Ripcord Association

Captain Isabelino Vazquez-Rodriguez



It was with great sadness that I received word that Captain Isabelino Vazquez-Rodriguez passed away peacefully on January 7, 2023 at the age of 92. Captain Vazquez was preceded in death by his son, Robert. He is survived by his wonderful wife of 42 years, Uthoomporn, his son John Vazquez, his daughter and son-in-law Tai and Mike Hucks, his son and daughter in law, Ronald and Jennifer Reidell, and his two adored grandchildren, Brittany Hucks and Zachary Reidell.

Captain Vazquez was born in December of 1930 in a small town in Puerto Rico. Growing up there he developed a great love for the game of baseball and played the game while attending the University of Puerto Rico before enlisting in the Army as a nineteen year old. He soon thereafter parted for Korea to fight with the 15th Regiment of the Third Infantry Division in the Korean War. His company was engaged in brutal combat against the North Koreans for a long period of time. He told me on one occasion that the only time he had ever wished he would die was on one extremely cold night when he almost froze to death in Korea. Captain Vazquez also related to me that his company in Korea had been in a major fight one night against a Chinese regiment when the Chinese chose to overrun his unit’s position, which resulted in him being one of only a handful of soldiers that were not killed or wounded. He earned promotions quickly during the war as he served as a squad leader, platoon sergeant, and acting platoon leader as a result of the many casualties taken in battle. He was offered a battlefield commission while serving in the 15th Regiment, but turned it down because he was not sure that he would remain in the army after his tour. Late in his tour he was transferred to the 65th Regiment of the Third Infantry Division. He was again offered a battlefield commission while serving in this unit, but turned it down again. He returned to the United States as a 21 year old platoon sergeant after his tour in Korea and decided to make the Army a career. He then attended jump school in 1953 at Ft. Bragg followed by a hitch in the 82nd Airborne Division, followed by hitches in the 11th Airborne Division and the 101st Airborne Division. Sergeant Vazquez then attended the Special Forces Qualification School at Ft. Bragg from which he graduated second in his class. At some point during his early years in the Army, he attended Ranger School and graduated from there as the number one graduate in his ranger class. He then served in the 6th Special Forces Group and the Seventh Special Forces Group at Ft.Bragg, and the 8th Special Forces Group at Fort Gulick in the Panama Canal Zone during the early sixties. He was then assigned as an operations sergeant to Vietnam with the 5th Special Forces Group in August of 1966. While serving at the MyAn Floating Camp down in the Delta of Vietnam in 1967, Sergeant Vazquez was terribly wounded in a brutal battalion size fight and evacuated to Japan where he spent 4 months recuperating in a military hospital in Yokohama, Japan. After getting back on his feet, Sgt. Vazquez was assigned back to Special Forces in the Panama Canal Zone, and it was not long before he was promoted to Sergeant Major in the 8th Special Forces Group. While serving in this assignment, Sergeant Major Vazquez received a direct commission in the army as a Captain in June of 1969. He was then briefly assigned to the 75th Rangers in Vietnam before being assigned to the 3rd Battalion of the 187th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. At the end of the year in 1969 Captain Vazquez was assigned to the 2nd Battalion of the 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division as the Company Commander of Charlie Company. In June of 1970 Cpt. Vazquez turned over Charlie Company to Captain Hewitt, at which time he was selected to be the Battalion S-4 until his DEROS in late July of 1970. Upon his return to the States he served as a training officer in the Seventh Special Forces Group for four years. He then resigned from the Officer Corp and assumed the rank of Command Sergeant Major. He then served two years in the US Army Missile Command, Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama. In December of 1976, he was assigned back to Korea where he served in the 4th Squadron, 7th Cavalry, 1st Air Cavalry Division for a year. In January of 1978, Command Sergeant Major Vazquez received his terminal assignment as a Command Sergeant Major at the Institute for Military Assistance, John F. Kennedy Center for Special Warfare, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He retired from the Army in December of 1980 after thirty years of glorious and magnificent service to his country. After leaving the service Captain Vazquez completed his Masters and Doctorate Degrees in Business Management, and went to work for ITT Corporation for 16 years before retiring with his wife and family to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

NVA soldiers can now rest a little easier now that this great warrior can no longer engage the enemies of our country. All of the soldiers of Charlie Company were blessed to have had Captain Vazquez as our company commander in Charlie Company for over six months. I was the only lieutenant in Charlie Company to serve under his command during the entire time he commanded Charlie Company.

