when she got the letter from Inga.

I found out details of it years later when my Red Hat class got together for a reunion. Some units had been in contact and there was pretty intense fighting on the day he died. He flew several missions during that day. Towards the end of the day he had come back, refueled and decided to go out once again to do artillery spotting. On take off the aircraft just went straight up in the air and straight down. There was speculation that the seat had slipped back – there were occasional reports of seats that would slip – and if you were holding onto the controls you’d pull back on the elevator and the plane would go straight up in the air. Either that or he was exhausted and passed out. There was no direct enemy action. I saw pilots over there flying well in excess of anything the FAA would allow today.

There is no explanation for why he transitioned to helicopters and then in Vietnam ended up in a fixed wing Bird Dog. Either he did not make it through helicopter training (a very different type of flying with different physical demands), or the Army simply had an opening in the Bird Dog and put him there.

Willard Long

The way I found out he had gotten killed, about four years ago, my daughter was working in Washington, DC. She said, “Dad go with me,” and we rode the train up there. While she was working I wandered over to the Vietnam Memorial. There was a gentleman there and I asked him could he possibly see if there was a Willie Ridgeway there. He just flipped open the directory and said, “We got a Captain Willie Ridgeway.” I went home and found the unit history report of the accident and an obituary picture and I knew then that it was him.

Peggy Ridgeway Musgrove – Willie and Inga’s oldest daughter

My mother always told he loved life and mom said she was glad that he lived it to the fullest. He was always doing stuff like surfing, scuba diving when we lived in Hawaii (we were there for 3 years). And she said he loved to fly and play baseball.

I was born in Germany. He chose my name and he was there for my birth and my first year, then he was sent to flight school where he was when my sister was born, he could not come home for her birth because he was taking a test (which Mom said he failed). He did not get to see my sister for the first time until she was three months old.

I was five when he died but I still remember the day they came to the door to tell us he had died.

I remember my Mom telling me the only way she could identity my father’s body was because he had smashed his finger the last time he was on leave. On that leave before he left he had my mother promise that if anything had happened to him that my sister and I would get an American education.

The last known photo of Willie was taken just weeks before he died. It captures the man everyone describes as resolute and unflappable. 

March 1970 at headquarters compound in Kontum Courtesy Scott Boyd
March 1970 at headquarters compound in Kontum
Courtesy Scott Boyd

This is the look Jim Gacek must have seen two years earlier the night LZ Sherry prepared for a North Vietnamese Army ground attack.

It was during the monsoon season and pouring rain every evening. Intel came down that up to a battalion of NVA were headed our way and an attack may be imminent, as we were in the line of defense for LZ Betty and Phan Thiet. Captain Ridgeway came to my FDC bunker and along with the other officers and sergeants laid out the defensive plan for the night. It was tense.

I could see it written all over his face … this was serious shit. After everyone got their orders, he turned to me, looked me dead in the eye and said, “Gacek, you’ve got the telephone lines to the perimeter. When they (the NVA) hit the wire I want you to fire this white star cluster …. and if and when they break it, you fire the red one.” (Red meant beehive round on the way, take cover and shoot whatever moves.) My shit went weak.

We never did get hit, but I’ll never forget that look on his face. He was all business that night . 

Willie J. Ridgeway fell a whisper short of his dream of piloting helicopters, yet in the end gave all he had to give. B Battery 5/27th Field Artillery is proud to place him among its fallen heroes.


Willie J. Ridgeway – Battery Commander – Part One

Cover 3 Joe Mullins on left, Newhouse on right Picture courtesy Joe Mullins
Cover 3
Joe Mullins on left, Newhouse on right
Picture courtesy Joe Mullins


Battery Commander

Part One

First Lieutenant Ridgeway, two months after his arrival in Vietnam in September of 1967, served as the Executive Officer of B Battery, second in command under Captain George Moses. He proved to be bright and hardworking; and at 27 years of age was an unusually mature lieutenant. These qualities soon earned him a nomination to interview for a position on the staff of General Blanchard, which did not materialize, but did take him to several assignments at battalion headquarters. Ridgeway was promoted to captain and returned to B Battery to succeed Captain Moses as battery commander when it moved to LZ Sherry in May of 1968. Those early months at Sherry were tense but relatively calm as the battery built up its position. Ridgeway earned the reputation as “a good guy and a good battery commander. 

