“You Keep Your Head Down And Don’t Be No Hero”: The Witch Doctor In The ‘Nam

Richard Jackson


Richard Jackson grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, in a neighborhood that was predominately Jewish and Italian. His father was a truck driver and his mother worked at a factory that made paint brushes. He was the fourth child in a family of two girls and three boys. As a teen, he was interested in drumming and track, but martial arts became a lifelong passion when he was sixteen. After graduating from high school, he worked at a furniture store, creating highly detailed pieces for the items they sold. Eventually, he took a job working for the Boston Edison Light Company. He was working there when he received his draft notice. Initially, based on the language, he thought the draft notice was an award, but his step-father informed him otherwise. When he left for basic training, his mother warned him, “You keep your head down, and don’t be no hero.” He had not anticipated going to Vietnam, but once he arrived at the 1st Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division, he soon learned that that is exactly what his future held. The 1st Brigade trained as a unit, with all of the Soldiers going through basic and unit training together. His favorite part of training was the live fire, and he found having Drill Sergeants getting in his face to be most challenging. At one point during training, his company commander, CPT Hunter, asked for a volunteer to become a medic. He volunteered, thinking that he would be assigned to a hospital. He was mistaken. He deployed to Vietnam on USNS General W. H. Gordon, and was seasick much of the time, especially when they were forced to go around a typhoon. Arriving in Nha Trang, he found Vietnam to be sweltering. He was first stationed in Tuy Hoa, where he helped build the camp and was reassigned from A Company to C Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment. He noticed that Tuy Hoa was surrounded by rice paddies and dykes, and the vegetation was lush. The wildlife, on the other hand, was brutal, and he faced biting ants, termites, leeches, wasps, scorpions, and even a tiger. Nights in the field were nerve-wracking. The illumination rounds fired by American artillery created eerie shadows and made a “whoop whoop whoop” sound when descending, which he did not like. After Tuy Hoa, he was stationed in Ban Me Thuot, Plei Djereng, and Pleiku. His least favorite place to operate was around the Duc Co Special Forces Camp, which he described as “footsteps off the Cambodian border.” After he was wounded in the fighting on May 26, 1967, he was evacuated to Vung Tau, where he was patched up. After returning to his unit, he was assigned to a Civic Action Team rather than returning as a Combat Medic for a line company. While on the Civic Action Team, he forged close bonds with the Montagnard tribes, and they frequently alerted him when enemy forces were in the area. After he returned home, he worked for Boston Edison for twelve years before taking a job with the Postal Service for twenty-five years. In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his Army experiences, and his life after the military. He reflects on his first casualty, Frankie Gagliano, near Tuy Hoa, recalling that he broke down after he could not save him. He compares the Viet Cong to the North Vietnamese Regulars, noting that he preferred fighting the VC because the NVA were well-trained and ready to fight, while the VC would hit and run. He discusses his relationship with other Soldiers in his unit, stating that he never experienced any racism or prejudice, and that the grunts knew his motto that there was “no guy I can’t get to” for medical treatment. Finally, he reflects on his service, and Post Traumatic Stress.


name Richard Jackson
service Infantry / Medic
unit C Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division
specialty Combat Medic; Nine Days In May
service dates 1965 1967