Gaels - In Country

Russ Harrison MBA '79, right, with two other Marine Corps lieutenants in front of his tank after it had hit a land mine. Harrison, who was wounded twice in Vietnam, is the chair of SMC's Board of Trustees

Dick Walton '62Dick Walton ’62

It was an ugly day over the Gulf of Tonkin—a threatening sky, poor visibility and extreme turbulence. Navy pilot Dick Walton was flying with his reconnaissance crew off the coast of Hanoi, the only plane in the sky.

“We’re getting beat to hell. We would like to return to base,” he radioed in. “Negative,” said the voice at the other end. “Admiral wants you to stay up.”

Then Walton drew on a lesson he’d learned in his ethics class—he was responsible for the safety of his men. “There comes a time, it doesn’t matter who is telling you what. The guy flying is in charge. We landed the plane.”

Garth Flint '63Garth Flint ’63

Author Tom Wolfe likened the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea to a skillet—60 feet above the roiling waves and pitching like a “big wallowing monster.”

Garth Flint and his F-4B pilot, John Dowd, catapulted into the sky from this steel, gray behemoth the day they were shot down by “Charlie”—aka the Viet Cong. Their story, “Jousting with Sam and Charlie,” is chronicled in Wolfe’s book Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter and Vine.

“We landed in the water amongst all these islands and we didn’t know where we were—or where the enemy was. We were rescued within an hour, and back in the air the next day. We lost 22 aviators during that cruise. They were all shot down. Some were killed, the rest became POWs. We were the only two that returned home with the carrier.”

C.J. "Kitt" Ruona '63C.J. “Kit” Ruona ’63

“I remember leaving campus after graduation and taking one last look at Moraga from my ’51 Chevy. In that rear-view mirror was the Moraga Barn, Freddie’s Pizza, Saga food…the Rheem Bowling Alley. In the windshield was a different world for each of us— we simply could not see it.”
Ruona flew 100 B-52 combat missions over Vietnam, with one notable close call.

“Once we lost a couple of engines on takeoff with a full load of bombs. The pilot saved us by jettisoning fuel and climbing high enough to drop the ordnance before flying the crippled bomber back to base.

It’s amazing how young we were. You mature very quickly in those circumstances.”

Read profiles of Gaels who served in Vietnam.