|The Whole World Was Watching
an oral history of 1968
Keith Traver: Where were you, when and where were you born and where did you grow up?
Rick Wilson: I was born in South County Hospital on the fourth of January 1942, just at the start of World War II. I grew up basically in South County. Went to South Kingstown for two years and then went away to prep school and at Portsmouth, then Priory over in Newport, then subsequently went to University of Wisconsin and then left and went into the service. In 1970, I came back to Rhode Island after I had left the service after my wife died and I took over the family business.
KT: Which was in?
RW: It was in 1970.
RW: So I was away basically from 1957 until 1970 from South Kingstown.
KT: Briefly describe your family and your neighborhood, ethnicity, religion, parents occupation.
RW: Okay, I'm a newspaper publisher. I live in Wakefield on Pine Hill Rd. I have five children. We're Catholic. My children are basically grown. The oldest is thirty-one and just had a baby, my first grandchild. My youngest is nineteen and she is a freshman at the University of, Trinity University in Hartford, Connecticut. We are a pretty big mixture: Caucasian but we're Scottish, Irish, French, English and a little Narragansett Indian. But, as far as how we'd probably be classified, primarily as European descent.
KT: If your mother worked outside the home, how did your family respond?
RW: My mother didn't work outside the home.
KT: She did not work outside the home.
RW: She, well, that's not totally true. She worked at the newspaper somewhat, but most of the work was done at home.
KT: How were your household chores and duties allocated in your family and how did that change over time?
RW: I was the oldest of five children and there was a fairly large spread between us, thirteen years. We were in charge of doing things like dishes, emptying the garbage, mowing the lawn and when I grew up in the Fifties, that's what everyone did, and we kind of split along the people who were in the family were my brothers and sister. But because of the age spread, I was basically grown and out of the house by the time my brothers were of age to do any kind of chores, so the chore battle just made it originally spread on three of us who were fairly close together. My sister, Janet, who was eleven months younger than I am, my brother, Steven, who is about three years younger than I am.
KT: What were your parent's political views and affiliations?
RW: My father was a newspaper publisher and mother also worked at the paper, and I would say they were primarily at that time, Democratic. My father was very good friends with Jack Kennedy and actually worked in his presidential campaign. And, I think in some philosophic leans they were more, I would say, conservative. If I would classify my parents, I would say they were more independent. I think conservative in their fiscal, but liberal in their political ideals.
KT: Where did you and your family get information about politics and other events?
RW: Both my mother and father were extremely well educated. Obviously being in the newspaper business, we could read a tremendous amount of newspapers. But on a Sunday, we'd get like four newspapers. The Globe, The Boston Globe, The New York Times, normally the Hartford Current and the Providence Journal.. Also, we watched TV and radio, and my father did a tremendous amount of reading, as I did, about history and politics in general. We subscribe to magazines like Time, Newsweek and other kinds of information. So we were pretty well informed as far as politics were concerned.
KT: What were your experiences with dating or friendships?
RW: I didn't date a lot when I was in high school, and obviously going away to prep school that was somewhat limited because I went to an all boys prep school. Most of my dating consisted, at least during the school year, of dances with other girls' schools. The girls would come to our school and we'd go to their school. Since I went to what was known as a Catholic school, it was Benedictine Catholic, where they are probably a little more liberal than was the Jesuits or say the Dominicans, but there was an extremely frowned upon sneaking off with members of the opposite sex. So my dating was somewhat limited. In the summer, I had a circle of friends and I had no steady girlfriend I would say, actually, until I got into college.
KT: What did you think you wanted to do when you grew up and how did that change over time?
RW: It didn't change. When I grew up, I always wanted to, to go in the service and be a pilot. I did exactly that. And I knew that after that career was over with, I knew that was going to be somewhat limited. I figured that by the time it was done, I would be, come back and work in the newspapers, because I'd always been involved in newspapers. I started out working in newspapers when I was like ten years old and even though I was in the service, it was my secondary military occupational specialty. So everywhere I went I was involved in the base newspaper, radio and TV. As a matter of fact, my last job in the Marine Corps before I got out, I was Public Affairs Officer at Camp LeJune, running a TV station, a radio station and three newspapers, and also handling a lot of publicity for the Pentagon of all the aircraft crashes east of the Mississippi River. So I stayed involved in that business, and my military career was cut short by the very abrupt death of my wife who had a cerebral aneurysm, and I got out of the service in 1970 because I had three children ages four, three and one and I couldn't stay in. So that's the reason I got out. But I would have stayed in the Marine Corps. I was a Marine Corps pilot, I loved it, I had a great time and I really enjoyed my service time.
KT: How young were you when you knew you wanted to be a pilot?
RW: Probably twelve, thirteen years old. Both my mother and father were pilots. My mother was the first woman pilot in Rhode Island, and so I got a license when I was sixteen years old. So I had a lot of prior experience, flight experience. As opposed to most people going into the service, I knew a lot about flying; I had a commercial license before I ever went into the service. So, I knew I always wanted to do that. I wanted to fly high performance aircraft; and that's exactly what I did.
KT: Were you aware of any discrimination against people in your family or neighborhood?
RW: No. Back in that time there wasn't a large minority population in South County. I had a lot friends. As a matter of fact, when I went to South Kingstown, I was one of, I think, about five blacks and about five whites on the basketball team, varsity basketball team, and there was no discrimination. I had a lot friends who were black or Narragansett Indians. There was some discrimination with the blacks towards the Narragansett Indians who were also friends of mine and friends of my family. There really wasn't, at that time, much discrimination or any overt discrimination at all in South County.
KT: You said you attended South Kingstown High School for two years?
RW: Two years
KT: And then you went to. . .
RW: Well, actually, believe it or not, I went to South Kingstown High School when it first opened in seventh grade and stayed through my sophomore year. So I went in seven, eight, nine and ten in South Kingstown High School.
KT: How did your education shape you as a person?
RW: I think I had some very good teachers in South Kingstown. At that time, the classes were relatively small, it was very, very easy. I think I was on cruise control the whole time. I was more interested in playing sports than I was academic achievements, and it didn't stop me from getting A's and B's because I had a relatively high IQ compared to the rest of my class. I was considered fairly bright; as a matter of fact, I was a year ahead of my grade. I think my parents felt that I wasn't being challenged at South Kingstown and I was kind of on cruise control and decided that this wasn't the best thing in the world for me, so I was sent away to prep school.
