Captain Richard Fulton is interviewed by John Thomas Wiseman.
- What is one of the more memorable or impactful experiences during your National Security Career?
The answer would have to be found in the years I spent in the reserve components of the United States Army, especially the Infantry experiences. I was a student at Pittsburg State University, following two enlistments in the Air Force. A friend knew I missed military life, and encouraged me to join the local Kansas Army National Guard unit. It was Company A, 3d of the 137th Infantry, 69th Infantry Brigade (Separate), Kansas Army National Guard. Because of prior military service and a number of years spent in USAF Security Police, I joined the ranks as a sergeant (E-5) and was assigned as a fire team leader in the company’s third platoon.
The Vietnam War was still going on and few people wanted to serve, so the company was at about sixty percent strength. About half had joined the Guard for less than patriotic reasons, yet some of them were very good soldiers. The other fifty percent were mostly Vietnam veterans, and the Kansas National Guard took good care of us, allowing us to grow. We did a lot of training in the strip pit lands of southeast Kansas, training mostly oriented towards squad and platoon tactics, We drilled one weekend a month, plus two weeks in the summer at regular Army posts, I went from fire team leader to squad leader, attended NCO Academy in Iola, Kansas (the hometown of General Fredrick Funston, a famous soldier at the turn of the century), and had free access to an impressive library of military manuals and regulations. As a university student the Guard became, as much as anything, a hobby, though one which paid, and which also had a unique purpose.
As a result of the Guard experience, I decided to try and become a commissioned officer. The university ROTC offered a one-year compression program. Students did MS-III and MS-IV together, two separate classes, each semester, plus the regular coursework of other classes, and also had to attend a summer camp. I became an ROTC cadet second lieutenant, and it was a paid USAR service. I missed my friends in the local unit, but enjoyed my classmates, even though I was older than them. One of those folks went on to become a three star general. Another was a colonel and dentist. Yet another was a JAG lawyer, all this on down the road, of course. The war mostly ended for America. Infantry lieutenants were no longer needed.
The Army said I was to become an AG officer. I had a choice so I completed the coursework, but resigned the program, enrolled in graduate studies, and returned to the National Guard. The company commander assigned me as acting platoon sergeant, and then a month later, as acting platoon leader. In terms of rank, I was a staff sergeant, but I did enjoy the year of commanding third platoon. Until 1975 we trained to the standard of being called to active duty and deployed back across the Pacific. What happened in 1975 ended that, of course, but we continued to train to a harsh standard under the command of officers who were Vietnam veterans. They taught us well. In 1976, because of our manpower problem, the Kansas NG decided to change us from an Infantry battalion into a combat engineer battalion. Officers started arriving in the units. I was given the task of being the company training NCO. Being in a combat engineer company was neat because we were trained in a lot of different skill areas, including demolitions. That was especially fun. My PMOS remained 11B30, though I had been given and had passed the 11B40 testing. The duty MOS was now 12B.
By 1977, I had finished a master’s degree in History and had been hired as a civilian employee at Fort Leavenworth. My job as a GS-7 was to be the editor of the LAMP weekly post newspaper. It was too far to drive for weekend drills, so I asked for discharge from the Guard, to join a new USAR company that was forming in Kansas City. That was the 308th PSYOP. I became an HC team leader, then company training NCO, then acting field first, then acting first sergeant. I always forgot the word “acting” and just did the job at hand. In 1979, following a Department of Defense Information School course, the Army offered me a GS-9 position at Fort Hood. I became the managing editor of the metro-sized four section weekly newspaper, the Fort Hood SENTINEL. As a civilian employee I supervised military journalists from three different headquarters companies within a separate brigade and two divisions. We all worked at the post Public Affairs building. The command information officer was a captain, Charley Schill, and the NCOIC was also our cartoonist, Sergeant First Class S. J. Stout, a really great soldier (and former Marine). The captain knew of my reserve activity, so he told me to handle daily operations with the mindset of a soldier, rather than of a GS-9 civilian employee. I did, and we had a great newspaper in those years, with most excellent soldiers doing most of the heavy lifting. It was a very unique organization, and the people were just plain fun to be with.
