Branches: Infantry, Artillery
Retirement Date: November 1, 2003
Number of Years of Service: 23
Number of Children: 2
City and State: Duxbury, Massachusetts
Deceased: July 28, 2022.
Awards: Alabama Distinguished Service Medal, Air Medal w/”V”, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Ranger Tab, Parachute Badge, Jungle Expert Badge, MACV Recondo Badge.
Civilian Schools & Degrees: BS and MS Degrees, Troy State University, Troy, Alabama
Summary of Assignments: 9th Infantry Division, LRRP (Operations Officer), Vietnam; Instructor, Ranger School, Fort Benning, Georgia; S-2, 3/117th Field Artillery, Alabama Army National Guard; Assistant G-1 and Assistant Chief of Staff, HQ 62nd Troop Command, Alabama Army National Guard; S-1, 87th Division, USAR, Birmingham, Alabama.
Jobs/Profession following military: Admissions Counselor, Director of Alumni Affairs, Director of Veterans Affairs, Head Track and Cross Country Coach, Public Address Announcer, Troy State University, Troy, Alabama; Guidance Counselor, Charles Henderson High School, Troy, Alabama; Announcer, WTBF Radio, Troy, Alabama; Special Investigator, Duxbury, Massachusetts.
Current hobbies/interests: Running, Competing in masters track and road racing events.
After graduating from high school in Barrington, Illinois and a year at the University of Illinois, I enlisted in the Army in August, 1964. My test scores were high enough for all the branches so the recruiter looked surprised when he asked which one I wanted and I replied, “infantry.” It was off to Fort Knox for basic combat training (BCT) and then Fort Polk, LA for advanced infantry training (AIT) where I applied for and was accepted to OCS. But there was a waiting period until the next OCS class started so four other privates awaiting orders and I were assigned to work with a basic training company where most of the soldiers belonged to National Guard units. One day in mid-cycle it was decided to take the five private-E-nothings and make us acting sergeants. Overnight, we went from no stripes on our sleeves to wearing three stripes. It was my first test of leadership because the soldiers undergoing training were not fooled and knew I held the same rank as they did.
After the BCT cycle ended, I attended a one-week film projectionist course. I learned how to thread a film projector and operate some other equipment and after passing a test, received a license with my photo and check marks by the various types of audio visual equipment I was authorized to use. Another OCS “holding assignment” took place in the post motor pool. There I was made a driver’s helper and reported to a young specialist four who delivered ice to lister bags on the firing ranges. We would drive down the hot, dusty range roads with blocks of ice bouncing around the back of the deuce and a half. After pulling up to a lister bag at a firing range, I would get out, throw a block of ice in the lister bag, and soldiers not firing their weapons would come running while emptying hot water out of their plastic canteens. After our last stop, the driver would find a range not being used, pull his truck under a tree, take out a can of wax and a rag and start polishing. Polishing military vehicles was not authorized as they are not supposed to shine but the driver was so proud of his deuce and a half you would have thought he owned it.
I reported to FT Benning, located 51st Company and was assigned to the 6th platoon with Harry Stewart as my roommate. Stew, as we called him, was from Johnson City, TN, had been in the Army for six years prior to OCS and served with the 82nd Airborne in the Dominican Republic. Stew was a tall, quiet soldier with a good heart but he could display a stubborn streak and did not put up with any nonsense. He did not talk much about when the 82nd was ordered to put down a disturbance in the Dominican Republic but he did tell of a time when his unit was receiving sniper fire from a window on the upper floor of a building. A 106 recoilless rifle was put in place and a round fired through the window. The sniper fire stopped. After graduating from OCS, Stewart deployed to Vietnam and was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division. Unfortunately, on March 10, 1967, 1LT Harry Stewart was killed in action.
