Richard W. Campbell
U. S. Army
Dates of Service: 01/1968 - 10/13/1971 rel to Reserve
Platoon Leader, 1st Air Cavalry Division
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Richard was born in Shreveport at the Shumpert Hospital as the only child of Dr. Paul Murdock Campbell, an osteopath and a veteran, and Lorraine Whiteman Thomas Campbell. The family lived in Minden in "a wonderful neighborhood" near "lots of baby boomer kids," Richard remembers. In high school he played in the band and ran track on a team that won the state championship. Even at that age he knew he wanted to study medicine, but chose dentistry because "I liked doing things with my hands." Richard graduated from Minden High School in 1964 and earned a bachelor's degree in English from Louisiana Tech. He volunteered for the U.S. Army, although he could have taken a deferment for his flat feet and for his status as the only surviving son. Richard took basic and advanced individual training in infantry at Fort Polk near Leesville, Louisiana. He then entered Officer Candidate School (OCS) in infantry on July 20, 1969 at Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia. OCS was "very, very, very difficult physically and mentally," he says, where sleep deprivation and high levels of harassment affected performance. The training, however, was "outstanding. It was almost like going to graduate school," he states. Richard completed airborne training at Benning, then jungle school in Panama. He then had to serve as a "TAC" or tactical officer for an OCS class. "It was a horrible job because you had to be a complete ass and make life just as miserable as you could for the fellows and then evaluate them under all the stress," he says. Richard arrived in Vietnam in October of 1970. "I actually looked forward to it because that's what I'd been trained to do and I was patriotic enough to think that I was doing what my country wanted and needed me to do," he says. His girlfriend disagreed, he recalls. "The lady that I might have married at the time, when she knew that I had some chance of avoiding going over there but still elected to do it, said, `I think I need to find somebody else,'" he recalls. "That left me a little bit more foot-loose and fancy-free at the time. I certainly never wanted to die but I was somewhat fatalistic about it. If it happens, it happens." Richard requested and received assignment in 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. He was given a "Recon Platoon" (reconnaissance), although it meant, he said, staying out longer in dangerous situations with fewer people. "They were all volunteers and therefore some of the finest troops that I could have asked for," he remarks. Two of his battalion commanders, G.S. Mallory and Dale Vesser were both West Point graduates. Vesser also was a Rhodes Scholar. Later that year he was transferred to 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, and assigned to B Company, a unit where he had to instill tougher discipline to bring up the low morale. "I think the training and the discipline had a lot to do with surviving because I wouldn't allow the men to dog off," he says. He calls the beginning of a firefight as "mass confusion." As leader he had to determine the direction of the fire, and see that the M-60 machine guns were returning fire. "I assure you my voice frequently went up more than one octave when all that started," he recalls wryly. Richard refused to let his men desecrate enemy bodies, but he did permit them to insert a 1st Cavalry patch between their teeth and a small sign that said, "Bravo Country." While he and his men mainly subsisted on C-rations in the field, helicopters flew out warm food "every three to five days," along with clean uniforms and other sundry items. His father sent him Louisiana Hot Sauce, which helped spice up rations, as well as tapes he recorded with news about the family and community. His mother "a prolific writer" sent him many letters. Richard came home in August of 1971, a few months earlier than a full year of service in Vietnam. He received a "compassionate" leave for his grandmother's funeral and because of his mother's precarious health. "That situation worked out, so I called and said `I'm ready to go back, man!'" he recalls. His military service, however, had ended. He enrolled in dental school at LSU in New Orleans, graduated in 1976, and returned to Minden. He married Lisa Jackson in August of 1987. They have one child. Of his surviving the Vietnam War he says, "I knew that chances really weren't that good because of what I was doing, but the Lord looked out for me." He remarks he's had only appreciation for his service from others. "I think it has something to do with the area that I live in, because I think we in the South are more like that," he states. Richard believes many positive things came out of the Vietnam War. It trained officers for later conflicts and helped bring the Cold War to an end because "we had a military complex that the Soviets were trying to keep up with." Richard wears a cap that says, "We were winning when I left," as his philosophy about Vietnam. All his friends in OCS, he says, have been successful, including many who run major companies. Concerning the war's outcome, "we were kind of whipped from within," he says. "We could have turned the tide, I think, if we'd been more aggressive." He believes the war on the ground, however "was quite good. Our tactics were good, our weapons were good, our support was good, our leadership was good." Richard now lives in his boyhood home, and attends St. John's Episcopal Church, where he serves as a senior warden. He works in several community endeavors. "I believe very strongly in community service and have endeavored to continue to give back," he says. He also leads missionary trips--ten so far to the Dominican Republic--with teams of medical personnel providing medical and dental services. He still maintains his practice in Minden.