On the weekends I still wanted to soldier some, myself, so I initially joined the 100th PAD at state headquarters in Austin. Yet I missed the grit of a combat unit so when the year in the public affairs detachment was up, I went to A Troop, 1-124th CAV and became an E-6 in the Infantry squad of the Temple-based troop. You can trust me on this. There are no finer people to be in the field with than Texas National Guard troops. Every weekend we went to north Fort Hood’s brush, and it was fine training, especially when troop worked against troop. I always came home happy after those weekends, and had the extra-added benefit of learning about the same training areas, which regular soldiers used. Being able to walk the walk and talk the talk is just vitally important in any National Security activity. The Army again sent me back to DINFOS at Fort Benjamin Harrison and this time I took the Public Affairs Officer course. When I returned to Fort Hood I was promoted to GS-11 and assigned to be the III Corps public information officer.
One day at work I looked up and there were three officers from the Texas Army National Guard. They knew I was one of their staff sergeants so we a yes sir kind of conversation, which as it turned out was a question from the Texas AG, MG Willie Scott, asking if I would consider becoming a direct commission captain and spending weekends back in Austin as a Public Affairs officer. My internal SSG heart leaped, I passed the physical, and then it was time for summer camp. Two sets of orders arrived, one with the cav troop as a SSG, and one with a brigade to be the PAO as a captain. I called state headquarters and asked what to do. I was told to do what I wanted, and of course captain pay was higher…but I was initially somewhat in a pickle about how to properly act. I knew the work. I knew Fort Hood, which was hosting the annual training, but suddenly becoming “one of them” was a mindset not easily achieved. Fortunately, the Texas NG officers took me in hand and quickly–well, over the course of a year– got me squared away.
The Army then asked me to go to Korea to be the speechwriter for General John Wickham who were the UNC/ROK-US CFC/USFK CinC, and EUSA CG. In Korea I spent a year as a USAR Civil Affairs officer, until reserve duty interfered with regular DAC responsibilities and I resigned at about the 18-year point. My plan was to return to the states after the Korea tour and to finish out my -20 or -30 as an NCO, but life did not allow that plan to happen. I never did get to work for General Wickham and think that to be sad. I have great admiration for his style of leadership. Instead, I learned how to be a four-star’s speechwriter during the time General Robert Sennewald was the CINC. I am very grateful for all he taught me about application of words to the mission. The next two CINCs had been battalion commanders of Infantry in the Vietnam War, General Bill Livsey and General Lou Menetrey. They were great people to work for, and to assist in various ways during those stressful times. Initially General Livsey thought I was just a DAC and our initial meeting was tense. He asked if I knew what it meant to be a soldier. I told him of my background, and we just seemed to click. I did understand things he said to me, that I doubt other DACs lacking military experience would have, It was the same with General Menetrey. My job was to listen, sometimes as the hair was let down, and to keep my mouth shut about various conversations. It was also to think about things from a 4-star viewpoint, as words were selected, but not to try and be a four-star myself, nor to be some sort of mind reader.
I had two tours as speechwriter in Korea, and was directly invited back by General Livsey to have the second tour. All elements of the military world are important, air, land, and sea, and joint and combined activity is a must in our modern world. I was able to grow into a speechwriter position because of the time I had spent in the reserve components, learning the daily business of soldiering or of being an airman. To anyone considering a National Security career—and now I am talking directly to people who want to be federal civilian employees– never forget that people are the most important resource. The best way to understand that fact is to invest some personal time in being a reserve member. To walk the walk and to talk the talk gives you linkage and credibility with colleagues of all types and with the people you serve. In all cases, whatever the task or the position, always adhere completely and wholeheartedly to proper military standards because they are the foundation stones of National Security.