The 6th platoon tactical officer, LT Ronald Putnam, was from Huntland, TN. He had a calm, reserved manner and he did not yell at the candidates. He also had a good sense of humor but candidates knew better than to laugh at a TAC. One day I walked by the table in the mess hall where the TACs were eating and LT Putnam stopped me and said, “Candidate Stetson, do you know “The Bird?” referring to a popular song by the Trashmen that had virtually no lyrics. “Yes, sir,” I replied. “Well, sing it,” he said. I then stood in front of all my classmates eating their meals and went, “Well-a, well-a, well-a, bird, bird, the bird is the word. Everybody knows the bird is the word” and so on until Lt Putnam said, “That’s enough. Get out of here.”
We ate our meals in the company mess hall but it was not a place we could relax and socialize with friends. Before entering we had to stand at parade rest as we advanced to a pull-up bar by the entrance and elevate our chins above the bar under the watchful eyes of a TAC. After entering and carrying our trays to a table, we had to sit on just six inches of a chair, backs ramrod straight, with absolutely no eyeballing (looking side to side.) We had to eat what were called square meals. That is, instead of bringing the food directly to our mouths, we had to lift a fork up from the plate until it reached chin level, then move the fork at a right angle to the mouth, open and insert food. Sometimes everyone would have just been seated and taken a few bites when a TAC would call out, “Clear the mess hall,” and there would be a mad scramble to return trays while trying to stuff down a few last bites along with a quick gulp of milk.
As we progressed through OCS we doubled timed and marched in formation to our academic classes in Building 4 (Infantry Hall.) Candidates were placed in charge of the formations and someone would lead jody calls that we repeated as we marched. One went, “Candidate, candidate, where do you roam? Candidate, candidate, so far from home. We have gone to OCS and what will we be? We will be a second lieutenant in the infantry.”
After entering a classroom in the air-conditioned building, we would stand by our desks at attention until the command was given, “Ready, seats.” Because we were often up past lights out to square away our rooms and then up early for physical training (PT), it could be difficult to stay awake during classes, especially when the lights were turned down for movies. Candidates fighting sleep could move to the end of their row and stand against a wall, but even doing that it was often difficult to remain awake. When we had to attend classes held at distant ranges out in the field, everyone loaded into what were called “cattle trucks,” long trailers with canvas tops that had benches down the sides and middle. We would pile in and before the trucks left the company area, chins would be on chests with candidates sound asleep.
One of the activities that kept candidates working long hours was the requirement that the tile floors in the barracks had to be shined to a high gloss. We would purchase a can of Butcher’s Wax at a local hardware store, get down on our knees and using a baby diaper, we would polish the floors until you could see your reflection. Of course, this meant we could not walk on the floors of our rooms. Instead, we found a way to hold on to the top of a door and swing over to the bed. TACs, however, could and did walk on our nicely polished floors when inspecting the rooms. We would return in the afternoon from training to find scuff marks where someone wearing a boot (wonder who?) had done an about face in the middle of the room.
The floors were not the only part of a room that had to be ready for inspection. The field manuals on our desks were arranged between bookends by height. We had foot lockers but the top shelves were for display only. T-shirts had to be folded in squares with cardboard inserted in them to take out the wrinkles, socks were rolled to a certain dimension and so on. The beds were made with hospital corners and the blankets pulled tight to where a quarter could bounce on them. If a bed had not been made to the proper standards, a candidate would enter his room at the end of a day and find his sheets and blankets tossed in a pile on the floor.
As we progressed through OCS the harassment eased somewhat and when we turned blue (became senior candidates), it was our turn to inflict punishment on newly-arrived candidates in neighboring companies. But as one of our TACs, LT Pulliam, liked to remind us, we were not 2LTs until after we had walked across the stage at graduation. He would tell us the story of a candidate who the night before graduation tried on his dress uniform to include 2LT bars to see how he looked. His TAC happened to walk by, saw what the candidate had done, and kicked him out of OCS for impersonating an officer. I don’t think any of us put on our “butter bars” until they were pinned on at graduation.
I did not have a car while going through OCS. If need be, Stew let me borrow his. A week before graduation, LT Putnam asked if I would be interested in purchasing an old Austin Healey he had planned to turn into a “James Bond car.” He was not able to work on the car while busy as a TAC and he was on orders for Vietnam, so he sold it to me. It was with great sadness that I read in the Army Times that CPT Ronald Putnam had been killed in action on November 11, 1966 while serving with the 1st Infantry Division. He was a good officer.