Actually, I looked forward to going away to prep school and I think that had the biggest change because at prep school I was very, very definitely challenged. It was a total learning environment and the difference was basically class sizes. In prep school, you'd only have seven or eight people in a class. So you can't hide from the teacher. Secondly, teachers, all the teachers lived on campus there at the Priory. You'd see them at meals, you'd them as coaches, you couldn't avoid them so you had to work. Secondly, the difference there was it was enforced study. From 7:00 to 10:00 at night, you studied. That was the only thing you could do. You were in your room studying. If you didn't do well, you were in for study hall. The end result is you learned to study very, very well, secondly you got a lot of study skills. Did a tremendous amount of writing and a big advantage I found, was I repeated my sophomore year. But I had started to like Latin in seventh grade and French in the seventh grade; so by the time I got out of prep school I had, had, I think eight, oh no seven years of Latin and seven years of French. I had all the math; I was at college level in math, a college level in English, a college level in history. The end result was, when I went away to college, I was way, way ahead of my classmates.
I mean, I went to my freshman class in college at the University of Wisconsin and I was number one of my freshman class, and it was a piece of cake, literally. Because I was so far advanced academically compared to the other people I was competing with. Because at that time the University of Wisconsin was a fine school, had to take anyone who had a C average or better in high school Wisconsin. To a certain extent, they taught the lowest common dominator. My case, I got exempted from a lot of classes and I ended going to college with advanced placement, I think of 12 credits before I was started. So it was very, very easy. And it became very easy because I had extremely good study skills.
Subsequently I ended up sending my children to prep schools and they've had the same result. They've gone to college, and it's been a piece of cake. They've done very, very well with very, very high averages because of that. You get a much better education in a prep school because they basically force you to do it. Whereas public school you're limited to somewhat, you have to want to be motivated and self motivated in a public school to do a good job. Teachers at the public schools, there is a lot of good teachers, but, to a certain extent, they are forced to deal with the lowest common dominator and the class sizes are larger, and they have all kinds of problems. In prep school, if there is a kid who has a problem, they get kicked out. At South Kingstown or at another public high school they can't necessarily do that. By law, they are required to educate them. And that doesn't create as good a learning atmosphere I think.
KT: Where did you go to college and what did you study?
RW: As I said, I went to University of Wisconsin. Actually, I ended up with three majors. I was an English major originally and I took so many history courses I ended up with a Bachelor of Art in History also. And at the same time I was in the ROTC program ROTC so I got a degree in Naval Science. So I basically studied Liberal Arts but with a heavy emphasis on science. Plus, I had the advantage of having a lot of credits at the time so basically, I finished college in about three and a half years. Then I went onto graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, got a Masters in English and in the meantime I had been commissioned in the service and I went to Pensacola, Florida. And while I was down there, because of my flight experience, I was exempted from Flight School and got a Masters Degree in aeronautical engineering. After that, when I was in the service and stationed at Camp LeJune, I attended the University of North Carolina and got a Masters Degree in Computer Science. So I ended up with three Masters Degrees, I never finished my doctorate because of Vietnam interfered with that, but I really do not miss it, and I never really intended to get involved in teaching which would be what a doctorate would be useful for.
KT: What did you do for extra-curricular activities or just for fun at college?
RW: Played sports. I basically spent all my time studying or playing sports. I went to the University of Wisconsin, like I said, and I played football, hockey, baseball, and I shot on the rifle team. I also was involved in ROTC and I also worked on the school paper. So I was very, very involved and I was also in the flying club and skydiving club while I was there. I didn't have a lot of spare time, basically all the time I went to classes from eight o'clock in the morning until noon time, had lunch, and basically from one o'clock, one-thirty `till about five o'clock. I played a sport for, whatever sport was in season. Then after that I had study or I'd have night classes.
KT: Were you a member of a fraternity?
RW: Yes, I was. I was a member of a fraternity called Phi Gamma Delta, the PG's. I was probably the worst fraternity member they ever had because I didn't become involved at all in the fraternity life; I just had no time. The only thing I did for them was I played sports for them. I was an extremely good athlete; maybe a very gifted athlete with my hand and eye coordination and I was All-American in hockey and baseball and also rifle shooting. I ended up playing sports for the fraternity that I didn't participate in like swimming or volleyball or basketball. I attended a few social events but I really, I was only in the fraternity my last two years in college and then when I got in graduate school I did some graduate work with the fraternity. I was not really much involved with the social seen. I didn't drink because I was playing sports all the time, so that limited my social activities somewhat.
KT: Who were some of your best friends?
RW: Oh, at Wisconsin I probably had, most of my best friends were people who were on the sports team with me. They were the people I saw all the time. Some of the people were people I was friendly with; some were people in the ROTC unit with me, basically. There was a whole series of guys, some of whom I've stayed friendly with over the years, three or four them got killed in Vietnam, they were in ROTC with me. And, some of the other ones, one of them right now, we're best friends, is now Athletic Director of the University of Wisconsin, a guy named Pat Richter.
KT: You said you did most of your dating in college, is that right? Did you have any serious relationships?
RW: No serious relationships until I was a senior, and I had no intention of getting married. I had planned to go in the service and have a good time and not be involved. My senior year, I happened to meet my wife, who was attending a college nearby, a Catholic girls' school. Her name was Shannon Colleen McCarthy, and I knew when I met her that I wanted to marry her. We dated through graduate school. Then after I went, I got out of graduate school I went down to Pensacola, Florida for flight training and she still had a year to go so, it wasn't actually quite a year. She had to finish her, she was a teacher, an elementary school teacher and she had to finish her teaching, preparatory. So what happened was I went to Pensacola for flight training, and we got married when I came home on Christmas leave, and then she went back to school for three months and joined me subsequently down in Pensacola, I think it was April of 1965.
KT: Could you describe the dating and sexual activity of your group of friends?
RW: Some of the people I had had steady girlfriends, some of them didn't. Most of the people I hung around with didn't have steady girlfriends or didn't have a lot of, you know, relationships. A lot of them had to go away to college and they'd left girlfriends at home and so forth. It was kind of a new experience and I think a lot of people dated a lot of people. My particular group was more social, I think, than one on one. Big groups of friends, we dated. As far as sex, it was pretty much limited in my group of friends, there wasn't a lot of sexual activity as far as going to bed with somebody, unless they were really serious. There wasn't a lot of casual sex among my particular group of friends. But again that was probably, I knew a lot of people who did have a lot of relatively casual sex. But I was again a little ahead of the crew. This was before I graduated in 1964, and that was kind of a little ahead of the hippie and sexual revolution and the whole deal as far as that's concerned. It was still more of a Fifties kind of atmosphere.
KT: More conservative.
RW: Yeah, I would say more conservative. Less, I would say a little more respectful to a certain extent about, you know, just about people about lives and bodies and so forth and not, yeah, I think it's a trend coming back towards that particularly with AIDS and all social sexual diseases that are out now. We didn't have to worry about that at that time. I mean, there were certainly things like gonorrhea and syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases, but there certainly wasn't AIDS which is, can kill you. And, I think people weren't quite as [indiscriminate ?-ed.], I mean, [not quite as secure ?-ed.] the pendulum has swung the other way. I think it started swinging back through my group and I think that the pendulum, it started back toward a much more of an open attitude towards sex and sexual activity and casual sex and I think that's changed somewhat. I think it's swinging back the other way now.
