Lieutenant General retired, Randy House, is one of our Brazos Valley veterans that doesn't have to recall by memory what happened years ago as a young Lieutenant or Captain because he kept a journal entry about those events.
Randy started keeping a daily journal in 1965 and has kept a journal of each day's events since. That journal entry was made each day, sometimes at night under a poncho in a driving rainstorm in a jungle with a red lens flashlight as his light. Or the journal entry might have been entered while inside a tank. He hasn't missed a day and has the journals to prove it.
Life for Randy began in Corpus Christi in 1945. Soon after, his father, an engineer, mother and siblings moved to Houston. His mom's family were farmers and ranchers and Randy fell in love with horses and cattle. According to Randy, "In 1963 I enrolled at A&M as a pre-vet student. President Rudder was giving the fish class a welcome to campus speech in G. Rollie White Coliseum. During his speech about his experience with the Rangers at Ponte Du Hoc, lightning knocked out the lights. General Rudder put the microphone down and continued to speak in the dark. When the lights came on I punched my fish buddy that was standing next to me, Eddie Joe Davis, and said, " I don't know who this guy is but he's good."
"This was a time of great change at A&M, like changing the name from College to University, the admission of women, integration, making the Corps of Cadets not compulsory. What we all learned from General Rudder was that if change was to occur then we should embrace that change and try to lead that change. He did and look where A&M is today."
"The day I graduated as a Distinguished Military Graduate, and I received a Regular Army commission as an Infantry Officer. The next day I was headed to Ft. Benning, Georgia. There I completed my officer basic course, jump school, and Ranger school. I was now a full fledged soldier and not a veterinarian. Organic chemistry had changed my career and I now had a desire to serve as others had before me, like General Rudder."
"After completing Ranger school I was assigned to Ft. Bragg, N.C. where I was an infantry platoon leader with the 82nd Airborne. I had completed my pilots license while in college and was soon contacted by the Department of the Army. They asked if I would like to attend rotary wing school as there was a shortage of helicopter pilots. I said yes and graduated from rotary wing training in November 1969. By mid-December 1969, I was in Vietnam."
"About two days before I was to depart for Vietnam I drove to A&M to see my former faculty advisor. He asked if I had my uniform with me and I said yes. He called General Rudder and asked if he had time to visit with a recent graduate that was on his way to Vietnam. To my surprise he said come over. This my first and only personal visit with General Rudder. General Rudder told me there are two things you need to do as a combat officer. "One is that it is your duty to see that your mission is successful." The second is your duty to take care of your men. It was something I never forgot during my career."
"In Vietnam I was a helicopter Platoon leader in Charlie Company, 158th Aviation Battalion, 101st Airborne Division. Our base camp was Camp Evans in the I Corps area of Vietnam. We only had three commissioned officers in the company. Most of the pilots were warrant officers fresh out of high school and rotary wing school and were 18 to 20 years of age. They were also absolutely fearless. I still marvel at their willingness to do whatever was required to support our men on the ground. I will also never forget the bravery of the crew chiefs and gunners that were always exposed in the open door of the helicopters."
"There are two major events that occurred that tour that I will never forget. One occurred in March of 1970 when I was shot down for the first time. We were trying to supply an infantry company that was about to be overrun and they were about out of ammo. I received a call from the infantry company commander to hurry as they were fixing bayonets. As I landed you could see the enemy coming up the sides of the hill. We got the ammo off fast and as I started to take off I received fire from a .50 caliber machine gun to the right side of my helicopter taking out my windshield. About then, the engine was hit by a rocket propelled grenade or RPG. My only decision was where to land. The engine burst into flames, but we were able to make it to a bomb crater left by a B-52. I got the crew out safely and we were picked up by another helicopter from our unit.
"The second thing I will always remember was the evacuation of our infantry battalion from support base Ripcord. Ripcord would be the second biggest battle in the five-year experience of the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. I knew it was going to be a bad day when I learned the commander on the ground had been killed. He would later be awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. The battle was against overwhelming odds and those soldiers only chance of survival was to be evacuated by air. Communication lines were terrible between us and those on the ground. Our air mission commander copter was shot up so bad we lost communications. I took over the communications. We had 65 Huey helicopters but it took us all day fighting the enemy and evacuating our soldiers. I will never forget the bravery and unselfishness of the soldiers on the ground and the bravery of our pilots in the air. July 23, 1970 is a day in my journal that I have visited many times over the years. I would turn twenty-five the next day."
Randy House is a retired three-star General from the Army. He served two tours in Vietnam, one as a Lieutenant helicopter pilot, which was part one of Randy's story. His second tour was as a Captain, where he was the commanding officer of an infantry company.
According to Randy, "My second tour of Vietnam began in January 1971. I commanded C Company, 2/506th Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division. Our original location was in the mountains of the A Shau Valley. My company was composed of draftees and some volunteers. I know how some movies have depicted soldiers in Vietnam, but I had really good soldiers. We had no drug problems and no racial tensions. They were good soldiers who did their jobs and did it well. If you recall the movie Band of Brothers from WWII. This was the same type of unit I commanded. One thing I always did while we were out in the bush was I checked with each of my men individually to see how they were doing. That saying, 'you take care of your men and they will take care of you,' is true."
"An example of what I just said occurred near the DMZ in an action called Lom Son 719. This was an invasion of Laos by our South Vietnamese army. Our job was to secure the main supply route from Quang Tri to Laos. The NVA constantly tried to cut this main supply line. Our part of the line to defend was the Cam Lo Bridge area. My soldiers held our position despite repeated attacks, lived in filth, terrible downpours of rain and with mud slides. My guys never wavered. One of my men, a young machine gunner from Goliad, Texas, said to me as I was checking on him, 'Sir I think you need a PCR which is a pecan cake roll, the most prized possession in any c-ration carton. Twelve hours later, that young soldier died in my arms."