After graduating from OCS and then from Airborne and Ranger schools, Ron Neeley, my Ranger buddy, and I drove the car from FT Benning, Georgia to FT Riley, Kansas. The Healey had no back seats and a trunk with room to carry not much more than a spare tire and a shaving kit, so we rented a U-Haul trailer to carry our duffle bags and the few other things we owned like boots. The Healey was a convertible so we got good tans while en route to Kansas but half way there, the clutch gave out. Ron, however, knew how to shift a car without using the clutch. The problem was the car had to be started in first gear which made it jump and jerk until it built up speed. Most of the trip was not on interstate highway so as we drove through small midwestern towns, we would look ahead to see what the stoplights were doing. If red, we would slow down enough so that we would not come to a complete stop and if green, we would speed up to make it through before the light turned red. We arrived at Riley with no further problems and I dropped Ron off at his battalion area. The first thing I had to do was to get a permit so I could drive the car on post. I still had the U-Haul attached and was worried when I pulled into the inspection station and saw there was a ramp that cars had to be driven on so someone could look underneath and see if everything was working properly. But the inspector said I did not have to unhook the trailer and climb the ramp. Instead, he gave me a blue FT Riley sticker for the bumper and said I was good to go. I might have had the only vehicle without a working clutch to pass inspection in the history of FT Riley.
I reported to the 3rd Battalion, 47th Infantry which was part of the 9th Division’s 2nd Brigade, and was assigned to Charlie Company, “Charging Charlie.” There was much to do to prepare for the new recruits who would soon be arriving to undergo basic and then advanced infantry training. The destination of the 9th after the division had been reactivated was supposed to be top secret but we all knew we were headed for Vietnam. That meant we had better do a good job of training the new soldiers because we would be taking them with us into battle.
When the New Reliables reported in, they were given an impressive welcome to FT Riley and to the 9th Division. Soldiers found their beds made for them in barracks located in the Custer Hill portion of the post. Stationary and stamped envelopes were handed out and the recruits instructed to send letters home. A young private calling home on a pay phone was overheard to say, “And the food is pretty good. We even have cucumbers in our salads just like the ones mom fixes.”
In July, I was among officers and NCOs who received orders for the Jungle Warfare School in Panama. By then, it was common knowledge the 9th was headed for combat in a tropical environment and my battalion commander, LTC Lucien Buldoc, said I would be expected to give classes on what had been learned at Jungle School when we returned. My first class taught after attending the school was jungle hygiene and it was presented to the battalion’s officers so they might, as my lesson plan stated, “Better prepare units to live and fight in a jungle environment.”
After returning from Jungle School I was disappointed to learn I had been assigned to the headquarters company as a weapons platoon leader. The weapons of the weapons platoon were 106 recoilless rifles, anti-tank weapons. To the best of my knowledge, the Viet Cong were not using tanks and my Ranger training would be of little use when instructing soldiers how to fire of a weapon I knew nothing about. I envied a non-Ranger qualified friend who led the recon platoon, a position I thought would be perfect for me, but who was I to argue with the Army?
The young soldiers in my weapons platoon did not know any more about the 106 than I did so we were all on the same learning curve. A popular TV show at the time was “The Rat Patrol” about four Australian soldiers fighting the Germans in North Africa behind enemy lines. They rode in a jeep with a mounted machine gun and the opening scene showed the jeep jumping over a sand dune. We did not have any dunes in Kansas but there were plenty of rolling hills with dusty tank trails. I would designate one jeep as an enemy tank and the other as the “good guys” and sent them into the field for ambush patrols.
We did not get to fire the 106 rifles often as the live rounds were expensive and in short supply but we could get rounds for the 50 cal spotting rifle which was part of the weapon. One day we pulled on to a range for 50 cal practice and I noticed no red flag was flying to indicate live firing would take place. The range tower was locked and we were the only ones there. One of the soldiers had a football in his jeep and seeing an opportunity for the men to get a little PT while waiting for range officials to show up, I had the men split into two teams for a game of touch football. Eventually, a jeep pulled up with an officer from headquarters who was inspecting training on the ranges. He asked me why no training was going on and I told him we were the only ones there and that the tower was locked. “We’ll see about that” he said and drove off toward the tower while I told the men to take a break under a shade tree. Shortly, the officer returned, told me that the range operators had not shown up and that I was to “carry on.”