KT: Were female and male students treated differently at college?
RW: Oh, definitely. I lived in what was probably the first coed dorm in the United States. The boys on the first floor, the girls on the second floor, boys on the third floor, girls on the fourth floor. And what was kind of interesting is, you know, living in a coed dorm was very unusual back in the early Sixties, it was really considered radical.
Plus Wisconsin you gotta remember is uh, we had beer on tap in the dorms because it was almost second to milk in Wisconsin as far as. . . And the drinking age was eighteen. You couldn't drink hard liquor until you were twenty-one, but we had 3.2 beer everywhere. I mean, in the Memorial Union, everywhere. So it was no big deal if you saw us drinking beer and again you have to drink a lot of 3.2 beer to get drunk. Secondly, most of the kids from Wisconsin came from towns that had their own breweries. There were probably 500 different beers in the state of Wisconsin when I was out there. Milwaukee was the beer capital of the world. So it was a little different.
I think, getting back to boys and girls, I think girls were more protected then than they are now, they didn't have the freedoms they have now. You weren't allowed in the dorms past ten o'clock, and they were chaperoned to a certain extent. I think all parties were chaperoned, had to be chaperoned. There was a lot more care taken I think. A lot less freedom of activities for women than there were for men at that time. Then again that's probably a hold over from the basic concept of the Fifties, early Sixties.
KT: Do you feel there was a generation gap?
RW: No, I don't think there was a big generation gap. I was just before the baby boomers. I would say the generation gap came five years later, six years later from my particular group. Yeah, we, I grew up listening to Count Basie and Duke Ellington and Frank Sinatra and that kind of music. I love rock and roll and I think my parents didn't particularly care for rock and roll as far as that's concerned, but it had a beat and I think they could appreciate some of the stuff. Certainly, I know my mother liked Elvis, liked the Beatles and that particular music. There was a little bit of a generation gap there, but not a huge amount of gap.
I think, as far as taste in books I think there wasn't a huge difference. Of course, the other thing was I was the first generation to really grow up with television. And originally I started out, I mean my first memories were listening to radio before TV and that's changed radically because no one listens to radio anymore except to. I mean I listened to "The Green Hornet", "The Lone Ranger", "B-Barbie," a whole bunch of these kinds of things when I was very young. Then television came along and I think television at that time was kind of a unifying force in the family because there was only one TV, it was black and white, it later became color, but I mean a lot of us watched TV together and you were very limited in the selection we had, now it's totally changed. I think there wasn't a huge generation gap in my particular age, and I think that came as I said, about five years later.
KT: Describe your wardrobe.
RW: My current wardrobe?
KT: When you were in college.
RW: I was somewhat unique. I came from the East and I was an outsider. I grew up in a, I went to a prep school where you wore a coat, jacket and tie to every class, all the time and to all meals. So I carried that tradition with me somewhat to Wisconsin. I was probably much better dressed than most of my contemporaries in Wisconsin. Although it was nowhere near as casual as it is now. The basic wardrobe for most guys was a sweater and a shirt with a collar, most people, except for teachers and graduate students, didn't wear ties. I wore a tie most of the time and a jacket. A lot of people didn't do that. I would say I would be considered very, very conservative in my dress at Wisconsin.
KT: What did clothing styles reveal about people who wore them? Were there certain types of people that wore a certain type of clothing?
RW: Yeah well, I think that came about, again if we are discussing college years or just after that late Sixties, early seventies certainly people wore clothing and the hippie movement came into vogue. Folk music had disappeared, there was much more rock and roll and that kind of thing and people expressed who they were, and that was their way of rebellion, by wearing bell bottoms and flowered shirts and that kind of thing. And I think there was definitely a relatively small culture.
It was one thing that kind of surprised me because I remember when I was a senior I was involved in the newspaper, The Daily Cardinal, at Wisconsin, there's a copy of it there, and there was an anti-war protest back in 1964 and I think probably about three hundred people showed up, then a week later they had a pro-war thing and about five thousand students showed up. That was a huge difference. If you had the same rally five years later in 1968 or 69 I think the numbers would have been just the opposite. But I think the people, at Wisconsin, were dressed relatively conservative, again it was a Mid-Western school, relatively traditional family-values kind of situation people talk about, and there was definitely a nuclear family emphasis. I think most of the people I went to school with, their fathers worked and their mothers didn't work. And I think most of the kids were pretty, relatively conservative. I think if you had gone to Berkeley or you were going to NYU or something like that, you might have found a different situation.
KT: How did you feel about the use of drugs or was it not really a situation at college?
RW: No, drugs really weren't in, the drug of choice was alcohol. I mean it is a drug. There wasn't a lot of marijuana smoking when I was on campus, it just hadn't become fashionable yet, it just wasn't there. Again you're talking about the Mid-West and as I said beer was the drug of choice and they drank a lot of beer at Wisconsin. Again, it was readily available everywhere. That was the in thing was to go get pizza and have beer, go have a sandwich and have a beer. It was all 3.2 beer, so it was a little lower in alcohol content, but people drank a lot of beer because they had grown up drinking beer. They were all, the vast majority of Wisconsin, even more so at that time, was probably German, Polish, Hungarian, basically middle European, and they had a tradition of drinking beer, so that was the drug of choice. I don't think, there were virtually no hard drugs, marijuana a little bit but not much when I was in college. I would say ten years later that was a big change, huge change.
KT: What were your favorite musical groups, movies and books?
RW: I've always loved science fiction. I used to read a lot of science fiction, but being an English major, I read a huge amount of English literature. I think Hemingway was one of my favorite authors. I like James Joyce, William David Faulkner. I think, I liked a lot of English literature. I loved Shakespeare, I loved Chaucer. I've read all of the poets, Milton, Spencer. I basically spent all my life reading. I still read; I still probably kill a book a week all the time now. And at that time in college, I was probably reading three or four books a week. As far as music, I liked, loved early rock and roll, still have. I loved the Beatles, loved Elvis. I liked a lot of, I also liked folk music and I was in a folk group and I was in a rock group when I was in college for awhile. I did a lot of singing and subsequently got involved in a group when I was in the Marine Corps and sang in Vietnam. I've liked all kinds of music but I would say rock and roll was probably my favorite.
KT: What about some of your favorite movies?