- What is one of the most valuable lessons you learned from your NS time?
My answer would be found in an exploration of the armed forces, and why they are needed.
My wife and I are both from frontier stock, in my case going –it is alleged in family records–back perhaps to a sailor who made a voyage to Jamestown, and more provable, family to family to family, through New England, New Jersey, Virginia and Kentucky, back to the Pilgrims and the landing in 1620. The great great great (whatever) grandparents back then were John Alden and Priscilla Mullins. My wife’s people were latecomers and did not come to North America until the Civil War, that is the English Civil War. In both cases, they were in North America at least a couple, and more likely more, of generations before the American Revolution.
I am a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, and the organization traced my lineage on my mother’s side to a colonel named Emerson, though I really wanted to get in on the organization based on the memory of a soldier and his son who both died the harsh winter at Valley Forge. My dad was born in 1904, and did not marry until he was 40. He only had one arm, so in World War II he served in the Illinois State Guard. His father, my grandfather, was born right after the Civil War, but had a brother (my great uncle) who was in Mr. Grant’s Army at Vicksburg. In that same war we had a distant relative who was a Confederate general officer, a man named Rodes. My great grandfather had moved from Kentucky up into Illinois just before the Black Hawk War, and served in that fight in company with a member of the force named Lincoln.
We had people in the Mexican War and the War of 1812, struggles out along the frontier, and then, as I mentioned, in the Revolution. Before that time, family members served in colonial militia, and in the struggles clear back to King Phillip’s War, as well as many skirmishes on the frontier. We had family with Daniel Boone’s company, down on the dark and bloody ground of Kentucky. One of the family members from New Hampshire, earlier, was a woman who was kidnapped by Canadian Indians and repeatedly raped as she was being taken north. One night all the Indians, six or seven, went to sleep without posting a guard. She laid hands on a tomahawk and killed them all, then made her way south. Another family member back in colonial times was a man who shot a sheriff. They branded him on his thumb for doing so, but he survived. Tough times and tough people.
Those are the folks I come from, and the tradition continued through the times of the 20th century. I had a great uncle with General Pershing’s AEF in France in World War I. Another uncle, my mother’s half brother, was a sailor in the war, and also made it to France. In World War Two I had a cousin who was a Marine in the islands and then immediately after the war was a China Marine, who was recalled for Korea. He carried a BAR, a weapon I also became familiar with myself in Libya in 1962. Another cousin was one of the Merrill Force Marauders in Burma. Our folks were always out on the edge in the westward movement. When I was three my grandfather Fulton gave me a rusted shut revolver he had carried many years before. My mother had a freak about that, but I was fascinated—and hooked. My own grandchildren are going to inherit a raft of firearms. My great grandparents are buried in Havre, Montana. All mentioned because it was a constant struggle for us Americans as we went west, and built a Nation that then was filled in by a lot of Johnny Come Latelys.
Well, information mentioned because every event in our own nation building was done by ancestors of people alive today. We all come from tough and hearty stock, though some earlier than others, and we all have a shared History that had, at bedrock, a foundation based on courage. It wasn’t just the Indians and the British and the French and the Mexicans that had to be faced. It was also disease, wild game, wilder rivers, outlaws, harsh weather, unknown terrain that required the achievement of knowledge about, to then overcome. After we became a Nation, our local and colonial militias became a national Army and a national Navy, with a Marine Corps. Later we also had a Coast Guard and we had an Air Force, too. Why did we need these things, especially in times that were allegedly peaceful (though peace was always questionable out on the frontier).
Take the Army. What good was it for us to waste a lot of tax dollars on such a structure, long thought to be a warehouse for drunks and vermin. Wellllllll, my take on that – and keep in mind I wore a uniform some – is that people having such opinion are just ignorant, and are people who lacked the fortitude to serve themselves.
Let me tell you what an Army is all about, besides being a structured fighting force with a proud winning heritage, especially in Vietnam.
