Described as a “barrel-chested coal miner” following his service, Captain Richard Justesen enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1962 and completed his basic training at Fort Ord, CA. Despite being a man of humility, he would end up distinguishing himself in service to his country.
Justesen served two tours in Vietnam. His first tour was with Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV). During that tour, Richard was the MACV Assistant District Advisor to Tuy An District in central coastal South Vietnam. He was responsible for training Vietnamese Popular Force soldiers and helping them conduct small unit operations in Tuy An District.
On May 14, 1969, while on a search and clear operation, Justesen’s Popular Force unit was caught in a Viet Cong U-shaped ambush. Two of the Popular Force soldiers in the lead element were killed by the intense fire coming from the Viet Cong platoon they engaged, and a third Popular Force soldier was captured during the firefight. As the battle progressed, the remaining Popular Force soldiers were pinned down by the Viet Cong’s automatic weapons fire. Justesen rallied the soldiers to mount a counter-attack and then maneuvered to the right flank of the ambush to engage the enemy with rifle fire. As a result, the Viet Cong broke contact with the Popular Force unit and withdrew. Continuing to take the battle to the enemy, he then directed artillery fire on the Viet Cong’s withdrawal route, further disrupting the enemy and permitting the captured soldier to escape. For his actions in this engagement, Justesen was awarded the Bronze Star medal with “V” device for valor.
During his second tour in Vietnam, with Special Operations Group, Command and Control Central, 5th Special Forces, Justesen was injured in a combat operation when the helicopter he was boarding was fired upon. He was subsequently medevaced to the U.S. Army Hospital at Camp Zama, Japan.
Justesen continued to distinguish himself while serving in the Army, as evidenced by his receipt of two more Bronze medals with Oak Leaf Clusters, the Air Medal, and multiple other awards. But ever humble, he said, “The greatest honor I’ve received in my career was to serve alongside many other people in the armed forces.”