RW: I used to love the Doris Day movies, had a crush on Doris Day. Things like Pillow Talk , Touch of Mink and those kinds of things as I was growing up. I saw a lot of action films. I think I didn't go to the movies anywhere as much as I go today. I probably go a lot more to the movies now. My wife and I probably go to the movies at least once a week, I'd say one every two weeks. There's a lot of good movies out. I think, most of my taste in movies went to comedies, some action. It was interesting, when I was there I watched Victory at Sea, the whole series which was available on film, that was very interesting to me. And I watched a lot of historical movies about World War II and World War I and basic American history, primarily.
KT: What instructor or course do you remember the most and why?
RW: From college or from...?
RW: Believe it of not, one of the most interesting courses I ever took was, and I was an English major, was a geology course. I took geology, introduction to geology, and took a subsequent geology course which just fascinated me. I think primarily it's because the professor, Bob Smith, was a geologist in the summer for Texaco and the guy really had a way of making the subject come alive. I think it was. . . I really liked that class. The other ones I really liked, I liked my Naval science classes very much and I really, I took a course with a guy named White who was a world renowned English, he was very, very good. I took another course with Updike, John Updike, and that was probably one of the most interesting courses I ever took, he was a visiting the University of Wisconsin. Other than that, it's funny, I had the unique experience of, I think I never cut a class the whole time I was in college and I never took a course I didn't like. I think it's just because it was part of my prep school upbringing and that I had a curiosity for learning that was instilled in me and I'll be fortunate because my children will have that same kind of curiosity. They like to read, they really enjoy it and they are fascinated by things. I can't say they never cut classes, they cut a lot of them, but I think they enjoy school and they enjoy reading.
KT: Do you recall your understanding of the Cold War?
RW: My understanding of the Cold War? Oh yeah, very ,very distinctly. I was very involved in it, obviously. I was initially going ROTC, I was also Marine Corps Reserves Unit in Madison and I was very involved in that whole situation with Berlin and then subsequently also with the Dominican Republic when I was in college and I knew I was going in the military.
And I think. . . Because I was, again, very ,very involved in naval science and history, I think I had a very good understanding of what was going on in Eastern Europe and communism and the relationship, adversarial relationship that existed between Russia and Europe, the rest of Europe I should say, the Democratic Europe. And I think I had, I felt at some point it might come to war at that time. I felt we might get involved in war with Russia. I felt we came damn close to getting involved in one in Korea and I think Truman was reluctant because he was the guy who originally voted to, who made the tough decision to drop the bomb on Japan and I think he came close to making the same decision in Korea to avoid getting overrun, at one time the situation was very, very dire in Korea and I think that kind of pointed out the dangers that were involved in getting involved in nuclear war, and I think what happened was that both Russia and the United States had done extensive nuclear testing at that time, certainly with Bimini, and we both had nuclear capabilities and I think that precluded us from going further.
I think nuclear weapons in some ways prevented a war. Certainly prevented more problems in Europe after the partition in World War II, I think what happened was that I think both sides realized, the East and the West, that they couldn't get through a nuclear confrontation, that there would be no winner. It's brought about the ultimate thing, MAD- Mutually Assured Destruction, that Reagan forced upon the situation. I think what happened was, and it was subsequently proven to be true, the West won because they could outspend the East, basically as far as the Cold War. It became too expensive, quite frankly.
I mean, and I think the other thing is, the genie got out of the bottle. I think the biggest factor in this change and everything was certainly Radio Free Europe. Hey, it had a huge impact. But, I also think technology and television had a huge impact because it's pretty hard to keep people in the dark anymore, to control them, the genies out of the bottle and you can't control information. I think China's finding this problem right now. I think one in, like three out of every four people in China now have a TV set. Now only one in four has a telephone. But I think, you know, you can't control the radio waves. You know, Castro's been trying for years and years to silence Radio Martè, off Florida, and, but people get the information . And I think that's been a big factor that changed the world as far as the Cold War. You know, one standard of living, the Soviet's model of communism, socialism, just doesn't work because there's no incentive there, and secondly, you know there's no innovation there and technological innovation is what's currently driving the world forces.
KT: Was the 1960 and the election of John F. Kennedy an important turning point for you?
RW: Well, it was for me personally because I, I knew John F., John Fitzgerald Kennedy. As a matter of fact, the only company he ever invested in, private company, was my father's company. He and my father went to the Harvard Business School together. And, so, I mean, it had a huge turning point for me because that's when I really became aware of politics and becoming involved in politics. Until that point I hadn't really been that involved, then I became much more, much more aware of politics and what was involved, because my family's involved in politics.
KT: How did you respond to his assassination?
RW: Oh, I was totally shocked. I was at the University of Wisconsin. And I was away at the, I was actually in St. Paul, Minnesota when it happened, playing in a hockey game and I was just devastated. Again because he was a personal, close personal friend and my father was devastated. It had a huge impact upon, huge, huge impact upon the country and particularly on New England.
KT: Did you follow political and social issues when you were in high school and college a lot?
RW: Yes. Yeah, I think because I was in an educational atmosphere that fostered this. Also because I was involved, at Wisconsin, in the school newspaper, I couldn't help but be involved in politics.
KT: Why did you join the ROTC?
RW: It seemed to be the easiest way to get commission. I knew I wanted to go into the service, I knew I wanted to fly, and I wanted to go in the Marine Corps because I felt they were the best and most elite certainly. And I think what happened was ROTC was a way to get a commission and to go into the service as an officer, and if you wanted to fly you had to be an officer, it was that simple. And I think, my father had been, served during World War II as lieutenant commander on board a carrier in the Pacific, and as a matter of fact, that's how he became friends with John Kennedy because they were both in the navy, both went to Harvard, both lived in Boston.
And, you know, I think, I considered going to, I got a little, I considered going to Annapolis, then I decided I didn't want that regimented an experience as far as going. . .I'd spent my whole time in prep school going to a single sex boy's school and I decided I wanted to broaden my horizons somewhat and see something different and also, you know, get away from the East so I kinda left and I decided to go to Wisconsin. And, one of my criteria when I was looking for a college was that it had a ROTC unit and that, you know, I could subsequently get a commission. That happened before actually, that decision happened before I ever considered Vietnam, as far as, you know, going. Once I was in the service, I knew if we get involved in Vietnam, I knew I was going to be going to Vietnam, particularly as a Marine Corps pilot. I mean, I was 99.9 percent of all Marine Corps pilots went to Vietnam.
KT: Were there any rallies, teach-ins or demonstrations on your campus?
