Tony Nadal was born at Ft. Benning, Georgia, in 1935. His father graduated from West Point in 1928, and served a full career, being stationed in places like Ft. Benning, Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, the Panama Canal Zone, and Puerto Rico. Tony grew up mostly in Puerto Rico and Ft. Leavenworth. He remembers leading a very active lifestyle in Kansas, spending days at the pool and weekends camping out with friends. He applied to West Point because it was “the only thing I ever wanted to do.” He felt prepared for the rigors of R-Day, but chafed under the Plebe system, and years later, he determined to help West Point develop a more positive leadership development system. He performed well in humanities courses, but found little value in the sciences. He enjoyed his summer training, and his company was selected to travel to Colorado Springs, along with a company of USNA Midshipmen, to participate in a parade inaugurating the U.S. Air Force Academy. When he graduated, he branched Infantry, and after the Basic Course and Airborne and Ranger Schools, he and his wife traveled to Germany, where he joined the 46th Infantry in Munich. He began honing his leadership skills by learning from his Sergeants, earning their trust through competence and demonstrating caring. In 1962, when he learned that Special Forces were deploying to Vietnam, he volunteered for SF training, and in 1964 he was leading an A Team stationed in Nam Dong. In Vietnam, he found that he relied heavily on his Ranger School training. After returning from Vietnam, he attended the Armor Advanced Course, but yearning to get back into the fight, he sought assignment to a unit that was deploying. On the advice of a friend, he went to Ft. Benning and joined the 1st Cavalry Division, which had just been reflagged from the 11th Air Assault Division. He then met with LTC Hal Moore and accepted an assignment as the Battalion S2 (Intelligence Officer), with the prospect of receiving a company command position in Vietnam. Before deploying, he provided training in conducting ambushes and counter-ambushes. On the ship heading to Vietnam, he gave classes on terrain analysis, and operated a lending library of personal books about Vietnam. Arriving in Qui Nhon, the unit took trucks to An Khe, where they had to build the camp before beginning combat operations. At one point, he, LTC Moore, and CSM Plumley took a jeep down Highway 19 to find the memorial to the members of Group Mobile 100 that had been ambushed in 1954. In October, he took command of A Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, and began operating west of Pleiku, near the Cambodian border. The NVA (North Vietnamese Army) initiated operations that resulted in the Battle of LZ X-Ray (14-16 November 1965) when they moved into the Central Highlands to cut Highway 19 before the Americans arrived in strength. Landing at LZ X-Ray on November 14, 1965, U.S. Forces quickly captured an NVA Soldier who indicated that his unit was nearby, prompting LTC Moore to realize that defending the LZ was the key to their survival. A two-day battle ensued, in which leadership by example at all levels saved lives. After pulling out of the Ia Drang Valley, CPT Nadal had to rebuild his company. Later, during this tour, he participated in two battles in the Bong Son Valley, one as a company commander and one as a Battalion S3 (Operations Officer). He returned from Vietnam in 1967 and earned a Master’s Degree in Psychology from Oklahoma State University in preparation for teaching in the Department of Military Psychology and Leadership (MP&L) at West Point. At the Academy, he proposed changes that caught the attention of the Commandant, Bernard Rogers, who supported revamping the Plebe system to make it a more developmental process. During his time at West Point, the My Lai massacre, occurred which he felt was a “stain upon the honor” of the Army. After leaving West Point, he attended the Marine Command and Staff College, but a three-page paper he wrote about leadership impressed General Westmoreland, who pulled him out of the staff college and made him a special assistant for revamping Army Organizational Effectiveness (OE). Much of the rest of his career involved promoting and supporting leadership initiatives in the Army.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his West Point years and his Army career. He highlights both combat and leadership development experiences over his twenty-three years of service. In one example, he expresses his disdain for commanders who managed battles from their helicopters, because he felt that a lack of perspective and face-to-face communication on the ground resulted in an overall loss of leadership. He states that he regrets not having conducted an After Action Review (AAR) immediately following the Battle of LZ X-Ray, soliciting feedback from all Soldiers on what they did and experienced from their point of view during the battle. At the end of the interview, he reflects on what his service and West Point mean to him, and the importance of values education at the Academy.