Even tempered men like Captain Ridgeway, who do their jobs with little fanfare and even less drama, leave behind few stories and are simply remembered as one of the good ones. It is the curse of quiet competence.

If that were all there was to Willie J. Ridgeway this would be the end of the story. However there is a great deal more to this man. Here is … in the tradition of Paul Harvey … the rest of the story.

The Young Willie

Willie was 16 years old when he enlisted in the Army, so young his parents had to give their permission. He was an enlisted man for nine years before going to Officer Candidate School. During that time he did tours in Korea and Germany as a supply specialist and eventually worked his way to staff sergeant.

Following an early tour in Korea, Willie returned to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky where he fell into a close friendship with Willard Long. Willard has vivid memories of their time together.

I had a real good friend in Willie Ridgeway. When I first met Willie he was a Spec 4 and he had just come back from Korea. We were 18/19 years old. We was together about ten months.

Early photo of Willie
Early photo of Willie

We were attached to the 101st Airborne Division and Westmoreland was our post commander. He worked in supply in the 21st ordnance company at Ft. Campbell. I was in small arms so I did a lot with supply, and that’s how we met.

I was kind of a standoffish type person. I didn’t quickly make friends with no one. Me and him just kind of hit it off. After you find out that he’s clean living and be around him for a couple weeks, we just kind of migrated together. He was an exceptional person in that he was clean living and he was nice to everyone. I never saw him smoke a cigarette, drink a beer or say a cuss word. He carried a camera with him just about everywhere he went.

When he come out of Korea he bought him a brand new red ‘60 model Ford one weekend back home in Mobile and drove it to Ft. Campbell. Me and Willie had a lot of fun together. We went a lot of places – Nashville to the Grand Ol’ Opry and we went to Kentucky Lake a lot about 30 miles from Ft. Campbell. We would go there on weekends and swim and chase the girls. When you went off with him you never did have to worry about alcohol and he was always a gentleman.

He would go home, back and forth to Mobile a lot. On one trip he picked up a paratrooper in Alabama right outside of Mobile. The man had on his uniform of the 101st and he had a cast on his foot. Willie knew where he was going and could take him right to his door, right to his barracks. But the man had done figured out he was going to steal Willie’s camera and didn’t want Willie to take him to his barracks. Willie didn’t think anything about it and let him out somewheres on post.

At the time I was doing inspections on the 101st rifles. Our ordnance team was going through the whole 101st airborne division. Two days after Willie’s camera got stolen I got to talking to someone and asked him if a man from Mobile with a cast on his foot was in their unit. He said, “Yeah.”

I said, “Just check to see if he signed out on liberty this weekend, when he signed out, and when he signed back in.” I told him I got a good friend that could have possibly picked him up and this guy stole his camera.

The guy had signed out, so they got him and opened his wall locker and there was Willie’s camera. Out of 120,000 paratroopers on that post the Lord led me right to Willie’s camera.

We went back over to their morning formation the next day and that man had to give Willie his camera back in front of his whole company. They called him out of formation. The First Sergeant had the camera and he give it to the soldier that stole it. Willie walked up in his military way, cut his corners, went right up there and the boy handed him his camera back. Willie about-faced and was out of there.

Willie loved the Army. I never could understand it, why he loved the Army so much. He went in so young he had to get his parents permission, and I did too. I went in at 17. I went into the Army to get a pair of shoes and something to eat. It was a good opportunity. It changed me tremendously. I went to bed at 17 and got up in the morning at 25. It gave me a second chance at education.