"The photo of me in a helmet occurred while we were in the A Shau Valley area. We were assigned to search for a bulldozer the NVA had that they were using to repair the roads the Air Force blew up during the day. We were out for about the third day when we discovered a huge enemy base camp. Fortunately for us, most of the base camp was empty except for the lame, sick and the lazy. This was fortunate for us because there was no way we could have survived an attack by all those that had occupied the camp."
"As we were searching for this bulldozer, hopefully without being detected by those that remained in the enemy camp, my men came across a huge mound covered with black plastic. It was totally something you did not expect to find in the jungle. Word came through my men to send up the Captain."
"When I saw this huge pile, I assumed it was a pile of rice stored by the NVA to supply food to their soldiers. As I approached the pile of black plastic, I had my k-bar knife in my left hand. I cut into the plastic and this grey stuff came pouring out. It was not rice. It was concrete that they were apparently using to build bunkers along the road that the Air Force kept destroying."
"It was then that a NVA soldier came around the pile with his AK-47 at the ready. He got the first shot off, hitting my Captain's bars on my helmet. The bullet knocked one bar off my helmet, but that bar deflected the bullet around the left side of my helmet between my helmet liner and my helmet exiting the rear of my helmet. That was the only shot that NVA got off, but he instantly turned my rank from a Captain to a 1st Lieutenant again. He attempted to permanently demote me, but that was a close as he would come."
"Headquarters sent in a contingent of folks to examine the base camp and the stockpiles we had captured. In the group were some journalists. Unknown to me, one of the journalists snapped the photo of me in my helmet. The photo appeared in the Houston Post a few days later. I had been telling my wife, Jeanie, who was back in Houston, that my job as an infantry company commander was like folding sheets back in Da Nang. After she saw the photo, she wrote and included a copy of the photo and said, 'It appears that folding sheets in Da Nang is getting a lot more dangerous.'"
“I completed my second tour of Vietnam in 1971 and was reassigned to the States. Jeanie and I decided that soldering was to be our life. I completed graduate school at Clemson and had other command appointments as my rank advanced. The only demotion I ever had was the day that NVA soldier shot off half of my Captain's bars. Fortunately, it was only a temporary demotion.”
After Randy’s second tour of Vietnam, he and Jeanie decided the military would be their life. He would receive several command positions ending up at Fort Hood, Texas in July 1990 as a full Colonel and Commander of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Calvary Division.
According to Randy, “One month after assuming my command at Ft. Hood, Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi Army invaded Kuwait. In September 1990, I was ordered to take six thousand men to Saudi Arabia. We landed in ten ships in the port, gathered our tanks, Bradleys, howitzers and track vehicles and headed to the desert.”
"From September to November, my men were spread over two hundred miles of desert along the Kuwait border. There were no roads, no trails, no Bediouns, no camels, no sheep, just sand. We trained night and day to prepare for the invasion we knew was coming. At first we trained to defend Saudia Arabia, and then we trained to attack the Iraqi forces in Kuwait and Iraq."
"In December, my brigade was moved overland to the Wadi Albilin in Saudi Arabia to prepare to attack the Iraqi forces in Kuwait and Iraq. In February, General Schwarzkopf moved the 5th Corps and the 18th Corps to our area. We received orders to start deception operations. He wanted the enemy to focus on us and our location, which was a historical invasion route. Such deception ventures up the Wadi into Iraq was met with enemy resistance, which was getting fiercer each time. That became the place the Iraqis thought we were going to invade from."
"In the meantime, General Schwarzkopf was reporting to the press that we were only conducting an aerial campaign. Meanwhile, my Brigade was suffering fourteen wounded in action and five killed in action. The first KIA was my wing-man in an adjoining tracked vehicle next to mine. We had shared conversations and meals for months. It was a tough loss for me personally.”
"This war was so different from Vietnam. We lost the support of the American people in the Vietnam War. My men in Vietnam had not decided to go to war, that was our elected officials that made that decision. It was a different situation in the Persian Gulf War. Our soldiers now had 100% backing of the American people."
"In Vietnam, as a twenty-five-year-old Captain out in the bush, I would go from foxhole to foxhole each night and had to answer questions like “why are we here?” In this war, as a 45-year-old Colonel, I tried to visit as many of my men as I reasonably could each night. No soldier ever asked the question, “why are we here?” The difference in the support of the American people made an unbelievable difference in the moral of my men. Also, my unit was 100% volunteers."
"One role that is not mentioned enough is the role of families in time of war. Most Americans have no clue as to the sacrifices made by the families of our military. I have been married to Jeanie for 50 years now and she sent me off to war three times. My men had to obey my orders. Back in Ft. Hood, she was left in charge of the families of 6,000 men. She had to lead by example in showing her dedication to those families. She did a great job with those families. She is the more gifted leader in our family."
"I have been retired now for eighteen years. I didn’t think much about my service while on active duty, but I have since. Looking back, I am honored to have been a soldier and to have served my country. I have served under some great leaders and have been blessed to have had some wonderful young soldiers under my command."
"When you have a soldier die in your arms or a fellow officer killed in the armored vehicle next to you that you have shared meals and conversations with, those are tough losses to deal with. Lastly, I feel lucky to be alive and to have retired to College Station, Texas, one of the most patriotic communities imaginable for solders, sailors, airmen and marines. It’s a place where we are honored and respected.
As Lee Greenwood’s song says, “I’m proud to be an American. See you on the high ground.”
If you know a World War II, Korean, or Vietnam War veteran whose story should be told, please contact the Brazos Valley Veterans Memorial at www.bvvm.org or Bill Youngkin at 979-776-1325.