RW: Oh yes. Yeah. But as I said before, I mean, the rallies were more, they were. . . When I graduated in `84 and subsequently, I mean in `64 and subsequently in 1965, and Wisconsin was a pretty liberal campus, probably as liberal as Berkeley. They were probably two of the most liberal, NYU, probably two of the most liberal, you know, campuses in the United States. But I think there wasn't a huge anti-war sentiment at that point. I don't think that really anti-war sentiment really changed until 1968, and I was in Vietnam at the time and that was after Tet and the publicity came about, of that particular situation. I don't think, I think people weren't as involved because initially there weren't, in 1964 there weren't that many people in Vietnam, there were just advisors. There wasn't a huge military buildup over there. We were acting as advisors and we were actively involved in a lot of combat and a lot of troops weren't committed. So I think the, the protest gained as the need for manpower gained and certainly I think the draft had a huge effect on it, people didn't want to get drafted. I think people didn't want to go to war and, you know, they just decided it's not our fight, you know, let's not get involved. I think a certain segment of people decided that.
KT: What did you think of the people who, say, escaped the draft when they went to Canada, or their using violence in the demonstrations?
RW: I think, you know, violence never achieves anything in demonstrations. I think it's the same thing, I mean, it's like when unions have strikes, you know, and it gets violent. They lose a huge amount of credibility. I think, you know, I think some people objected for conscientious reasons, I think they got caught up in the hysteria of the situation, I don't think it was done logically. I think, some of it in retrospect, and again I was involved in Vietnam and I felt what I did there was good. I felt we should have been there. I still think we should have been there. I think the war was conducted in a lousy manner. The problem was you had civilians making decisions, and, you know, fighting a war with one hand tied behind your back and it subsequently proved true that you can't fight a war that way. Because you know, they were willing. . .
We won the war if you look at it from a personnel standpoint or from a body count standpoint or from an economic standpoint, but they won it politically. We won it militarily, they won it politically. And, I think, you know, again, I think 1968 was kind of the, you know, Tet was the turning point as far as basic American public understanding of what happened. I was involved in Tet, I was stationed in Pho Bai when it happened. We were under attack and we turned around the attack and, as a matter of fact, a friend of mine, a classmate was stationed in Hue he got trapped in Hue and I subsequently rescued him ten days later, from the Citadel. Actually, I guess it was more like fourteen days. I didn't find this out until about twenty years later that I had picked him up, but he came in a medivac helicopter.
Anyway, what happened was the Vietnamese got massacred. In Tet, we didn't take any casualties at all, basically. They tried to overrun the bases and they got slaughtered. The casualty ratio was probably 50:1. Tet effectively destroyed the Vietcong as a fighting force in Vietnam. From then on, it was all NVA, North Vietnamese Regulars who we fought against. They was a huge amount of casualties. But the problem was back in the United States the media portrayed us how can, you know they've been told these guys aren't going strong, all of sudden, they have an all out offensive, and it's just the fact that they ran the all out offensive changed peoples minds. That was the point, I guess, when Lyndon Johnson and McNamara decided to really up the amount of people going to Vietnam to fight the war.
I think they had been misleading the American public for a long time. I think the problem was the military was hamstrung in its use of weapons. I had a bunch of friends who were fighter pilots over there and they were flying up north and they couldn't attack the air bases and MiG's that were flying at them that would come up and take a pass at them and go back to the base, they couldn't attack `em, they couldn't attack the bases. I mean, it was kind of, the conduct in the whole. . . was incredibly stupid by McNamara and Johnson. They didn't know what the hell they were doing, the war could have been over after Tet, as a matter of fact, certainly after Khe Sanh. In 1968, if they had mined Haiphong Harbor. . . And they were always afraid that the Chinese or the Russians were going to get involved and that subsequently proved not to be true at all. The Vietnamese hate the Chinese anyway and the Russians weren't about to get involved in a war based on Vietnam, it wasn't in their best interest, and politically it wasn't in their best interest. And the Domino Theory proved to be true temporarily when Cambodia and certainly in Laos went communist for a while but that's now changed, coming back and I think the Vietnamese and communism isn't working either, they're coming back, and the whole Southeast Asia is changing right now. But, you know, everyone was worried about this being a Domino Effect, if that fell everything else would fall in Southeast Asia. That didn't happen in Laos, Thailand certainly stayed Democratic, Laos became somewhat communist, Cambodia did become communist, but that's something that's changed again.
I think as far as the, oh let's see, as I said, I think that the Vietnamese war basically was the first war that America ever lost and they didn't lose it militarily, they lost it politically because people didn't want to fight in it. And I think another thing was people didn't have the sense of sacrifice that they had in the generation of World War II. I think it was, we kind of, it wasn't anything like Pearl Harbor to propel us into the thing.
We kinda got sucked into the thing, and it was kinda a gradual escalation and if Johnson had let the military do what they wanted to do, I know I was very frustrated over there as far as being involved in a lot of operations that we couldn't use certain weapons in certain places, you had to tell people where you were coming from, and so forth. So, you compromised a tremendous amount of you operations, as far as strike teams and doing that kind of thing. If they had let the military fight the war, the war would of been over, in a very short period of time, quite frankly. I mean, they could have bombed North Vietnam, taken out all the hydroelectric, taken out all the dams, taken out all the harbors, and they wouldn't of had any supplies to fight a war. Now, they can fight a war with sling shots and bows, but in reality of modern warfare we control the skies and we could of stopped them, but we didn't use the weapons we had at our disposal to do that.
KT: Did serving bring you any new skills to help you in your civilian life?
RW: Serving in Vietnam? I think, yeah, I think the biggest skill it taught me was leadership and motivating people, leading people, learning how to get things done, how to work as a team. I think those, particularly those kinds of skills were valuable to me. Certainly, from a professional standpoint, I didn't learn anything about writing, which I now use in the newspaper.
Mechanically, I learned something, obviously, going and getting masters degree in aeronautical engineering. I gained some skills from an engineering standpoint and certainly, it has helped me with computers, I got another degree in computer science so I understand how things work.
But I think the biggest thing I gained was learning how to lead and be a leader and how to follow and how to work as a team. And in the situation of Vietnam, certainly one thing that taught me was you are as strong as your weakest link. If someone is working on your helicopter and doesn't do it right and you crash, you know that person, you've got four lives on your hands. And I think what happened was it showed how essentially everyone's gotta do their job, and everyone's important, and I think one of the things that's unique about the Marine Corps is that the people who were working on the helicopters were also the people who were flying them, either as a gunner or a crew chief. So they weren't screwing around doing drugs, getting drunk and having problems. We had a little bit of people who certainly drank and so forth, but when your life is on the line you get all your faculties about you because you want to survive and, you know, the problem with a helicopter when something goes wrong, or a plane, you don't pull over to the side and park it, it's coming down and you better be, you only get one chance you better do it right.
KT: Do you recall how you felt as you left home?