An Army is a place for a young citizen to make a personal contribution to society and to the Nation. Years spent in service are times to mature and to gain awareness of the importance of discipline and of service.
The United States Military, especially the Army, was a force that provided protection, and in a lot of different ways. It trained and educated much needed engineers. These were the map drawers, the cartographers, who surveyed the west and laid out the networks of roads and railroads.
It was the Army, which brought education to remote western settlements, as well as healthcare, law and order.
It was the Army—Zebulon Pike, Lewis and Clark– who went “out there” and then came back and told all of us of the vast potential of the frontier.
It was the Army that ran the Military Road, which linked a fort near St Paul, Minnesota with posts or cantonments in Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. This road was patrolled by soldiers, with plains tribes on one side and settlers on the other. It was the army that defended the Santa Fe Trail and had posts out along the Oregon Trail. It was the Army that first patrolled Yellowstone Park, and which handled issues of safety and security in Alaska.
It was the Army which learned, applied and taught the importance of science and technology to National Defense – communications, medicine, dental care, flight– all things having national applications. It was the Army, which laid out and built the network of roads and highways, by applications in which so many ways motorized the Nation, investigated and applied microwaves and use of the chip now so common in so many gadgets and computers. It was the military, indeed, that first used computers, and which also led the way into outer space.
So why have an Army? Do we need one? You bet.
- What was one of the most difficult experiences you faced during your NS time?
The citation is the way Colonel Al Lynn, 7th Air Force Director of Information saw my duty performance, he and other supervisors. To properly answer your question, I believe I need to tell you how I remembered that same period, especially those months of February, March, April and May 1968, the time the decoration was all about.
I had been trying to get a Vietnam assignment since 1963, but it did not happen until October 1 of 1967. I deployed to Saigon from Seoul, actually Kimpo airfield to Tan Son Nhut air base, and was assigned to 7th Air Force DXI, headquartered at Tan Son Nhut, a sprawling military location that hosted MACV plus the 7th Air Force, headquarters, a large number of many types of aircraft (RF-101s, F-4s, C-130s, C-123s, C-124s, C-133s, AE-1s, O-1s, indeed, at one time or another, every different kind of plane that flew in the theater, at one time or another), and was also the Republic of Vietnam’s largest civilian airfield. The place was so large it took a battalion strength of USAF cops, plus twice as many RVN police and VNAF cops to secure it during each 8-hour shift. The RVN Vice President lived at Tan Son Nhut, and there was a large Air America (CIA) aviation operation located there.
Every day many soldiers rotated through the installation, some going R and R, others home in body bags shipped by the war’s largest mortuary. Tan Son Nhut is where the war was run from, and was the home of General William Westmoreland during his time in Vietnam. There were tremendous support facilities, miles of parking spaces, miles of runway, and many different encampments and housing spaces, some in three story concrete barracks, others in squad-sized a-frame huts that were surrounded by chest high walls of sandbags. The perimeter had left over fortifications from the French days, plus miles of minefields and wire entanglements. Inside the base there were crisscrosses of fortifications, plus homes for VNAF families, lots of clubs, a massive base exchange facility. If it flew or was connected to the war, it was on Tan Son Nhut, and that includes the large helicopter field that was also inside the perimeter, in fact quite close to where I worked.
When I first got to Vietnam I was assigned to the in-country airlift commanded headed by a one star general. It was an interesting organization, with lots of planes coming in from overseas but then lots of flights going out to places in Southeast Asian locations. The general flew a lot of C-123 missions himself and took along his Public Affairs troops to write stories about what we saw. I would have been happy doing that the entire tour but the stories written went through the 7AF DFXI and MACV clearance and distribution mechanism and I soon found myself with a sort of promotion, I was sent to the 7AF DXI Internal Information and Special Projects unit, given the job of writing reports about Air War North, the Rolling Thunder missions in North Vietnam.
