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Veteran Spotlight: Sgt. McCarthy
By Wayne Soares, Special to iBerkshires
04:37PM / Sunday, December 27, 2020
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — An absolute pleasure to interview for this week's Veteran's Spotlight feature was Richard "Dick" McCarthy.
McCarthy served his country as a sergeant in the Army in the Vietnam War from 1966 to 1968. 
His basic training was at Fort Dix, N.J., before he shipped out first to Alaska from McGuire Air Force Base.
"We were drinking at a bar and this civilian who was working on the pipeline was bombed and said he wanted to go with us to Vietnam," said McCarthy, than laughed. "We wrapped him in an overcoat and snuck him on the plane. ... The pilot said he didn't have to pay for his flight over but had to pay for the return trip. It made the news."
He was 20 years old when he landed at Bien Hoa Air Base, north of Saigon, and recalled his first firefight. 
"I was the lead scout vehicle," he said. "The majority of highways we were on weren't paved. I'm standing up with my M-60 and all of a sudden, there was this huge explosion. ... A claymore mine filled with nails and all kinds of stuff exploded and our back end of the Jeep flew right into the air ... [there was] black smoke everywhere."
He also told another chilling story from his time in Vietnam.
"We heard a soldier on the radio screaming that they were being surrounded," he said. "A general was trying to calm him down. The next thing we heard the voices of the VC that had them surrounded. ... They killed everyone and skinned a Vietnamese interpreter alive."
McCarthy said what was called the North Vietnamese Army at the time was brutal. "They would throw guys out of helicopters to make the last guy talk," he said. "Sometimes you see things you're not supposed to, and you just don't want to fight anymore." 
He shared what was on many soldiers minds: "It's one thing to die and think your body is never going to be recovered ... it weighed heavily on a lot of us."
When asked about leadership in his company, he didn't hesitate. His platoon sergeant, Timothy Stout, was a great mentor, he said. "Our provost marshal was excellent! A Korean veteran with a battlefield commission." 
I asked McCarthy about the holidays and he responded that he "didn't pay that much attention to the holidays ... We were out fighting in the field ... you were lucky to have something to eat." 
Though he never saw Bob Hope perform, he brightened when asked him about the entertainers he saw overseas. "Martha Ray, boy was she something!" he said.
When I asked him if he was ever scared, McCarthy became quiet and shared this story.
"I was in a Jeep with a soldier named James H. Taylor. I was in the back and he was driving ... We were the last vehicle in our brigade," he said. "He took out a grenade and lobbed it over my shoulder. It exploded not too far from a Vietnamese man riding his bike. We heard on our radio that the front of the brigade was being attacked and we rounded a corner and came face to face with about 10 [Viet Cong], dressed in their black pajama uniforms with guns ... 
"We were as scared to see them as they were us and we just zoomed by them."
As a young private, he was awarded the Silver Star when a mine detonated near his vehicle, giving him a concussion and wounding two of his comrades.
"Private McCarthy heroically stood up in the line of fire, recovering from the initial shock and with disregard for his own safety, and brought a rapid rate of deadly automatic fire upon the Vietcong enemy, causing them to flee. Private McCarthy's immediate, timely and decisive action undoubtedly saved the lives of his comrades and others in the convoy," states a letter from The Department of the Army, Feb. 17, 1967.
"It's about survival ... sometimes the smoke is so thick, you can't see the enemy, you try to maneuver and not get surrounded. Once you're surrounded, you're (unprintable)," McCarthy said. "You can't have politics in war, plain and simple."
He is a proud member of American Legion Post 152 in Williamstown.
Sgt. Dick McCarthy, thank you for your service to our great country and welcome home.
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