Lake Riverside Estates resident and local insurance expert Rich Handy is known to be helpful and generous, but few people know that he is an Army veteran who was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War right out of university.
“I was drafted into the Army the day after my last final exam at UCLA in June 1968,” Handy said. “I went to L.A. for my physical and was immediately bussed to Fort Ord, California, for basic training.”
Handy attended advanced individual training in engineering, where he learned about building bridges for tanks and supply trucks to cross obstacles such as rivers.
“I then had to make a choice of going to Germany as a noncommissioned officer – sergeant – or go to Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. If I chose the OCS option, I was surely going to go to Vietnam and have to commit to an additional two years in the Army. My mom wanted me to go to Canada and not serve at all. After thinking long and hard about it, I decided I should do my best at whatever I was qualified to do. So I went to Fort Benning. OCS was not to start right away, so I had to make another choice – do kitchen duty peeling potatoes and washing dishes for two weeks or go to jump school to jump out of airplanes. Well, I did not like doing dishes and my dad, Orville, was a World War II and commercial airline pilot, so I decided to become Airborne and jump out of perfectly good planes,” Handy said.
Handy graduated OCS and became a second lieutenant in the Army Airborne Infantry and later became an executive officer in a Fort Benning company training soldiers to become NCO’s and eventually Airborne Infantry Rangers.
“My company commander was younger than me and had a German shepherd named ‘Dammit,’ except when the chaplain came to visit to see how we were treating the men. We called the dog ‘Champ’ then,” Handy said with a grin.
He was sent to Panama to receive jungle training to prepare for his eventual entry into the Vietnam War.
“I spent one year and a day in Vietnam in the Americal Division in Chu Lai, which is just north of
Mai Lai on the coast and south of the border with North Vietnam,” Handy said.
He attained the rank of first lieutenant and was awarded a Bronze Star for his service on his tour.
“John Kerry threw one of those medals over the White House fence when he and Jane Fonda protested that war,” Handy said.
His stay in Southeast Asia was dangerous and terrifying at times, he said.
“I do believe God was looking over my shoulder when I was in that country,” Handy said. “One time when I was allowed to go to Da Nang to visit my dad who was there flying in supplies, our base camp was rocketed. The dispensary was hit and they were still finding body parts weeks later.”
After the end of his tour in Vietnam, Handy returned to the United States where there were protesters who did not treat veterans of that war very kindly, he said.
“With three of the four years of service I had committed to do, I was promoted to captain and put in charge of about 1,000 recruits, including those in the same barracks I had started my service in the Army back in 1968. The general at Fort Ord at that time was General Moore who the movie ‘We Were Soldiers,’ starring Mel Gibson as then Col. Moore, was about. He wanted me to stay in the Army, but I was tired of wearing green and got out in 1972,” Handy said.
He entered the civilian realm and continued to succeed.
“I was a banker and tried to do my best at that,” Handy said. “At one point I was a branch manager and commercial loan vice president in Newport Beach. The bank paid for my golf membership and a Jaguar. I used the same barber as John Wayne and Ram quarterback Pat Haden was my customer. He and I did Union Bank ads together – I was his financial quarterback.”
Handy and his wife Judi and moved to Aguanga in 2013 after living in San Clemente and Newport Beach.
He is semi-retired, and to get out of doing dishes and other honey-do lists, he serves the community as a Lake Riverside Estates Homeowners Association vice president, a High Country Youth Center board member and CRA board member. In addition, he helps people get insurance policies for their homes, vehicles, businesses and life.
Handy said his Army service has helped form him into the community-minded and patriotic person he is today.
Diane Sieker can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.