RW: I was very excited at one standpoint, as far as going to Vietnam, because it was kinda like training to play in a ball game all your life and you never get to play. You know, it's like you practice all the time and never get to do the real thing, so I was very excited about flying, I was, the timing wasn't great because my wife, Shannon, was expecting a second child which turned out to be a boy, Ricky. He was born when I was in Vietnam. I went over on October 27, 1967, and he was born December 17, 1967. And so, I was over there about a month and a half before he was born, so I was concerned about that obviously because my wife was pregnant and she had gone home to Wisconsin to be with her family, I had left her off there. And so I was concerned about that, but I was also excited and looking forward to going over and flying because I knew I would get to be able to fly, not like the flying you do here in the United States, they'd lock you up for fly the way you used to do over there. Because you get to fly all the time and max out all the time. And I felt like I was going to be doing something that was good helping people out, basically flying, re-supplying, medivacing. I looked forward to it.
KT: What was your experience at boot camp and/or other officer training's schools.
RW: Boot camp was actually very easy. I went between my freshman and sophomore year, I went to Parris Island Boot camp as a reserve, I was enlisted and basically I was smarter than most of the people there, certainly. I was in great shape because I spent my college career playing sports and I didn't give anyone any trouble, didn't have an attitude basically so I got along great in the Marine Corps. I was a piece of, quite frankly boot camp was a piece of cake because I was much physically superior to anyone else in the platoon, wasn't even close, and secondly, I kept my I kept my nose clean. So, I didn't get into any trouble. I didn't drink, didn't smoke. And basically, you know, and plus the other thing is was I was obviously one of the best shots in the world at the time, 1964 I was collegiate champion of the small arm on the Marine Corps team, so that was very easy.
What was different is when I went to what was then OTS, which was then Platoon Leaders School, PLC school, and between my junior and senior year in college and that was at Quantico, Virginia and that was tough. The difference was people there were in as good shape as I was but they were a lot tougher. Going through boot camp as an enlisted man the object was trying to get everyone one the same page, build people up and make them feel good about being in the Marines and learn to take orders, that 's pretty easy to do. At Officer's Candidate School the object was to see how much you could take and try to wash out those who couldn't make it.
They put you in tremendous amounts of stressful situations, you didn't get a lot of sleep, not much time to eat, basically twelve weeks of hell, it's like a fraternity, kind of like a fraternity party where you have hell week for twelve weeks and the basic object was to make those people who might break down under combat. So the object was how much stress could you possibly could, so you had a lot of physical things but you didn't have a lot of sleep, you didn't have a lot of time to eat and they just made life very, very difficult for you. And, you learned a lot, I mean, as far as classroom and, physically it was easy, mentally it was tough. And, things like three-days war you learned to you stay up three days straight without sleep, you don't function very well. It was a lot, lot harder going through the Officer's Candidate School, the PLC school.
KT: Where did you serve in Vietnam?
RW: I served in what is known as "I Corps" in the northern part of Vietnam. Vietnam was divided into four sections, and I served in the section, that basically went from the DMZ, basically south of Chu Lai which was, probably about 120 miles south of DMZ. Most of the time I served right along the DMZ or I was up in, initially went in Quang Tri, then to Phu Bai then up in Khe Sanh then aboard ship off the DMZ, and then that was for about seven months, and then the last six months I spent down in Da Nang which is probably sixty-seventy, eighty miles south of North Vietnam. So basically, I was, my entire service was spent basically flying medivac recon inserts, and extracts and some resupply. Basically flying of Stage 46 helicopters, which is a medium `copter in the Marine Corps-- carries up to fifteen people. In Vietnam, we could carry about eight people. And that was about it.
I spent about, let's see, probably a month at Quang Tri then went down to Pho Bai; and I was at Pho Bai when Tet broke out, Tet and Hue, and then got reassigned back to Quang Tri, the squad moved up there right when Khe Sanh broke out, and I was involved in the siege of Khe Sanh, the whole siege. And then after that I went aboard ship and I was involved in search and air rescue of pilots along the DMZ in North Vietnam and also doing recon inserts and extracts, and medivac along the DMZ, along the Qua Viat River and then subsequently went down to Hau Bon and I was in whole bunch of operations down there, I flew the entire thirteen months that I was in country. I flew over a thousand hours in combat.
KT: Were you engaged in combat , like your helicopter itself? And describe that.
RW: Everyday, everyday. Obviously being a medivac pilot, or a recons, or extracts pilot, you go where the action is. I mean, the reason you go get a medivac is because someone got blown up or someone shot. I got shot at every single day and I was very, very fortunate; I got shot down three times. I walked away from all without injury. I had thirteen copilots, crew chiefs, or gunners wounded with me. I never got wounded. I had a lot, a lot of close calls. I took over a thousand hits in my aircraft when I was there. But, never got hit when I was flying, always got hit when landing and taking off, and I was kind of a little unique in that I flew all thirteen months, that is very unusual for a pilot. Most of the time you flew for six or seven months then had a desk job the other six months. What happened to me was I didn't want to have a desk job because I loved flying, and secondly, when my time came up I was the only qualified strike flight leader in the whole Marine Corps- "I CORPS" at that time so we couldn't ground because I was the only person authorized to lead twenty-four helicopters or to run an operation, and because I wanted to do that they let me stay in and fly, so that is what I did.
KT: Describe your relationships with your fellow soldiers.
RW: We were a pretty close-knit group. I think the difference is you have a, you get a very close bond between the officers enlisted because you're working the planes together, you're flying the planes together, you're responsible for each person's life. And then again the Marine Corps is kinda different in that I think in the squadron we had about 280 people, twenty four aircrafts, and most of the people who were in the squadron flew aboard the aircraft. You'd have a crew chief for each plane which is twenty four planes and you'd have a pilot and a co-pilot so that's another, we probably had fifty to sixty pilots and the balance were enlisted people. I think that we got to know each other very, very well because you'd be flying with the guys, your wingman, it depends on where you were and what position you were, but basically you went through a series of more and more responsibilities the longer you had been in the country because you knew more about how to run things and also you'd get check rise and you get recommended for certain operations.
I was one of the best pilots in the Marine Corps, if not the best helicopter pilot. And I was recognized for that. Wooden Squadron, Delta Squadrons. I got a lot of relatively difficult assignments because they figured I could get the hell in and the hell out. I had a lot more flight experience than my contemporaries, as I stated earlier, I started flying when I was sixteen so when I went to flight school I actually had more air time than my instructor had initially in flight school. So they weren't going to teach me a lot. I learned a lot about flying after that, you know formation, gunnery, and carrier qualifications and flying jets and that carried over in the flight time. My experience, once I'd been in country and flying helicopters for a while, I was very, very, very good at what I did and I think my people in my squadron recognized that and certainly enlisted people, they all wanted to fly with me because they felt I'd get them back, and I got everyone back, I never got anyone killed. I was very, very fortunate.