I have often been asked over my lifetime to describe what kind of leader and man Captain Vazquez was. He was thirty nine years of age when he served as a Company Commander in Vietnam. Physically, he was about 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed about 150 pounds. He was extremely fit and could out hump any soldier in the Company. He was like no other soldier that I ever served with. Captain Vazquez stood alone as the most professional soldier that I ever knew in my life. He was a man of few words and did not waste time bullshitting. When Keith Nolan interviewed me for the Ripcord book, he asked me to tell him about Captain Vazquez. I told him that Captain Vazquez was a man of few words, and that I probably had the longest conversation with him during his tour with Charlie Company, and that was only a conversation that lasted 5 minutes. He stayed a hundred per cent focused on the job at hand and did not suffer fools. I well remember the first day that I met him. The Company had come in for a stand down in the first week of January, and he came into the officer’s hooch in the rear to visit with his three lieutenants, namely Charlie Lieb, Bob Wallace, and myself. It was a brief visit as he told us what he expected of his officers. He said to us the wisest words I ever received as a platoon leader. He said “the key to being a good officer is to show your troops that you will never ask them to do something you would not do yourself”. I have read countless publications about leadership in the army and what it entails, but I have never had it explained to me in such simple and poignant terms.

                Having been on the wrong end of many ass chewings from Captain Vazquez, I can attest that he had the most ferocious temper of any man I have ever known. When he would get pissed his face would turn red. As a young second lieutenant who didn’t know much about soldiering when I got to Vietnam, I had a lot to learn. I never received an ass chewing from him that I did not deserve. He taught me everything I would need to know about soldiering. Captain Vazquez loved to keep his platoons moving and his platoons never spent more than one night in the same position. He hated cluster “F__ks” and never spent much time on LZ’s taking resupplies. Captain Vazquez wrote the book on map reading. When the unit would stop for a break, he would spend all of his time studying his map to determine the best and safest way to move in the difficult terrain. Captain Vazquez was a master of terrain analysis, and it was uncanny how he could relate the slightest movement of the lines on the contour map to the terrain on the ground. He would look at a map and visualize the most likely locations the NVA would use as ambush sites on the trail. You would then quietly approach off the trail through the jungle so as to not run the risk of being in the kill zone of the ambush. Captain Vazquez was extremely proficient in the use and adjustment of artillery and mortars. He was not going to have his units set up at night without the appropriate close in Delta Tangos being called along the most likely avenues of approach to each of his platoons.

