Veterans Voices: ‘We were soldiers’

Veterans Voices

(WLAX/WEUX) – Leading up to Veterans Day, we’re honoring those who served by sharing their stories. Tonight, we hear from Tony Nadal, an army veteran who graduated from West Point, led troops through intense combat in Vietnam, then returned to the united states to push for change. Lex Gray shares his story in Veterans Voices.

During the Vietnam War, Tony Nadal’s personal creed kept him moving. Born and raised by a West Point graduate, that’s all Nadal ever wanted to do.

Nadal said, “There’s a history, of guys graduating from the military academy and doing the right thing.”

For him, doing the right thing meant using his qualifications in Vietnam.

“I was very clear what my duty was as a company commander. I was going to lead from the front,” said Nadal.

His ideals were put to the test during the battle of La Drang in 1965. American troops were outnumbered by thousands.

In Nadal’s company, 17 of his 95 soldiers were killed. He remembers trying to retrieve a lieutenant’s body from a creek bed in the middle of a firefight.

Nadal said, “I find that there’s another soldier and he’s still alive and he also got left behind. He survives, I take him back to our front lines.”

Later, Nadal got orders to rescue a platoon that was surrounded by enemy forces. As Nadal and his men moved forward, three standing on either side of him were killed by machine gun fire.

“Why the lord spared me on that given day, I don’t know,” said Nadal.

Later in the war, Nadal was moving through a rice paddy, next to a soldier who was shot and killed. That soldier had passed on another assignment because he wanted to serve under Nadal.

“Because of that he died. And that, that hurts, every time I talk about it, that hurts,” said Nadal.

It hurts because Nadal believes above all in his duty to his own soldiers.

Nadal said, “You’ve got to be worthy of your soldiers. I felt personally responsible for them.”

When Nadal returned to the United States, he took what he learned in combat and sought modernize the army.

He got a master’s in social psychology and eventually taught at West Point. At that time, he says, freshmen were still being abused as they went through the initial Plebe System.

“I thought it was abysmal, it was the worst example of leadership. You couldn’t treat a soldier like that and gain any respect from them,” said Nadal.

During his time with the psychology department, Nadal chaired a study of the Plebe System.

“We wrote a study that just devastated that system. The West Point you see today and the way they treat the incoming freshmen is derived from that study I chaired,” said Nadal. 

In Nadal’s army career, you see a sense of responsibility, of taking care of others.

He told me, he’d like to see more of that in his country.

“What we don’t have in this country now is a sense of, ‘I am partially responsible for him’. We are responsible for each other,” said Nadal.

For Veterans Voices, I’m Lex Gray.

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