I got up about 0230 each morning, went to the intelligence facility and was given unclassified information about the previous days strikes, the crews and their home towns, unit of assignment (usually at an air base in Thailand), and results of the strike. This series of paragraphs was then added to similar work done about in-country air missions. The editor reviewed the work, and then forwarded it to MACV for review and clearance. It came back to us with corrections, which were done, then was retyped into a document having a letterhead. Several hundred copies were made to be released that evening at the Joint US Public Affairs Office daily briefing about all phases of the war for the past 24 hours, and given to the civilian media present. This was the infamous Five O’Clock Follies. I did this work until Rolling Thunder ended, then having a new staff sergeant stripe, was put in charge of in-country distribution of the 7th Air Force NEWS, a weekly metro sized newspaper printed in Tokyo at the Stars and Stripes facility in Raponggi.
It was my job to gather cleared stories and features, as well as photos, and to send them to a pair of USAF Msgts in Tokyo who put the newspaper together, and then ship large pallets of papers back to Tan Son Nhut that I and assistants broke down and sent around to the various air bases. I also had some special projects to do, one of which was a collection of weekly clips about the war from magazines and newspapers both in the states and elsewhere, given to the generals.
In January 1968, 12 of us NCOs had been moved from a three story concrete barracks to a hut in the camp near the entrance to the heliport. The end of the month there were rumors that the enemy was going to attack Tan Son Nhut. Several of us had walked to the BX and, coming back, had stopped to chat with Army guards on the entrance of the heliport. They knew we had no weapons so told us that, if anything happened, to try and get to their position for cover. We said we would. That night none of us took off our clothes or our boots, but we did try and sleep. I remember waking up about 0300 and seeing a stream of heavy machine gun tracer fire ripping over the top of the hooch about 12 feet up. Most went for the bunkers in the immediate area. Some men from other duty sections and myself ran to the heliport. Flares and tracer streams were popping all over the place. To get to work we had to cross the helicopter landing field, go over a perimeter fence, down in a ditch, cross a road and then climb a board fence into the 7AF Headquarters area, the place where the HQ was, the O Club, the NCO Club, the Airman’s Club, the library, the headquarters squadron office, the buildings of the DXI, the buildings of various other staff functions, and a large clump of trailers where senior staff lived. Down in the shadows of the ditch, there was a security police gun jeep and they almost shot us but we were hollering. They covered us as we climbed the board fence. There were VC snipers throughout the area, and exchanges of fire were heard from near and far.
I arrived at the colonel’s office right after Master Sergeant Bob Need, NCOIC of the combat news branch, and Tsgt Dave Lardy who was a 600 Photo Squadron photographer who had been assigned to DXI for his tour. Our officers all lived in villas downtown and were trapped by street fighting. Bob and Dave were scrounging revolvers from the desks of our colonels and were also loaded up with helmets and flak jackets plus a couple cameras each. They were headed for the end of the runways where several regiments of Viet Cong were attempting to enter the base and were being held off by USAF Security Policemen. I wanted to go with them but Msgt Need ordered me to stay and to get the directorate up and running. I was to try and contact our officers, especially Colonel Lynn, and report status, plus to keep in touch with the base command post. They left and I started working the phones. This was inside a plywood building. A gunfight erupted just outside between a couple of cops and a couple of VC. I took my phone with me and worked from under the deputy DXI’s desk. Desk. It was not until 1600 hours that one of our officers finally found a way to get in. We had sent out one short news feature by Teletype to MACV for clearance. It was approved and we teletyped it on down to JUSPAO downtown. Lots of photos were taken by Need and Lardy, but several of their cameras were severely damaged during the fighting, as they fell on them.