                Captain Vazquez was also a master at setting up defensive positions and had great experience in doing so during his tour in Korea and in his previous tours in Vietnam. He intended to build Firebase Ripcord like no other firebase in Vietnam. Charlie Company worked hard from daylight to dark in preparing the defensive positions on the firebase. Each fighting position was L shaped and nothing was above ground. The long side of the L shape was facing the enemy and the fox hole was dug about 4 and a half to 5 feet into the ground and was about 6 to 7 feet in width. The short side of the L Shape (the sleeping positions) were dug in the ground about 3 and a half feet deep covered with a heavy piece of metal upon which sandbags were placed and covered in dirt so that nothing appeared above the ground. If the enemy attacked at night, the two soldiers sleeping in the sleeping position would immediately slide into the fighting position with the other soldier who was standing guard, and all three soldiers would be fighting together within a matter of seconds. All the ammo was stored in the fighting position and numerous claymores were placed out in the wire at different distances with the detonator wire running back to the fighting position. The key to the defense was the wire defenses in front of each fighting position which were laid out in front of the firing positions damn near 75 yards in width around the firebase. The wire was laid in the following fashion: You would first lay two strands of concertina wire. You would then mash it down to about 4 inches in height and lay a strand of tanglefoot wire tied on top of it. You would then lay two strands of concertina wire tied to the top of the tanglefoot. You would then lay a strand of tanglefoot and double apron wire on the ground past the concertina. On the down side of the double apron wire you would dig a ditch and lay hog wire which was about six feet in height. You would repeat this process going down the hill. Claymores and foo gases were laid out at different intervals from each other. You would then take a mortar or artillery shell canister and invert it to place it in the ground. When you did this, you would then fill the bottom of the shell canister with sand and with thickened fuel, and then stick a piece of wood into the sand to which you would attach an inverted trip flare .You would then run a piece of wire from the trip flare back to the fighting position. If you got hit at night, you would pull the wire to the trip flare which would then cause the flare to ignite the thickened fuel in the canister so that you would have your own illumination during the fight. The month Charlie Company was building Ripcord was the hardest working period of my life, and woe be it if you did not lay this wire tight enough. Captain Vazquez plotted where he wanted the close in mortar and artillery support fired in front of the fighting positions if the enemy launched a ground attack. The aritillery pieces on Ripcord were set to fire direct flechette rounds if the enemy attack neared the fighting positions. One day just before we departed the Firebase to go back out to the field, I was advised by Captain Vazquez that he, General Hennessy, and Lt. Colonel Lucas would make an inspection of the firebase perimeter in my sector of the firebase. When they arrived for the inspection we begin moving around the perimeter of the firebase. I am pointing out the strengths of the firebase positions to the General. We were standing on the edge of the perimeter looking back up the hill toward the fighting positions when General Hennessy said to me “Lt., do you see that gully running up the hill to the artillery positions? This would be a likely avenue of approach if the enemy attacked, and I do not see any claymores covering the dead space”. I said “Sir, if you look up the hill you will see four loose sandbags lying in the dirt at different distances. They are each tied to and covering the claymores that cover the dead space. You cannot see the wire running from the claymores to the fighting positions cause it is covered by dirt. Standing where we are, you cannot see the fighting positions”. I then told him that if the enemy chooses to launch a ground attack on Ripcord, they will be slaughtered in the wire. He then said “I have never seen a firebase built like this”. I then told him it was all designed by Captain Vazquez who knew more about defending a piece of ground than anyone in the Army. I explained to him how we had laid the wire and told him we had named it “Vazquez Wire”. I also advised him that Charlie Company troopers had laid ever strand of wire in front of the fighting positions without the assistance of the battalion engineers.

I would be remiss here if I did not tell a few stories about Captain Vazquez losing his temper. I well remember one day when Charlie Company was picked up at an LZ one morning and brought back to Camp Evans for a 24 hour stand down. We had been out in the field for a couple of months and were greatly looking forward to getting back to the rear to drink some beer, get a shower and new fatigues. Captain Vazquez wanted to free the company from duty as soon as he could. He had scheduled a brief ceremony at the company area honoring those soldiers who had been killed since we were last in the rear. He told me to assemble the company in front of the Headquarters hootch of Charlie Company for the service and I did so. Captain Vazquez came out of his hootch, and I could tell he was totally pissed off. It seemed that he had received a message from division that one of the brigadier generals of the division wanted to come to the ceremony with his staff, but could not get there for another hour and a half. He was instructed to delay the ceremony. Generally, at these kind of ceremonies, a trooper who was a good friend of the deceased soldier would say a few words about the deceased soldier and then the chaplain would say a few words. Having to delay the ceremony, meant that the Charlie Company soldiers could not commence their festivities for another hour and a half at least. Captain Vazquez then called the Company to attention and gave the command right face. He then said Lt. Campbell I want you to take the company on a long run around Camp Evans and be back here in an hour. I gave the command double time march and we took off running. We of course could not figure out why we were doing this. Many of the soldiers asked me during the run what had I done to piss the old man off so bad. I had no idea. When we got back from the run, the General and his staff had showed up with the chaplain and were standing together outside by the side of the headquarters hooch. I called the company to attention and waited for Captain Vazquez to appear. He stormed out of his hootch and gave the command to stand at ease. He then faced the General and saluted him. He then called the company to attention and to present arms followed by order arms. The chaplain came forward and spoke very briefly. Captain Vazquez then stepped forward and said in his inimitable Puerto Rican accent these immortal words: “Vengeance is Death to the Enemy”. You could have heard a pin drop. He then said Lt. Campbell dismiss the company at which time he returned to his hootch. Every Charlie Company soldier who was there that day realized what a hard core leader we had and loved him for it. He cared about the gallant soldiers who had died so honorably on the battlefield, and he cared about their comrades and seeing that they could enjoy as much of their free time as possible. This day is etched in my brain forever and it tells you all you need to know about what kind of soldier Captain Vazquez was. Captain Vazquez and my old machine gunner Layne Hammons (who worshipped Captain Vazquez) were the least arrogant and most unpretentious men I have ever known.

