Richard L. Law, 71
Residence: Elmira Heights
Branch: Marine Corps
War zone: Vietnam
Years of service: 1963-67
Most prominent honors: Vietnam Service Medal with two campaign stars, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Presidential Unit Citation, Navy Unit Commendation, Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation for gallantry, Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation for civil actions
By Lou Michel
News Staff Reporter
After graduating from East High School in 1963, Richard L. Law spent the summer and part of the fall deciding what he wanted to do in life. He couldn’t make up his mind.
But there was one thing about which the 18-year-old was certain: “I just wanted to get away.”
So, in October 1963, he joined the Marine Corps.
“A friend from high school told me he had decided that he wanted to join the Marines, so we went in together under the buddy system,” Law says of Willie Edwards.
Right after boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., the Marine Corps separated them.
Law and Edwards were upset, but there was nothing they could do about it.
As fate would have it, they were later reunited for two consecutive six-month tours of duty in Vietnam.
“Before the first six-month tour, I was put aboard a ship after serving at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, and we were on our way to California for some training, but we ended up in Hawaii,” Law says. “That’s where I met up again with Willie after we’d been separated. We did a little training in Hawaii with amphibious landings, and then they told us we were going to Vietnam.”
He and Edwards were among several hundred Marines who landed on the beaches of Chu Lai in Quang Nam province.
“I was concerned with the thought of being killed in the actual landing,” Law says. “It’s a lot different from training. There was some minor resistance, and a couple guys from my company got killed.”
A member of A Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division during his first tour, which started in May 1965, Law moved through the jungles, staking out space for aerial infrastructure.
“We’d go into the jungles and clear away the enemy,” Law says. “We’d push the enemy back so that the engineers could get in and build airstrips.”
It was a dangerous mission, and death was always around them.
“You don’t know what you are going to run into, trip a booby trap or walk into ambush,” Law says. “We lost quite a few (Marines).”
After the airfields were constructed, Law’s unit continued chasing the enemy north toward the demilitarized zone.
“We ran into little skirmishes here and there,” Law says. “I was involved in two or three major operations. One of them was called Harvest Moon. We were under a lot of fire with that one.”
He said he never came face-to-face with the enemy but, from time to time, did spot Viet Cong guerrillas at a distance.
“Sometimes, you’d be firing at what you couldn’t see, and you’d throw hand grenades,” Law says. “Other times, you could see the enemy. But you never knew how many you killed.”
He began his second tour in November 1965 with E Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.
“We never left Vietnam after the first tour,” Law says. “To me, it wasn’t a first and second tour. It was a continuation of everything that happened during the first tour. They later changed it so that a tour lasted a year.”
Having his high school buddy Edwards with him for most of the time in Vietnam was a comfort.
“We talked about home all the time,” Law says. “We talked about people and some of our experiences at school.”
But this hometown team was separated once again in the spring of 1966.
“Willie left Vietnam around April, and I left in May,” Law says. “I felt lost. I didn’t know if I was going to make it. I was so close to going home.”
His fear was he might end up killed in action like so many others who were killed just days or weeks before they were scheduled to leave the war zone.
“I was glad Willie left, but I wanted to leave with him,” Law says. “He was like a brother to me. It was like being separated from family.”
He was fortunate and made it home without a scratch.
“As soon as I got back to Buffalo, I looked Willie up,” Law says. “He had gotten married. He hadn’t said anything to me that he was going to get married – not a clue.”
To Law’s relief, marriage was not a roadblock in the close bond that the two battle buddies had forged in Vietnam.
“When I saw Willie, I felt safe again,” Law says.
And even though Law moved to Elmira Heights, Chemung County, a number of years ago after retiring as a supervisor at the General Motors axle plant in Buffalo, he and Edwards remained lifelong friends. Edwards died about a decade ago.
Throughout retirement, Law has volunteered his services as a mentor to veterans who end up in the court system.
“A lot of these veterans I work with have been to war, and they are suffering,” he says. “I try to help them as much as I can. By sharing my experience with them, letting them know they are not alone, it’s helpful for not only them, but me, as well. And my door is always open.”