I think that the Marine Corps, as I said, is a little different from the Army; the vast majority when I was there, with the exception of two or three people, were all volunteers there weren't many draftees, they were there because they wanted to be there. We were a close knit unit. We were constantly in combat so people didn't goof off. It's not like you were in the back lines and even when you were home on the base when we were in Quang Tri and certainly down Khe Sanh even in Moa Mountain. Even if you were back on the base you had the possibility of getting shot by a mortar or a rocket every single night basically. So, it was not a situation where you took things for granted.
KT: Were there any conflicts between people in your units or that you heard about in other units, and was it major things or merely minor?
RW: No. No. No major conflicts. I mean there would be fights over bar girls. There'd be fights, someone'd go on liberty or someone would beat someone up in a card game or something like that or most of the fights involved girls or money. Or, you know, some people would get pissed off, and you know, occasionally there would be a red neck. There wasn't a lot, the Marine Corps was kind of unique, in that, there wasn't a lot of racial tension. We had a certain amount of blacks and whites, and I would say there tended to be more whites than there were blacks, certainly in our units, in the aviation units, but they got along. The Marine Corps had as kind of a motto, they don't care what the hell you are, you're green basically. And I think that was carried over and I think the officers carried that on and certainly I had, one of my closest friends was a black warrant officer who running supply when I was there. I was his boss and had a lot of friends and there was not any real tension. I think the difference was we worked so closely together everyone was in the same boat.
KT: What particular difficulties were there for women who served?
RW: The, there were obviously no women in my unit over there, the closest we came were, there were nurses that we dealt with.
KT: What particular difficulties were there for woman who served?
RW: I think, well, there were no women, as I said, no women in my unit, obviously the Marine Corps at that time. There were some people involved in supply, some women in supply. But there were nurses, Army nurses and Navy nurses who worked near by. One of the things they had was, first of all, lack of privacy and secondary, it wasn't a very nice place for a lady. It was a very difficult situation, certainly combat, from a medical standpoint, it was probably very challenging because a lot of people were wounded, a lot of very interesting surgeries and that kind of thing, I think. But, there wasn't a lot amenities for women. As far as creature comforts, it was a pretty rough existence. It made it tough on them, I think, you know, I think certainly there was a certain amount of romances and so forth but in general it wasn't the best place in the world for them, and it was certainly stressful.
KT: Do you think women received just due for their service in Vietnam?
RW: Yeah I think so, for what they did. They weren't involved in combat operations, but certainly particularly, you know, the people who were involved in the medical end were godsends basically. And the people who were involved in the USO area as far as cheer, bringing people helping people's morale, that was a definite plus and certainly the place that I was in, which they subsequently made into a TV show called China Beach, it was very close to a place where I was stationed in Moa Mountain and that was a very nice atmosphere for people who had been out in the bush for a while, it was nice to come back out into the world and get some good food, some rest, and not get shot up all the time. You know, so, I think that there weren't nearly as many women serving in the service at that time as there are now. The whole women's bit has changed.
KT: When did you become aware of protests that were happening back in the US?
RW: I think a little bit in the Sixties, before I went over in '67 I was a little aware of it. I think it became much more apparent after I came back at the end of 1968, what I saw on TV basically. When I was in Vietnam my exposure to news was very limited. I mean I got letters from my wife and she did just talk about the family really, she didn't talk much about what was going on back there. There was no TV, limited amount of radio, and the newspaper that we got was Stars and Stripes and obviously, it was a military newspaper so it was not focusing on those kinds of things. So I wasn't really, really aware until I got back in 1969 of the protest movement involved in the college and again because I was operating, I was living on the Marine Corps base in a Marine Corps community at Camp LeJune. I, you know, I wasn't actively involved or near to any protest sites, so I wasn't really that involved in it.
KT: Was racism or conflict about race an issue?
RW: Not in Vietnam, it wasn't. When we came back to a certain extent it was. There has always been a certain amount of racial incidences, per se. The Marine Corps didn't seem to have the race problems that the rest of the services had. I think it is to their credit they were able to diffuse those kinds of situations, and you always get some problems as far as enlisted people, particularly getting into fights, but most of the fights again as I said were over money or girls not necessarily racial oriented. And there weren't, there wasn't a whole, it wasn't an us against them kind of mentality in the Marine Corps as far as blacks and whites.
KT: Describe your living conditions.
RW: Where? In Vietnam (laughs)? There was an interesting situation, as I said I was enlisted in the Marine Corps and I figured things were going to get better because I was originally in the reserves and we were running around in the boonies and so forth, which I use to like to do. But I figured that the living conditions, wherever they had aircraft they had pretty good conditions. And, what happened was when I first got there I was assigned to Quang Tri and I got there and all there was, was a runway, literally, a tarmac runway of corrugated metal to land your `copters on, there was nothing else, no tents, nothing. We built bunkers, sandbag bunkers and lived in sandbag bunkers initially and then pitched tents. So there were no amenities at all-- no running water, no toilets, no electricity, nothing. We ended up medivacing, we basically built a base for the helicopters, and we subsequently put up a base of operations, some buildings to take care of the helicopters. We ended up living in tents, and then when I went down to Pho Bai, which again was about a month later, and then in Tet I lived in tents down there. We had electricity and all the latrines were outside all the time in Vietnam, pretty primitive basically.
But you know, it was kind of like being in the Boy, I was an Eagle Scout, it was kind of like being in the Boy Scouts and camping out all of the time. Food was surprisingly pretty good in the chow mess hall except during Tet we got pretty low on fuel because we couldn't get re-supplied helicopters and planes because they were getting shot up and that kind of thing, so we ran pretty low on fuel for a while and it was ham and beans for a while and C-rations. In the morning , a lot of times, if I was out in the field I would just eat C-rations which would be lunch, sometimes cold, sometimes hot, it depends. It wasn't too bad.
When I, after Khe Sanh, Khe Sanh was even more primitive than that when I was stationed up there, and I was stationed up there when we first started, when the whole battle the first siege on Khe Sanh started. They'd put a Recon team in and when they got ambushed pulled `em back up, another team came in and they got ambushed. Then we started getting incoming and we finally pulled the helicopters out of there. And I ended up going back there flying in there, virtually every day for I guess about a month. Anyway, after that I went aboard ship, I was aboard ship for about three months. The first six months I basically lived in tents and it was pretty primitive.
Then I was on board ship for three months off the DMZ on board a carrier called the Valley Forge, it was a Korean war carrier, CVA, converted over to a LPH helicopter carrier and that was actually very nice, cramped quarters up in the bow, I had a roommate, guy named Ray Drennon and we, as far as, the food was food very, very good, the quarters were lousy. It was aboard ship, in a bulkhead. You know, the room was probably 8x10, but it had a hanger deck to work, play basketball on and goof off and most of the time I read. The ward rooms were nice we watched movies which was nice, got ice cream every day which we never used to, we didn't get that at Pho Bai or Quang Tri or Khe Sanh. There was clean linen and so forth, so it was like a small, small city it was pretty good.
