Dennis Cicconetti and Ron Riley both served in First Platoon, D / 1-5 Cavalry in Vietnam, but came to the unit via very different paths. Cicconetti grew up in Wooster, Ohio, and was drafted, even though he was married, and was supposed to be deferred. Riley chose to go to West Point, where he played football and graduated as an Infantry Officer. When Cicconetti reported to Basic Training, he informed his cadre that he was a Conscientious Objector on philosophical grounds. He was told to notify his leadership at his next duty station, which turned out to be Vietnam, where he was assigned to D / 1-5 Cav. Cicconetti and Riley eventually served in the same platoon.
In this interview, Dennis Cicconetti recalls reading extensively about WWII as a child, which informed his conscientious objector beliefs, particularly his determination that many of the deaths in that war were caused by political failures. Even so, as the child of Italian immigrants, he felt an obligation to serve when called. Initially, he was determined to stand by his beliefs and do no harm to another human being. Cicconetti describes how being ambushed changed his perspective, explaining that even though he was willing to die for what he believed, his platoon mates were not, and it was his duty to help them stay alive. At first, he thought about wounding himself, but he could not let his buddies down. Eventually, Cicconetti started killing. He identified Vietnam as the enemy, stating that “you become some sort of animal” in the jungle. Riley led his platoon through personal example and bravery, and was eventually wounded by machine gun fire and evacuated. When Riley returned to the United States, he served in the Old Guard until leaving the military. After returning home, Cicconetti’s Post-Traumatic Stress caused him to turn to alcohol. He struggled to hold jobs and maintain relationships, and is still working through the after-effects of his service in Vietnam.