My faith in the Army’s assignment process was restored during the third week in October when I received word to report to division headquarters. There I met 2LT Ed Garrison, an airborne Ranger qualified Infantry OCS graduate, who was serving as a platoon leader with the 4/39th. We were told we had been selected to help form a new unit the 9th Division was creating called a Long Range Patrol Detachment (LRPD). Similar units were operating with success in Vietnam and had enhanced the intelligence gathering capabilities of American units. We were instructed to begin an immediate search for volunteers and that the unit would undergo training in Panama in November before departing for Vietnam.
We sent word to 9th Division units that we were looking for volunteers to form a long range patrol unit. There was not much time for the selection process and we pretty much had to accept any soldiers who volunteered but we did try to interview each man and give him an indication of what the unit would do and what we expected. When the interviews were completed, 34 volunteers were selected from a cross section of the Ninth Division. We wound up with 11 from the 39th Infantry, 10 from the 47th Infantry, 9 from the 60th Infantry, 2 from the artillery, 1 from the signal battalion and 1 from the 9th Admin Company. We tried to incorporate the maximum amount of training into the brief period before the scheduled departure to Panama in November. I emphasized physical training and required the soldiers to perform early morning runs before breakfast. The Kansas winter wind chill caused several of the men to become sick so the physical training was modified to insure everyone would be in good enough health to make it to the Jungle Warfare School.
November came quickly and it was time to fly to South Carolina and then board an Air Force C-97 for the flight to Panama. There, soldiers were divided into five-man teams and began a two-week period of instruction by members of the school’s Jungle Operations Committee. Classes were given on subjects such as jungle living, land navigation, and the identification of local plants and animals. Tropical fruits such as bananas and coconuts were eaten and the instructors even demonstrated how snakes could be cooked and offered samples of the reptile meat. The students were cautioned to be careful what they grabbed hold of when sliding down the side of a muddy hill at night. The region was covered with a palm tree notorious for its long, slender needles that would easily break off in the skin. Some of the soldiers would discover tips of the needles still buried just below the surface of their skin years after going through Jungle School, a reminder of their stay in Panama.
The men had worked hard in Panama and Fort Sherman’s cadre provided the group excellent support during the additional training the unit conducted in Panama after completing the school. Most graduated with a jungle expert certificate and the conditions had given the men a realistic idea of what to expect when they arrived in Vietnam. While they were in Panama, orders were cut back at Fort Riley assigning two officers and 33 soldiers to Troop D, 3d Squadron, 5th Cavalry for “deployment, rations, quarters and administration of military justice.” When we returned to Fort Riley, however, 14 of the men decided to ask for reassignment back to their original units. Apparently, spending nights sleeping on the ground in the jungle did not appeal to some as much as they once thought.
After a Christmas leave, the long range patrol detachment was divided into two groups for the flight to Vietnam. Garrison flew with half of the unit on a C-130 which took a long time to fly from Kansas to Vietnam while my group took a C-141, a four-engine windowless jet with canvas seats that faced backwards. The men were allowed to stretch their legs as the plane refueled in Alaska and then again in Japan. The C-141’s cabin door had one small porthole-sized window that men took turns peering out as they passed by the snow-capped peak of Mount Fujiyama. When the plane began its descent over Vietnam, the men again took turns looking out the small window to get the first glimpse at the country where they would spend the next year. Down below, they saw lush, green vegetation along with rice paddies crisscrossed by small dikes. The patrol members knew that in a very short period of time they would be covering that terrain on foot.