                The maddest Captain Vazquez ever got at me was when I kept sending his mail back to the rear when we were resupplied. Captain Vazquez’s surname is Rodriguez and I did not know it. When mail came to the field in the name of Rodriguez, I would send it back on the log bird because we had no Rodriguez in the Company. I did this for about two months. One day I hear Captain Vazquez complaining about not receiving any mail from his family for a couple of months. I then said to him that the mail clerk was screwing up because he had kept sending mail out to the company addressed to a Rodriguez, and I had been sending it back because we had no Rodriguez in the company. I can tell you this. By the time he got through chewing on my ass for sending his mail back to the rear, there were chunks of my rear end lying all over Rocket Ridge.

                Captain Vazquez’s style of leadership was like no other. He expected his soldiers to perform their duties as assigned. He strongly believed that the American Fighting Man was our nation’s greatest treasure. He knew all there was to know about combat. There is a lot of controversy with respect to many officers who fought in the Ripcord battle. Captain Vazquez is exempt from these controversies as in my twenty three years in the Ripcord Association and my time in Vietnam, I have never heard a single soldier speak of Captain Vazquez except in the highest regards. Simply stated the Charlie Company soldiers knew that he was the best there was, and his expertise at soldiering and his professionalism saved many lives.

I will end my remarks with one last story. Approximately two weeks before the Battalion stand down in June of 1970, two Charlie Company platoons came together at a Landing Zone in the mountains lying South and East of Ripcord for a resupply. Lt. Colonel Lucas flew in to meet with Captain Vazquez. After their brief conversation ended, Lt. Col. Lucas turned to me and said “Lieutenant, you have been in the field too long, and I am going give you the next rear job that comes open in the battalion, which will occur when you come in for the battalion stand down.” I said to him “Yes, Sir”. He then departed from the LZ. A few minutes after his departure, Captain Vazquez then says to me “Lt. Campbell, you are a “field soldier”, you never be worth a shit as a REMF.” My thought at the time was that I would probably spend my whole tour in the field. It was not until much later that I realized that those few words spoken to me by Captain Vazquez, the greatest combat leader I have ever known, were the greatest compliment I have ever received in my life. Sadly, his prediction that I would never be worth a shit as a REMF was confirmed when I later got a rear job back at Camp Evans, where I was a pretty sorry excuse for a soldier.

I do not know how it is possible to have more respect and admiration for a man than I do for Captain Vazquez. In the final analysis, he defies description. He is larger than life to those who were fortunate enough to serve with him. If I had to describe him in one sentence I would say: “Captain Isabelino Vazquez was the consummate professional soldier who inspired the soldiers under his command to be the best they could be for him”. I am quite certain that he is resting now in Valhalla most probably looking at a map to designate some good ambush sites for American soldiers to use against the current enemies of our country. “VENGEANCE IS DEATH TO THE ENEMY”.

Respectfully Submitted

Lt Jim Campbell