Ripcord Association

Charles F Hawkins, A/2-506, C/2-506, HHC

AKA: Chuck, Hawk, Charlie Oscar, Nanook of the North, Dumb___, and a few other choice expletives.In China I am called Hua Qin-si (Hawkins), after a well-known Confucian era Kung-fu master. But that’s another story. If you Google “Charles F. Hawkins” you will most often come up with a guy at the University of New Mexico with a Ph.D. in electronic engineering. That’s not me.

I was raised in the great state of Alaska, and while some folks joke that I was “born in the belly of a moose,” I was actually born of fairly normal humans in Carmel, California on August 1, 1946. My father, James Edgar, mustered out of service with the 10th Mountain Division in World War II at Fort Ord, California. Mother, Mary Teresa Reinheimer, left a teaching position at State College, Pennsylvania to join Dad on the left coast. Both parents were school teachers and in 1950 accepted a federal teaching assignment in Ninilchik, Alaska. (It’s on the Kenai Peninsula, about 100 raven flying miles south of Anchorage.) By that time I had a little brother, Richard Michael (who later became a school teacher and Air National Guard rescue helicopter pilot). After we got to The Kenai and took a look around we decided we liked it, staked out a homestead, and stayed.I grew up hunting and fishing, roaming the forests, working on fishing boats, planting and harvesting crops, and doing all the normal things a kid does in the wilderness. I had the makings of a good point man, until…In 1964 I received an appointment to West Point through Senator Ernest Gruening (one of only two senators who voted against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that got us into the Vietnam War). Sort of ironic…On June 5, 1968 I graduated and put on the “butter bars” of a second lieutenant and the crossed rifles of an infantry officer. Hot damn! I was already airborne qualified when I graduated; then followed the obligatory Infantry Officer’s Basic Course at Fortress Benning and Ranger School. Earning the coveted Ranger Tab wasn’t so bad—I’d been on tougher moose hunts. My first assignment was with the 4th Armored Division, 1/51st Infantry in Crailsheim, Germany. Within a year I had two sets of reassignment orders: one for flight school and the other for Vietnam. I decided not to become an aviator. It was time to go to war. Has there ever been a good place to go to war? Probably not. But I had done some research, and when I got to Vietnam (geeze, it was hot!)

I requested (demanded?) assignment to the 101st Airborne Division, then operating in the mountains of Thua Thien Province. On March 6, 1970 I reported to Lt. Col. Andre Lucas at the 2/506th rear HQ. Two days later I was on Rocket Ridge leading 2nd Platoon, C Co., and Capt. Vasquez was my commander. Most of you can pick up the story from here. It’s familiar ground. We humped the boonies most of the time, and when we weren’t busting brush with a 100-lb. ruck on our backs, we were building firebases. We humped and built more than we fought, and we fought a lot. There were a lot of good guys in Charlie Co. Doc Shepherd, Rainwater, my RTO, and SSG Queen, my first platoon sergeant. But at the risk of their perpetual notoriety and embarrassment I will single out three: Bob (Gypsy) Wallace and Jim Campbell, two of the finest officers I have ever known, and SSG Paul Burkey, the best damn platoon sergeant, period!

On May 30 Lucas pinned captain’s bars on my collar (it was before my regular promotion date; the term for this sort of early promotion is called “frocking”), and I took over Alpha Company. That’s where I got the nickname Charlie Oscar, and it has stuck with me all these years among those with whom I served. The men of Alpha Company were simply the most outstanding soldiers I have ever had the honor of serving with. I can’t name you all here at the risk of missing someone important (yeah, I’m getting older and more forgetful). But you know who you are, and you were then and are now important to me. Some of you didn’t come home, and I miss you the most. You did your duty. You supported your fellow soldiers. You fought like hell. You did not stain your sacred honor. I would serve with you again, anytime, anywhere. God bless all the men of Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry! I love you more than mere words can convey.

After the Battle of Firebase Ripcord was over (July 23, 1970; read Keith William Nolan’s excellent account in Ripcord, Screaming Eagles Under Siege, Vietnam 1970) Alpha Co. went back to the field with 39 men, nine old hands and 30 new guys. During the months of August through November we did more damage to the enemy than any other outfit in the battalion. (Was it a lust for revenge? Or…) At the end of November I was reassigned to be the battalion S-1 (personnel officer). I finished my tour on February 20, 1971, and went back to the World.

I continued on active duty until September 1977, when I resigned my commission and became a real-life REMF. I served in the 1st Infantry Division from 1971-1975 where I commanded two more rifle companies (A/1-18th, and A/2-16th), then went back to Benning’s School for Boys to attend the Infantry Officer’s Advanced Course, and finished up as a staff weenie at U.S. Forces Command at Fort McPherson, Georgia. Atlanta was a great place and a fun city. I enjoyed my time there, and “got into computers” in the early days of the PC. I joined the Georgia Army National Guard and commanded a fifth rifle company (B/1-121st Infantry) with Georgia’s 48th Infantry Brigade, the second finest unit I’ve ever served with. In 1984 I moved to northern Virginia to work as a computer geek at the White House Communications Agency, and other government organizations (mostly classified). I shifted my Guard allegiance to Virginia and helped form the 1st Battalion, 170th Infantry, 29th Infantry Division. I retired as a major from the Army Reserve in 1990. Bill Clinton was never my commander-in-chief. Hah!

Since that time I’ve done a lot of work for the defense and intelligence community. We call it “analysis,” but it is really journalism disguised as analysis. And I’ve had the pleasure of going to many interesting places, including a lot of Europe and a good part of Asia. In the past decade I’ve logged nearly 500 days in China on over 30 trips, and have been to the Chinese-North Korean frontier a number of times. I have also been a regular part of the U.S. observer team helping the Taiwan military prepare itself for a war with Mainland China. These efforts show no signs of abating. In 2006 the U.S. Army Foreign Military Studies Office published a book I edited: The New Great Game: Chinese Views on Central Asia. Another book, Asia Pacific Security: Observations and Opinions of an American Defense Analyst, can be found at: Click on the title in the section.

I enjoy what I do. I’m thankful for the many blessings God has given me, and this includes the experience of leading outstanding American men in combat. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Ripcord and the men who served in that hellish place.

Chuck Hawkins

P.S., Although I’m settled into a comfortable spot on Kent Island, Maryland, I find myself going back to Alaska more frequently these days. The old homestead is now in my care, and it needs some work, as any 57-year-old log structure will. If you’re ever of a mind to visit The Great Land, let me know. The cabin door is always open.