The next few days were very tense. That first night there was a major company sized fight just outside the fence from the base exchange. We saw tracers go in many directions; tracers of various colors, plus a red flare went up at one point, which signaled a breakthrough. The only weapon I had was a sheath knife. Soon though a green flare popped which meant the enemy had been stopped. I think the soldiers involved were ARVN. We also had a lot of Army support, a cav squadron raced in and heavily engaged. Army helicopters, including Snakes (AH-1s) fired rockets and 40mm grenades plus machine guns. It went on all day. I saw two men shot off the top of water towers. We had rounds hit around us as we tried to gather stories in the daytime. I did a story about Ssgt Clarence Stokes who was NCOIC of the armored cars and the ammunition resupply trucks for the security police. He had been my flight commander in Libya in 1963 and 1964.
By the second day all the troops were in, and regular work was under way. At night we started receiving 122mm rockets. We had several wounded and two killed in the directorate, SGT Rick Ramsey and Airman John Kopfer, both now listed on Panel 40-E of the Vietnam Wall. They died in mid-February. Rick had been my first friend in country. One night Charlie hit Tan Son Nhut with a barrage of about 80 rockets. Afterwards only three aircraft on the base had not been hit.
In the end of February the combat news organization needed to be reestablished. Rick was dead, Bob Need was wounded so badly that he had to be medically discharged, all the rest were in field hospitals in Saigon or else had been shipped to Cam Ranh Bay. Up-country manning was very bad too. The colonel re-assigned me to Combat News Branch as a military journalist and sent me to the Information Office at DaNang to write stories about Air Force activities in I Corps in support of Marine and Army units.
I went to Hue several times, and also to Dong Ha and the end of March made it to Khe Sanh. The siege was still going on. We went in on a Marine helicopter because no fixed wings were landing and shot a lot of film of Marines defending the base camp, and of USAF air attacks in the vicinity. Once our film was gone we were able to go out on the first fixed wing that actually landed. There was a lot of incoming fire, some mortars, and some small arms. I saw a Marine shot in the head and others wrapped in ponchos. The night we were there we acted as spotters for a team of Marines using a .50 HMG loaded with tracer to mark enemy shooters firing at the camp, that were then engaged by Marine riflemen. From DaNang we flew several missions aboard C-47 Spooky aircraft operating in I Corps. On one of the flights, near Hue, we fired at a sampan believed to be carrying rockets. It exploded. I also went with civil affairs personnel to take supplies to refugee camps in Hue. That mission was aboard a C-7A cargo plane of the USAF, and was the first fixed wing to land at the Hue city strip. I also flew aboard PSYOP O-2 aircraft that was working a section north of the DMZ. The area came under fire from an offshore destroyer while we were there. That mission got me a Yankee Air Pirate Patch for my flight suit.
I sent out a lot of stories that 59 days and then was sent back to Tan Son Nhut. We landed right in the time of the mini-Tet fighting. My boss in I Corps sent Colonel Lynn a nice letter for my records, and I think that was part of the decision to award me the Bronze Star. He was Lt Col Al Cochrane, a fine man to work for. I was talking about Khe Sanh and used the pronoun “we” because we did a lot of work as a small team, which included a sound and radio man, a motion picture photographer, and a still photographer in addition to the cameras I also used. In all that time of those four months anything accomplished was always done as a team effort.
Later in 1968 I also did field team work in II Corps and in III Corps, twice in company with 8th Aerial Port Combat Controllers Tsgt Morty Freeman and Sgt Jim Lundy. They were the two Lt Col Joe Jackson earned the Medal of Honor picking up from Kham Duc Special Forces Camp when it was over run. We also worked with 25th ID soldiers and with 5th SF soldiers at Trang Sup and Thien Hnong SF camps. Personnel of combat news were on non-crew member flying status and we flew a lot of different kinds of missions, always writing accounts of them.
In early 1969 I was given the job of working for a captain and setting up an installation Office of Information for Tan Son Nhut, I had this job until my time in Vietnam ended (23 months) the first of September of 1969. I was also awarded a USAF Commendation Medal. (See picture below)
- What advice would you give new personnel thinking about starting a career in National Security? (See picture below)