Carson City Vietnam veteran spent entire tour as radio operator in the field
Slightly more than a half century ago marks a major milestone for Carson City’s Ray Frederick.
The former San Jose, Calif., native who moved to Carson City 22 years ago had finished his Army tour in 1968 in South Vietnam and was ready to embark on a successful career.
“Carson City’s a great, little community,” Frederick said. “I’ve been active with the community, in Kiwanis, and I’ve met a lot of people.”
Frederick is one of hundreds of thousands of young men and women who served in Southeast Asia or at another U.S. military base in a nearby country that provided support.
Frederick and his wife of more than 53 years, Genevieve, married when he was 19 years old. On their first anniversary, Uncle Sam greeted them with an unwanted present, a draft notice; subsequently, Frederick made the decision to complete his two-year assignment. He completed his basic and advanced training as a radio-telephone operator and was assigned to B Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry, 4th Infantry Division.
“I was kept in the field all the time,” said Frederick, who was 21 years old at the time. “The unit wanted only four-man patrols in the jungle with a radioman. That was dangerous … pretty spooky duty.”
Frederick recalls when he would be at a listening post as the patrol waited for movement. The jungle noises unnerved the soldiers.
Patrols from other divisions, though, ranged from six to eight soldiers.
His company commander, then Capt. Emmette “Tuffy” Burton III provided the unit with the steady hand young soldiers needed. Frederick remains in contact with Burton, who later served as base commander of the Presidio of San Francisco in the late 1980s. Both men have maintained their friendship over the years.
“He picked me to be his RTO,” Frederick said. “It was great.”
Orders later came, moving Frederick to the battalion level. Fate, though, perched on Frederick’s shoulders like a guardian angel.
“The guy who took my place. He was killed within three weeks of me leaving,” Frederick pointed out. “It was a dangerous position. When you are on a sweep, you’re attached with the company commander. The first thing the enemy does is take out the company commander’s communication.”
The radio antenna was not an inconspicuous target.
“Ray was a radio operator who survived the war in one of the most dangerous positions to be in,” said Carson City Mayor Bob Crowell, a fellow Vietnam veteran and good friend. “Radio operators had an average survival rate in a firefight of less than 30 seconds.”
Another commander for whom Frederick served wasn’t so lucky. He said Lt. Col. Robert Carter was riding on a helicopter with the battalion’s sergeant major. After the chopper landed, Carter stepped off and within seconds, a North Vietnamese Army soldier fatally shot him.
While the soldiers’ minds were focused on the enemy, those back home zeroed in on the deaths. Frederick said the news of fatalities became too much for families who lived in San Jose.
“Too many were being sent home in pine boxes to my neighborhood,” Frederik said. “That was hard on them.”
Even the numbers were staggering at Pioneer High School’s fifth reunion in 1970: Five died in Vietnam and five classmates died in auto accidents.
“It was just as dangerous as being on the highway,” Frederick said.
In addition to high school reunions, Frederick’s old unit had a 25th reunion and plans to meet this year, but the uncertainty of the COVID virus presents more of the unknown than the enemy beyond the wire.
After Frederick returned home, he spent six years in the U.S. Army Reserve while establishing a foundation in his civilian life. He joined the carpenters’ union, started as an apprentice, and eventually became a journeyman carpenter. He began his own company, Demerick Construction, and his successful career led to an early retirement at the age of 50, a time when he and Gen decided to move to Nevada.
As a former president of the Kiwanis Club of Carson City and current member in the Kiwanis Club of Sierra Nevada, he’s been involved with many projects involving the area’s youth. As a Vietnam veteran, he attends events to support his fellow military brothers and sisters and last attended National Vietnam War Veterans Day at Mills Park when Crowell delivered the main address. This year’s event was canceled because of COVID-19.
Even when he returned from Vietnam, Frederick said he didn’t experience negative conflicts upon returning the mainland. He has never shied away from taking about his years with the Army and especially with his tour.
“I am always proud of my service,” he said.