By BARBARA GREEN
The life expectancy of a “tunnel rat” in Vietnam was three seconds. With such a statistic it is amazing Richard Blair survived 18 months scurrying through enemy tunnels, but today at the age of 75 he struggles with memories and health issues from his service.
The Vietnam War was the longest in U.S. history lasting almost 20 years from 1955-1975, however, the War in Afghanistan that began in 2001 may surpass it as it enters its 17th year. More than 58,000 American servicemen died, more than 150,000 were wounded and there are 10,000 missing.
Blair has the distinction of being the first Montague County serviceman from Vietnam to safely return home as recorded in the Montague County History Book. His transition back to normal life did not go smoothly before being gathered back home by his parents who helped him settle back in.
Richard Blair was adopted at the age of five from Houston by Mr. and Mrs. C.C. Blair, who lived at Belcherville and later moved to Nocona. He attended school at Ringgold for seven years before transferring to Nocona where he graduated in 1963.
Less than a year later in 1964 he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Blair didn’t let his parents know until he was already at basic training in Fort Polk, LA. After eight weeks he went to Hawaii for advanced infantry training, where he was attached to the 25th Infantry, Company B.
It was while at Fort Polk the Army took notice of his small stature and began to train and use him to demonstrate how a smaller man could take down a larger man. Blair proudly shows photos of himself demonstrating how to battle a larger enemy, and adds he didn’t mind because he had been small all his life and now it was helpful.
When asked about the draft and how he felt about the war, Blair says he was “okay” with going into the service, and running off to Canada was never an option.
“I didn’t know anyone even did that until I came back home. I wasn’t a draft dodger or anything. I followed orders and came out 18 months later as an E4,” he said.
Some 5,000 infantrymen left Hawaii on two ships heading toward Vietnam, escorted by submarines on all sides. Blair recalls they arrived at Saigon and went on a “deuce and a half” personnel carrier mounted with a 60-caliber machine gun.
“Before we really even got started they were shooting at us. All we had was our duffle bags, we had not been issued weapons yet. We hit the floorboards and hoped everyone was alright. That was my first day,” laughed Blair.
Read the full feature on this local Vietnam War veteran in your weekend News.