The first sensation upon stepping out of the aircraft was a stifling blast of heat that caused everyone to begin sweating immediately. After some in-process briefings, the conversion of American dollars into military payment certificates (MPCs) and the issuing of weapons, ammo, helmets, flack vests and web gear, the men were loaded into the back of a couple of two and a half ton trucks for the ride from Tan Son Nhut Airport to Bearcat, the 9th Infantry Division’s base camp. There they were greeted by CPT Tedrick, a West Point graduate who had assumed command of the detachment in December and flown to Nam with an advance party. At Bearcat we were attached to D Troop, 3/5 Cav. It was an excellent unit to be attached to because D Troop was an aviation outfit with pilots who flew aircraft that would be extremely useful to the long range patrol: light observation helicopters that would be used when patrol leaders would take overflights of jungle areas while looking for insertion and extraction LZ’s; slicks that would drop off and pick up patrols; and gunships that could provide rocket and machine gun support if a patrol was in trouble outside of artillery range. I was housed in a tent with some of the pilots and we became close friends to the point where if a patrol needed to be extracted, sometimes at night and sometimes under fire, the D Troop pilots would risk their lives and aircraft to go get them.
After arriving at Bearcat, some of the men left the next day for the MACV Recondo School, which was operated by the 5th Special Forces Group and said to be one of the toughest, most realistic training programs designed by the Army. Located adjacent to an airfield in Nha Trang, the compound was bordered on one side by the South China Sea and on the other, by rice paddies leading up to jungle covered, enemy controlled mountains. Special Forces combat veterans provided the instruction and the final exam consisted of conducting a recon patrol in the backyard of the enemy. The three-week course tested mental and physical endurance. The student’s day began at 0500 with a 7- mile march while carrying a weapon, full combat gear and a backpack containing a 25-pound sandbag. The march, conducted in one hour and 15 minutes, was followed by two climbs up a 30′ rope ladder with the trips down on a knotted rope. After breakfast, training was conducted for subjects such as first aid where students learned how to give shots and take blood, map reading, land navigation, and extraction using a McGuire Rig (a long rope with a seat at the end that could hold three soldiers at a time as they swung high over the countryside while moving at a speed of 90 knots.)
CPT Tedrick was reassigned to a division staff position in March and when LT Garrison broke his ankle while jumping from a helicopter to a landing zone and had to be medevaced to Japan, it made me the only officer with the unit. It remained that way for several weeks until I was visited by 1LT Don Lawrence, an OCS classmate who was a rifle company platoon leader. When I told Don we were short officers he said he would apply for a position in the unit and he soon received transfer orders. We talked about who should be the commander and it was decided that even though we both had the same date of rank because we walked across the stage in alphabetical order at our OCS graduation and “L” came before “S”, he should be in command while I would be the operations officer. It was a solution that worked out well for both of us since Don had good management skills to handle paper work in the orderly room while I enjoyed getting patrol missions from the G-2 at Division, conducting overflights, planning patrols and being in the air when patrols were inserted and picked up. Plus, I was able to pick missions where I could to be the patrol leader so I would be able to observe how my men were operating. I liked the fact that the patrol leader was in complete charge of going from point A to point B and trying to find any signs of enemy activity. If we came to a trail that looked well-used, we could hide nearby and watch it for as long as we liked. The only problem would be if the patrol was spotted because most of the time we operated beyond the range of our radios and there were only a couple of times a day when a helicopter would fly in the area for a radio relay. That’s when we would give a sit rep and if we were in enemy contact, the D Troop aircraft would be scrambled.
The men performed well discovering several enemy base camps along with numerous enemy sightings and in July, the division decided to expand the unit from a platoon to a company. That’s when
the call went out for Clarence ‘Clancy’ Matsuda, commander of A Company, 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry. Matsuda was a 29-year old captain who had attended West Point and received his commission after completing OCS at Fort Benning. In May 1967, Matsuda had been awarded the Silver Star for leading his company with distinction during the Battle of Ap Bac, a fierce fight in which two of his men were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Matsuda had considerable leadership experience going back to his initial assignment as a recon platoon leader with an airborne battle group on Okinawa followed by a tour at Fort Bragg where he was executive officer of a raider detachment in the 82nd Airborne Division. His battalion commander, LTC Doty, did not want to lose an excellent company commander and traveled to division headquarters to plead his case but the division chief of staff, COL Kendall, turned him down and said Matsuda was to take over the lurps.