As far as there I went down to Moa Mountain, we lived in Quonset huts and actually they were pretty nice, they were air conditioned and the O-Club was pretty nice the mess was pretty nice and it was a regular full-time, full-fledge base. Certainly, the conditions for the aircrafts were excellent as they were aboard the carrier. Conditions for aircraft in Pho Bai and Quang Tri and Khe Sanh were pretty dismal.
I went from Boy Scouts to shipboard life which I was used to from being in the Navy, before when I had been aboard, before I had been at Vietnam. I was kind of used to that wasn't too bad Moa Mountain was pretty nice, actually the area was beautiful. I was at Tet, actually right before and I was stationed at Hue, during the monsoon season; that was miserable; aboard ship, it was raining somewhat, the climate trying to change.
But when I worked on Moa Mountain, that was during the dry season, it was absolutely beautiful. And the countryside around me was absolutely gorgeous. We were right on the beach. It was a very nice area-- very lush, very beautiful. Vietnam was a very, very beautiful country.
KT: Describe your homecoming. Were there any, were you aware of any hostility towards veterans?
RW: No. It's kind of funny. I flew back, and actually my roommate Ray Drennon and I arranged to come back together on the same plane. We met our wives in Chicago and had an abbreviated honeymoon for a week, and then I went to Wisconsin, spent another week there, and then went down to Camp LeJune. And so, I was not, I wasn't wearing, I was wearing civilian clothes. There were no hostilities. Then we thought Camp LeJune certainly, you know, aboard down the base there, there were no hostilities. I think the mid-west and where I live there was some general support for the people who were in the service. After I got out, I noticed it. You know, in 1970, `72 before we got out, I noticed much more of the situation.
KT: Looking back, how do you feel about your military service and how do you think it affected the rest of your life?
RW: As I said, I loved the service and that time I was in the service. I was a career Marine officer. I was the youngest major in the Marine Corps, one of the most highly decorated Marine Corps pilots; I had a great career going. If my wife hadn't died I would have stayed in for 30 and would've retired at age 49. I also loved my tour in Vietnam; the only thing I missed was my wife and children. If I had my wife and children there, I would have loved it. The difference was, I think, I was doing something positive; I was saving lives when I was flying in Vietnam.
And, secondly, like I said before, it's like you train for a game you never get to play. Over there, we get to play the whole game, and it's kind of like, almost cowboys and Indians. You know, we're the good guys and the bad guys, and the bad guys have the good guys surrounded and all of a sudden we come in and rescue them; and it was very, very rewarding. I mean, several hundred marines owe me their lives, and I felt that I was doing very, very good and I loved the flying. The flying was really challenging. They'd lock you up if you'd try to fly out like that in the United States. They wouldn't let you. I mean, you'd break every aviation rule going. But over there was you were flying "balls to the wall," wide open all the time in maximum force and can't do that here in civilian situation.
I think as far as affecting my life, certainly my life changed obviously when my wife died and I was left with two small children. I subsequently remarried and had two more children but I think I have a good life and I like what I'm doing.
But I think my perspective has changed somewhat from what I wanted out of life after Vietnam; certainly I saw a lot of horror and lot of gore, but I saw a lot of heroic things happen. I think I learned a lot more about team work and about how important it is to take care of your people that you can depend upon to work with and I think the lessons I learned from the Marine Corps have carried over to my current life. I think it has made me more tolerant, maybe a little less cynical, more open minded; I think what I got out of Vietnam was an appreciation for life and how proud your life can be and also; the appreciation for sacrifice and team work and peoples. You know, a lot of people put their lives on line for other people and you don't see that much anymore. Everyone looks out for themselves, and over there if you had a buddy trapped or a friend got shot down, you go get him; and you do your damnedest. If I had to go pick up a Medivac if I possibly can get the hell in and get the hell out, I'd get the hell in and the hell out, without totally endangering your group. It was a given you were going to get shot at. You know you can't do anything about that. But if physically you could get the heck in and get the heck out you did it. I think I really appreciate the people I served with.
I served with a lot of very, very talented, a lot of very good people. And I think it made me a little cynical about politics, I think, and the political process and the whole nine yards as far as, you know, what's going on.
KT: What advice would you give the youth of today?
RW: In what regard?
KT: From your life experiences and how you've, what you've experienced. What would you give for advice?
RW: Enjoy being young. I certainly, I loved my time when I was in college, all my time I was in prep school. I knew it was gonna be one of the best times in my life. I think people should really enjoy it. Don't sweat the small stuff. In the long run, it's not that important. Life is precious and certainly, I had a bunch of friends who lost their lives in Vietnam. I think you shouldn't take it for granted. I think people should, kids today should have interest in things, not take things for granted, kind of like have a love for learning. Be interested in things; I think,don't be to self-centered, you know, you kind of get back what you give. If you give a lot, you get a lot. I think a lot of people are too materialistic today. In some ways, I think people don't nurture a relationship when they should. Your friends are important. I'll tell you, that's one thing you learn in the service that your friends and your life is on the line. They're depending upon you. It makes a different kind of person out of you really. And again, you don't know how people are going to react when they get in that kind of situation and under that kind of stress. Some people don't take it and some people do take it. I think people should appreciate what they've got.
Certainly today's youth has a huge advantage as far as technology, as far as standard of living, as far as medical. I mean, The odds are real good that you will live to be a 100. The odds are outstanding, the fastest growing age group in the United States. So they ought to take care themselves. That's one lesson I learned. I've always played sports all my life and been very involved in athletics. I got involved in a very bad automobile accident twelve years ago and at one point they thought I was going to lose my leg, thought I was never going to walk again; but I was in superb shape when it happened and I recovered. And I think one of the things is I don't smoke, I don't really drink, never did drugs and I think that's a big benefit to a long life-- getting exercise and staying healthy.
Health is the most important thing you can do and anything you do to jeopardize your health is just dumb. It's like smoking. If you think about it logically, I never smoked because logically, and I had a mother and father who smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. Logically, I can never come to the realization of putting smoke in my lungs. That's why I probably didn't do marijuana. It just made no sense to me. You wouldn't walk into a room filled with smoke and breath it, so why would you put smoke into your lungs? So I never did. But I think if people think before they act; don't be too quick to judge.
One of the best quotes I ever heard, I tell you, is my father once said to me, he was kind of like I am, kind of independent, I'm probably just like him, in some ways, then I'm a little more fiscally conservative and probably socially pretty liberal, but I think one of the best things:" If you're twenty and you're not a Democrat you have no soul if you're forty and you're not a Republican, you have no mind." There's a certain amount of, actually a lot of amount of truth in that statement. The end result is that people should enjoy their lives today. Don't take for granted your health and what you have. I think the future is as bright or brighter then it was for my generation.