On 30 January 1971, six heavily armed members of SEAL Team One’s Zulu Platoon inserted by helicopter into a rice paddy deep inside enemy-held territory on South Vietnam’s Cà Mau Peninsula. Their mission was to search for and destroy Viet Cong (VC) insurgents who had fired on their helicopter in the same area less than an hour before. The VC had seriously wounded First Squad’s radioman, causing the patrol to abort its mission and return to base. The remaining SEALs of Squad One were back to even the score.1It would not go well.
Within minutes, the VC had commenced firing from concealed positions on a dike some 250 meters away. Then, as the squad approached the dike, the VC opened up from less than 50 meters away with withering fire. Bullets wounded Zulu’s point man, patrol leader, automatic weapons man, and the assistant platoon leader, Lieutenant (junior grade) Thomas Richards, who had volunteered to replace First Squad’s wounded radioman. In that moment of chaos, Richards took charge of what remained of First Squad and a mission gone terribly wrong.2 He would later be denied adequate recognition for the conspicuous gallantry he displayed.
1. Russel Stolfi, “Zulu Platoon’s Last Fight in Vietnam,” Historynet.com,
12 June 2006.
2. “Summary of Action” in “Award Recommendation for Silver Star for LTJG Thomas Richards,” 1 March 1971.
3. GMGC Barry Enoch in Scramble the Seawolves, Navy SEAL Museum, www.navysealmuseum.org.
4. Stolfi, “Zulu Platoon’s Last Fight” and “Saigon Said to Abandon Refugee Resettlement,” The New York Times, 12 March 1971, A1.
5. Stolfi, “Zulu Platoon’s Last Fight” and Thomas Richards.
6. Stolfi and “Award Recommendation” 1 Mar 1971.
7. Carl Nelson interview, July 2018.
8. “Award Recommendation,” 1 March 1971.
9. Bronze Star Medal citation as approved by ComNavForV.
10. Carl Nelson email, 17 September 2019.