Austin Civil War Round Table

Rick Hall

Radarman, U.S.S Newport News

United States Navy, 1969-1972

Rick Hall Richard Michael Hall was born in Chicago in 1946 and spent most of his childhood in Illinois. After spending four years in college without a clear goal for the future and facing the draft, Rick chose to enlist in the Navy. "I entered on St. Valentine's Day, 1969," Rick says. "When they asked me about what area I might like to work in, I knew enough not to say 'Corpsman,' because that was a good way to end up on the ground in Vietnam. I ended up becoming an 'Operation Specialist' -- also known as a Radarman."

After basic training, Rick attended Radar School to learn about his specialty. Then he was assigned to the U.S.S. Newport News; a heavy cruiser then berthed at Norfolk, Virginia.

Rick Hall Rick would spend the next three years on that ship. "I saw a lot of the world," he says. In the summer of 1970, the crew of the Newport News had training exercises off Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Through 1971, they also visited ports of call in the United States, Europe, and Latin America.

Then, in early 1972, the Newport News received orders to go to Vietnam. The ship assumed tactical command of a group of ships that included two guided missile cruisers and two destroyers. "Our mission was to provide gunfire support to ground forces in South Vietnam. Occasionally we would target military installations in North Vietnam," Rick says.

This duty was known as being "on the Gunline," and it was difficult work. But things were not all grim; Rick remembers fun times hanging out and sightseeing with his shipmates. "I was from a middle-class background," he says. "My father was a doctor. It was interesting for me to meet guys from other backgrounds and education. Something I learned early on was that brains aren't reserved for those who have been to college. I met a lot of different and interesting people."

Rick was good at his job and received a citation for his developing an improved method for accurately plotting targets for the ship's guns. But the uncertainty of the situation took its toll. "I think the reasons we didn't succeed in Vietnam were mostly political," Rick says. "We were capable of going in there and getting the job done, but for political reasons, I believe we were often limited in what we could do. Sometimes it seemed like the South Vietnamese weren't interested in fighting for themselves. I started to think, 'What are we doing here? Let's go home.'"

Rick's worst day in the service came on October 1, 1972, when one of the guns on turret two on the Newport News exploded, killing 20 of his shipmates and injuring many more. "With a crew of 900, every man on the ship knew or had worked with one of the men who died," Rick says. "It was a real bad day for all of us."

Rick Hall

 

At the end of his tour, Rick arrived home, laden with souvenirs from Hong Kong and a wealth of stories to tell. Of his service in the Navy, Rick says, "I wouldn't trade it for anything. It made me grow up in a hurry. In the Navy, you had to take responsibility for a job, and if you didn't do it right, you got in a lot of trouble. It really helped me focus on what I wanted to do with my life."

After his discharge from the Navy, Rick attended Southern Illinois University, where he earned a degree in photography. Because of the unpopularity of the war in Vietnam, he didn't talk much about his experiences with his fellow students. "I just let it lie, " he says. "Some people went around saying that the military were 'monsters' or 'baby-killers,' but that just wasn't the reality. I know that the crew of the Newport News were responsible and conscientious, just trying to do a job."

Rick moved to Austin in 1978. Today he works as a photographer at the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin, where he photographs artwork, people, and events. Rick enjoys being surrounded by artwork every day. "Some of it is beautiful, and some of it is ... interesting," Rick smiles. "But all of it is unique."

 

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