Charles Shaw grew up in Brooklyn and Nassau County on Long Island. He attended several different high schools, including Chaminade and Sewanhaka, where he had the opportunity to take several college-level classes. He learned about West Point through popular television shows and movies in the 1950s, and from a teacher who had graduated from the academy in the 1940s. He had earned an NROTC scholarship to Columbia University, but accepted a slot at West Point two weeks before R-Day. While at the Military Academy, he was part of the nascent parachute team, which had been started by a prior-service Cadet in the Class of ’61. The first year the team was in existence, every member had to be airborne qualified. By the second year, non-airborne Cadets were permitted to join, and Shaw began jumping. Upon graduation, he commissioned into the Infantry, and after completing Airborne, Ranger, and Jump Master school, he was assigned as a Platoon Leader in C Company, 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Following his assignment at Ft. Bragg and completion of the MATA (Military Advisor Training Academy) Course, he deployed to Vietnam, where he was assigned to the 43rd Ranger Battalion under the 9th ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) Division in the IV Corps area. He was assigned to Vinh Long, east of the headquarters in Sa Dec. Initially, he worked for an incompetent ARVN commander, but his second commander, Captain Nguyen Van Hiep, exemplified all the leadership traits that made his Rangers want to follow him. Shaw’s Ranger unit was employed primarily in an emergency response role, and when contact was imminent, they were a competent and dependable unit. Returning from Vietnam in the summer of 1965, Shaw was assigned to the new Advanced Infantry Training unit, Tigerland, at Ft. Polk, Louisiana. There he was responsible for training young Soldiers and providing them with lessons learned from his experiences in Vietnam. After Ft. Polk, he returned to Vietnam, where he was assigned to A Co, 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry, in the 9th Infantry Division. He quickly learned that his unit was the worst company in the Battalion, quite possibly in the Division, and he determined to fix the leadership issues. After he got the NCO leadership on his side, the company began improving, saving lives in the long run. When he was promoted to Major, he left the company and joined the Brigade Staff, running the “Reliable School” for incoming Soldiers among other tasks. As the Division began redeploying to the United States, he took command of an ad hoc Battalion of short-timers to lead them in rotating back to the United States. Following his second tour in Vietnam, he returned to Ft. Benning, Georgia, before joining a PSYOPS unit at Ft. Bragg. From there, he became a Foreign Area Officer (FAO) specializing in Thailand. Following several years in Thailand, his final assignment was at Central Command (CENTCOM), where he put his FAO skills to work in countries across Africa.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his West Point experiences, and his career in the Army. He discusses working with the 43rd Battalion of ARVN Rangers, highlighting their professionalism and contrasting it later with the poor state of the company he later commanded in the 9th Division. He compares working with the Vietnamese to working with other Americans, and examines what he learned in both situations. He describes his experiences as a FAO, and the importance of cultural understanding. Finally, he expresses what West Point means to him.