Going from a platoon to a company sized unit meant we needed more soldiers so I would take a couple of sharp looking men dressed in tiger striped fatigues with LRRP tabs on the sleeves and wearing black berets to the 9th Division Replacement Depot where we would give a sales pitch to the newly arrived soldiers. I would give an overview of what we did in the long range patrol, explained we had to be in good physical condition, have excellent map reading skills and that we would operate in five-man teams. I went on to say that the job was safer than being with an infantry unit because when the infantry operated in the field, the enemy knew exactly where they were and would set up ambushes and booby traps whereas we operated without making noise and the enemy had no idea a long range patrol was in their area. We would then ask for volunteers and when hands went up, we would interview the soldiers and select the ones we wanted.
Expanding to a company meant we would no longer be attached to D Troop and we needed our own barracks for the troops. The engineers would pour the slabs but members of the long range patrol had to construct the buildings. To obtain the massive amount of material needed for all the extras planned for the company area, including a separate building for their own club, the LRRPs resorted to scrounging, an age-old Army tradition at which the patrol members were quite proficient. LT Lawrence was tasked with heading up the “gathering patrols.” He located an engineer storage area stocked with piles of roofing beams, plywood, tin, and other needed construction materials. Lawrence obtained a deuce and a half, designated one of the patrol members as his driver and proceeded to the unguarded storage area to see what was there to be appropriated. He discovered that the construction materials were bound together in large stacks and much too heavy to be lifted on the truck so he found a young private operating a forklift and asked the soldier if he would be interested in receiving a genuine set of tiger fatigues, just like the ones worn by members of the long range patrol. Lawrence told the soldier all he had to do was to use his forklift to place some bundles of plywood in the back of the truck and the fatigues were his. The forklift operator said he would be happy to assist in the loading.
The long range patrol was given a portion of Bearcat on which to build their new company area. A great deal of scrounging and construction took place because besides building an NCO club, soldiers constructed an orderly room, a room to debrief patrols when they returned from missions, an operations room where maps and radios were maintained, barracks with individual rooms for the officers and NCOs and a classroom for the unit’s own recondo school to include an obstacle course. Expanding from a platoon to a company meant a large influx of soldiers, too many to send to the MACV Recondo School, so we developed our own training program based on the one run by the Special Forces in Nha Trang. A live fire quick reaction course was built outside the berm, overnight training patrols conducted along with a good amount of classroom instruction. The school was very successful and even trained some long range patrol members from the 101st Airborne. By November 1967, the final class of new patrol members had been enrolled in the 9th Division’s Recondo School. When the 23 students graduated on the 13th of the month, it would bring the long range patrol company up to 100% in strength. Matsuda selected the date to be called “Organization Day.” Not only would there be a graduation ceremony, but the unit would officially become E Company, 50th Infantry. To commemorate the occasion there would be a review of troops by the commanding general, demonstrations of LRRP’s in action and an open house to show off their new facilities.
The LRRP’s worked hard in preparation for the big event. Buildings were cleaned, equipment displays were constructed, coordination was made with pilots, rehearsals conducted for the demonstrations and practice runs were taken on the obstacle course. The company commander had the LRRP Standard Operational Procedure put in special binders and placed on a table in the entrance to the classroom building for visitors to look at. I had concerns about the SOP being placed in the open as it contained sensitive information such as how patrols were inserted but CPT Matsuda assured me that only friendly eyes would be viewing their SOP. Instead of worrying about the SOP, the LRRP commander said I needed to prepare to serve as the commander of troops for the parade formation. Matsuda explained that he would be with the commanding general in the reviewing party and that all I had to do was to salute the general and report, “Sir, your long range patrol is ready for inspection.”
Organization Day finally arrived and the company area looked spotless. So did the men in their tiger fatigues, polished boots and black berets as they stood in formation at parade rest. In my best command voice, I called the unit to attention as the commanding general approached and gave a smart salute but when I looked at the two shining silver stars on the general’s hat, I suddenly lost my composure and shouted out, “Sir, your long range patrol is ready for instruction.” The general gave a puzzled look so there was a quick correction, “I mean, ready for inspection.”
