Lt. Rich Entlich fought in Vietnam in black pajamas and flip-flops
After graduation from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1963, Lt. Rich Entlich found himself in Vietnam working for MACV (Military Assistance Command Vietnam) after completing Airborne and Ranger Schools.
“I served as an advisor to the South Vietnamese regional and popular forces,” the 73-year-old former career Army officer who now lives in Englewood explained. “I wore black pajamas with flip-flops, ate Vietnamese food and spoke their language.
“I ended up in an advisory detachment in the Mekong Delta–4th Corps–way south in Vietnam. I was part of an old Special Forces program called ‘Motivation and Indoctrination Training’ for the South Vietnamese regional and popular forces. They would be like our National Guard and Reserves in this country.
“We were telling them, the South Vietnamese, we’re going to defeat the Communists. We’re going to kick ’em out of your country and you’ll be able to control your own destiny,” he recalled 45 years later. “Obviously it didn’t work out too well.
“My job was to convince these Vietnamese to keep fighting. Half a dozen or so of us, two Americans and four South Vietnamese soldiers, would travel from village to village urging ’em on,” Entlich said. “The two Americans took turns staying away just be be safe while we lived and worked with them in their village.
“At the end of a 10 day cycle we’d spend a couple of days out on a search and destroy mission. American forces would go out in the jungle searching for the bad guys. Usually we didn’t find much because the VC (Vietcong) and NVA (North Vietnamese Army) could hear us coming and got out of Dodge.
“The first time I went on a search and destroy mission I was wearing shower shoes. I quickly found out I couldn’t walk through the rice paddies with shower shoes. I changed from flip-flops to my boots when I went out on patrol after that,” he said.
“After a year of doing this my replacement arrived out in the field and I went back to Saigon to get ready to fly back to the United States on Monday,” Entlich said. “On Saturday I decided to take a helicopter and fly back out to where my replacement was and deliver mail and some goodies to them.
“About an hour after I left their base and flew back to Saigon the group I had been with was hit by the enemy. An American advisor was killed and two of the Vietnamese soldiers in the group.
“When I got word what happened to them I decided to stay in my room and not go out until it was time to fly out of Saigon Monday morning for home. I figured my luck in Vietnam had just about run out and I didn’t want to push things,” he said.
“I returned from Vietnam in 1968, the year Martin Luther King was assassinated. After he was killed riots started popping up in many of the major cities all around the country.
“I was stationed in Fort Bragg, N.C. at the time in a field artillery unit that was reformed into an infantry company and sent by bus to Baltimore to help quell the riots,” Entlich recalled.
“What we did was station troops at key intersections around the city. One evening I was out in a Jeep touring my area when a staff sergeant in charge of three white and three black soldiers guarding a particular intersection under my command reported by radio: ‘Sir, we have about 200 of them coming down the street toward us and they don’t look friendly. What do we do now?’
“At that time I was supposed to ask permission before I did anything, but I didn’t have time. I was worried about my soldiers on the street corner facing the unruly crowd.
“‘Form a V and fix bayonets,” I told my sergeant by radio.
“‘Roger, Out!’ he replied.
“They pulled their bayonets out of their scabbards on their belts and attached them in unison to the underside of their rifle barrels. When they did the 200 guys approaching them in the street stopped dead in their tracks. They quickly decided they weren’t about to take on a half-dozen soldiers with fixed bayonets. They turned around and walked away without incident.
“By the time I arrived in my Jeep at the intersection everything was all over. My six solders with their fixed bayonets were standind in the street holding their weapons and shaking. They were scared as hell because they realized they were almost overwhelmed by the street rioters.
“I told them to relax and explained everything was going to be all right. Then I told my six soldiers to take their bayonets off their rifles and put them back in their sheaths,” Entlich said.
“I called my boss and told him what happened. I explained everyone survived the incident and things were fine,” he said. “That was that and we all flew back to Fort Bragg.”
The following year Entlich did another tour in Vietnam. He was working for the G-3 Section of the United States Army in Vietnam. His job was to investigate “friendly fire” incidents. We tried to figure out what happened and how we could keep them from happening again.
After six months with the “friendly fire’ people, he was transferred to the 173rd Airborne Brigade stationed at “Landing Zone English” in the 2nd Corps area of Vietnam.
“I was sent out to a fire base to set up a couple of Howitzers. We fired these guns for three straight days getting their calibrations correct,” he explained. “We ended up with extra bags of powder we threw in an open pit beside our guns.
“A couple of Huey helicopters landed beside the Howitzers and flew those who set up the guns back to base. I was in the last group of a dozen or so soldiers taken out by helicopter. “Before we flew out we had to get rid of the pit full of powder bags. You could do it one of two ways: with a hand grenade or fire a few rounds of tracers from the helicopter as we were airborne.
“I had a sergeant who decided he was going to set off the bags of powder with an incendiary grenade. He didn’t wait until we were airborne to chuck the grenade in the hole. He threw it in as we were loading up the Huey to leave.
“As the pit flamed up we threw guys into the helicopter. I was the last one in the Huey. It had already taken off and I grabbed a strut and was swinging underneath as it flew over the exploding powder that flamed up in singed my boots.
“Those things happened over there. You kinda went with it and did your best,” the old soldier said recalling the incident half a lifetime ago.
After returning to the states and obtaining a Masters degree in Applied Mathematics from the University of Missouri in the early 1970s, Entlich served in stations around the country and throughout the world, including a tour of duty as a math teacher at West Point.
He rounded out his 26 year military career serving his last six years in the Pentagon in Washington. He worked in the Program Analysis Department for a couple of years and then he worked n a program concerned with building new weapons systems.
In 1989, Rich Entlich retired a bird colonel in the U.S. Army.
That same year he went to work as a civilian with the National Academy of Science, then switched to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the FBI and finally the Institute for Defense Analysis for another 21 years.
All together he worked 47 years for the federal government before he and his wife, Sally, retired and moved to Englewood in May 2005. They built a home in Stillwater subdivision near the Englewood Hospital.
The couple has five adult children: Maya, Rachel, Eric, Jason and Becky plus 13 grandkids — 10 girls and three boys.
Name: Richard Edward Entlich
D.O.B: 3 Sept. 1940
Hometown: Summit, NJ
Currently: Englewood, Fla.
Entered Service: 1959
Unit: Military Assistance Command Vietnam, 173rd Airborne Brigade
Commendations: Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal (2), Meritorious Service Medal (2), Air Medal (2), Army Commendation Medal (2), Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013 and is republished with permission.
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