Willie always wanted to fly. He went a whole winter and he got him a book somewheres on helicopters. He just laid in his bunk and studied all winter on how to fly a helicopter. His ETS (estimated termination of service) was coming up, but he knew he was going to re-enlist and he wanted to go to Ft. Rucker Alabama and go to helicopter school.

B Battery Commander

Willie would eventually make it to helicopter school, but not for another 11 years. After seven years as an enlisted man he went to Officer Candidate School at Ft. Sill Oklahoma. Two years later he went to Vietnam as an artillery 1st lieutenant, serving in succession as Executive Officer of B Battery, battalion staff officer, and then B Battery commander when it moved to LZ Sherry in May of 1968.

Captain George Moses remembers a green but bright 1st lieutenant.

When Lieutenant Ridgeway came out to B Battery as my XO I commented in a letter home that he didn’t know much about 105 mm howitzers. But he was a quick study and became an extraordinarily capable XO. He had to be for us to perform as we did in the Christmas action supporting the 173rd Infantry near Dong Tre, the largest of my tour in Vietnam, the tricky shooting mission at Qui Nhon Bay, our march down to Phan Thiet and defense of that location during Tet of ’68. We were up and down the coast during that period, often splitting the battery into multiple operations.

Ridgeway was nominated to be aid decamp to General Blanchard at First Field Forces, and I encouraged him to consider the job. He remained with us, but I remember him being gone from the battery on battalion business and even taking an assignment there before replacing me as battery commander. He came back to the battery as a captain, promoted well before the usual timetable for captain.

One soldier remembers Ridgeway as a by-the-book officer, who loved to take pictures and carried his camera everywhere.

I remember when LZ Betty got hit one night all we could do was watch the orange and red flames shoot up in the night sky. He was out taking pictures of LZ Betty blowing up. He had a more sophisticated camera than mine and I said, “Are you going to get anything on that.”

He said, “Oh, yeah. I’ve got capability to capture this on film.”

I remember a B-52 strike taking place up the hill from us. He knew they were coming and told us about it. We were out there waiting, and all of a sudden it looked like a power company right-of-way being mowed up the side of the hill. It was amazing. I did not have my camera but Ridgeway got it all I think.

Another, James Gacek, says,

I served with Captain Ridgeway at LZ Judy, and when we moved east to LZ Sherry. I was in charge of FDC (Fire Direction Control – controlled radio communications, travel in and out of the battery and fire missions). I can offer that Captain Ridgeway had a sense of humor and played a mean game of Pinochle. It’s the little things I remember… his gregarious smile … his love for photography … our conversations about the war and what we would do after.

Four things stand out in my memory.

  1. I made the mistake of leaving my dog tags in Qui Nhon. The captain one day gave an order that everybody had to “present dog tags at the evening meal or you wouldn’t eat.” I had been drinking beer all day and from my hooch yelled across to the mess tent that I guess I was going starve. When he heard that he said, ”Sounds like he’s drunk. Go get him and make sure he gets something to eat.”
  2. The battery was split with half the guns at Sherry and half on a mobile operation just west of our base camp at Phan Thiet. My R&R was coming up, just three days away, hence I was chomping at the bit to get to get out to Phan Thiet where I’d catch a plane to Cam Ranh Airbase and then on to Hong Kong. Since my FDC unit had all the communications I knew I couldn’t get a chopper out of Sherry. After much cajoling Captain Ridgeway agreed to allow me take his jeep to Phan Thiet, but only if I took a load of food for our mobile operation near there.
  3. Before this he had afforded me a real privilege. He had expedited my promotion to Specialist 4 (equal in pay grade to a corporal) at the earliest eligibility, and coinciding with my going on R&R.
  4. Then there was the ultimate privilege. When I was due to leave Sherry for home he allowed me to call my own chopper to pick me up, along with Chuck Burly, to fly us to Phan Rang, the first leg of the trip back to the States.

Captain Ridgeway was a fine officer … and man.