Despite the glitch by the commander of troops, the commanding general was visibly pleased with the accomplishments of the division’s long range patrol and their new facilities. In his remarks, the general praised the LRRP’s for providing “a great deal of information about enemy movements, action and supply upon which larger units could act.” After the general concluded his remarks, soldiers showed how fast they could move over the obstacle course and a demonstration of a LRRP insertion and extraction was held.
As Christmas approached there was a great deal of excitement around Bearcat when a rumor circulated that Bob Hope would give a show at our base camp. His schedule was top secret to prevent the enemy from staging a mortar attack while Hope and his singers and dancers were performing, but when a large stage was constructed it was a good indication that Hope was indeed coming to Bearcat. The famous comedian had been performing for troops overseas starting in WWll and then in Korea. I had watched a number of his Christmas shows on TV and was thrilled he was coming to see us in Vietnam. Then we received word that a long range patrol needed to be out in the jungle to give an alert if the enemy had moved into the area. Since I was very short with only a couple of weeks left in Vietnam, I decided to lead the patrol to enable another soldier to see Hope’s show. I figured the five of us on the patrol could always watch Hope’s Christmas special when we got back to the States as it was never broadcast live. My patrol had no enemy contact but it was not easy being out in the jungle while the show went on, especially when we got back and everyone said how good it was.
In early January I rotated back to the States (“the World”) where I extended for six months to serve with the Ranger School’s Patrolling Committee at FT Benning. Then it was off to college to resume my education at Troy State University (Alabama) where I ran track and cross country, married, became a father of two fine sons, entered the education profession (high school guidance counselor) and joined the Alabama Army National Guard starting as S-2 for an artillery battalion, then as G-1 for a troop command and retiring as a LTC in an Army Reserve unit. I now live in Montgomery, Alabama where I enjoy competing in road races, serving as a co-editor of a running club newsletter and traveling to attend reunions of the OCS Alumni Association, my 9th Division long range patrol outfit, the 75th Ranger Regiment and the U.S. Army Ranger Association, an organization where OCS classmate, Tom Evans, serves as president. Tom is also treasurer for the OCS Alumni Association and a good example why our class motto stated that 51st Company always “set the standards.”
Rick Stetson’s Obituary
Winslow Anthony Stetson, 78, died July 28, 2022 in Montgomery, Alabama, from complications stemming from a fall suffered while running. Rick, as he was known to all, was an avid and competitive runner, a soldier, a guidance counselor, an announcer, coach, animal lover, road trip enthusiast, and sports fan. He lived in Millbrook, Alabama.
There will be a visitation at Leak Memory Chapel in Montgomery (945 Lincoln Rd.) on Friday, August 12, at 10 a.m. All who knew him and loved him are welcome to attend. He will be buried later that day in a family-only ceremony at the Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo.
Rick graduated from Barrington High in Barrington, Illinois, in 1963. He briefly enrolled at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign before joining the U.S. Army in August of ‘64. He graduated from Officer Candidate School in 1966 and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. He served as operations officer with the 9th Infantry Division’s Long Range Patrol Company.
As a member of this Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP), Rick’s service was distinguished and exemplary. He was an Airborne Ranger who was inserted by helicopter and silently crept through Vietnamese jungles. Rick graduated from the Recondo School for jungle warfare and was an instructor at the Ranger School at Fort Benning in Georgia. He was awarded the Bronze Star for heroic and meritorious service.
After Vietnam, Rick came to Troy, Alabama, to enroll at Troy State University, where he graduated in 1972 with a degree in Physical Education and a minor in Speech. He was an active part of campus life who acted in several plays, wrote for the student newspaper, and was selected “Mr. TSU.”
His running honors are too numerous to list here: He was captain of the cross country team and held many school records. He broke his own school record, running a 4:21 indoor mile. He repeatedly broke his own 2-mile record (9:13) and also set a 3-mile record, clocking 15 minutes and 7 seconds in 100 degree heat. He was also part of a five-person team that set a world record for most miles run in a 24-hour period, staying up all night circling the track at Troy’s Memorial Stadium, covering 227 miles in a fundraiser for the Olympics.
He worked in the admissions office at TSU from 1972-74 and received a Masters in School Counseling in 1975. From 1974-78, he was the Director of Veterans Affairs, and from 1978 until 1981 was Director of Alumni Affairs. During this time, he remained a key figure in the university’s track and cross country programs. He was awarded the conference’s Cross Country Coach of the Year award and twice won the Track Coach of the Year Award.
Remaining in Troy, he then spent over two decades as a guidance counselor at Charles Henderson High School (1981-2002). He touched countless lives, encouraging students to aim higher and reach academic and career goals. He served as public address announcer for home football, basketball, and baseball games and coached the school’s track and cross country programs. He drove buses and vans – not just to competitions where he was coaching – but to debate tournaments and quiz bowl competitions.
He founded the Troy Track Club and continued running: His 2:42 marathon time in the 1972 Peach Bowl Marathon in Atlanta qualified him for the Olympic trials in Oregon for the Munich games. He finished the 1973 Boston Marathon in 33rd place with a time of 2:33:42; He stayed fast and durable into his later years. He ran the 2003 Vermont City Marathon – 3:07:53. In 2004 at the U.S. Masters National Championships, he won first place in his age group in the 5000 meters and ran a faster time than the winner of the 30-and-under division. But more significantly than any of his times, he organized countless races and encouraged the growth of the sport at a time when many thought jogging was just a fad.
He also maintained his ties to Troy State, serving as public address announcer for home football and basketball games, as well as broadcasting games for WTBF, the radio station where he had worked since college. His resonant voice was well known throughout the region.
His military career also continued. He served in the Alabama Army National Guard from 1981 until 2000 with the 62nd Troop Command, based in Montgomery. He became a Captain in 1982, a Major in 1985, and a Lt. Colonel in 1994. In 2000, he was decorated with the Distinguished Service Medal of Alabama. From 2000-2003, he was a Lt. Colonel in the Army Reserves, 1st Brigade, 87th Division, based in Birmingham, serving as brigade adjutant.
After retiring from CHHS, Rick moved north to be with his parents in their final years. He lived briefly in Barrington and then moved to Massachusetts where he spent several happy years in New England, making new friends and running on new roads. He returned to Alabama in 2013, moving first to Montgomery and later to Millbrook.
He loved competition. He inherited his father’s love for the Chicago Cubs and passed it on to his own sons. He enjoyed college football in all forms, with a special place in his heart for his alma mater. He loved hearing about the competitive successes of his sons – Scott in baseball, and Stephen in policy debate.
He was a public figure – co-hosting the Morning Show on WTBF for many years and co-hosting a show on the local television station and serving as the booming public address announcer for football and basketball games for both Charles Henderson High and Troy State. He spoke at countless Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies, often in his role as a member and commander of American Legion Post 70. He was often a Master of Ceremonies at beauty pageants or wherever needed.
He loved music and had a nice record collection, with tastes honed from his time working at the radio station as a DJ. He loved classic rock and all manner of Cajun and Zydeco music. He had a warm laugh and spoke easily to strangers. He loved to travel and enjoyed meeting up at military ceremonies and reunions and with running buddies at various races.
He loved his parents and his siblings. He had many good times visiting his siblings at their homes. He cared about extended family as well, and served as president of the Stetson Kindred of America for many years.
Rick was preceded in death by father, Win, his mother, Currie, his brother, Peter, and a brother-in-law, Leon. He is survived by his two sisters, Deb and Dede (and her husband Michael); a brother-in-law, Ron; and his sons, Stephen and Scott. He is also survived by several nephews: Nick, Alex, and James, and Gary, Simon and Daniel.
Memorials in Rick’s honor may be made to the Pike County (Alabama) Humane Society or to the Stetson Family Kindred, the family’s nonprofit. Special thanks to the hospice workers who assisted with Rick’s final weeks.