Randy Mcconnell 09.03.10

With Pat Tillman’s story back on front pages via a documentary to be released this fall, we’re reminded that the heroes of the gridiron are occasionally, heroes in the field of combat as well.

Fortunately, Randy McConnell’s story has a happier outcome, though with seven Purple Hearts displayed on his chest—more than any other living veteran—it may not have. 

In 1966, McConnell, was a freshman attending the University of Michigan on a football scholarship, and like most of his fellow team members, had a dream of becoming a pro.  The following year, however, an injury caused the scholarship to evaporate, and on the advice of an uncle, he volunteered for the draft and Airborne Service.  Following his successful completion of Basic Training and A.I.T., McConnell qualified for Pathfinder School—a prestigious,  three-week course in which, among other skills, students learn to establish day/night helicopter landing zones, conduct sling load operations, provide air traffic control and navigational assistance to RW and FW airborne operations.

In December, 1967, he was deployed to Vietnam as a paratrooper with B Troop 2nd Sqdrn. 17th Cavalry, 101st Airborne Division.

For the next six months and three days, Sgt. McConnell endured some of the most grueling combat missions of any veteran.  While moving through Song Be, Phuoc Long, Cao Bang, La Chu and Hue and participating in the Tet Offensive, McConnell took several bullets, RPG shrapnel and mortar rounds, earning him the aforementioned Purple Hearts along with two Silver stars, a Bronze Star with Valor and an Army Commendation with Valor.

Wrote upon receiving his third wound his platoon leader, Lt. Kevin Beaton, Mc-
Wrote to McConnell’s parents, enclosing a photo of Sgt. McConnell on the day he was injured and stating, 'He and the other man in the picture single handed knocked out two enemy bunkers while myself and the rest of the platoon were pinned down. Even after he was hit he continued to function by calling in the Medivac helicopter and coming
to my position and letting me know the whole situation.  He performed his duty above
and beyond and will be rewarded with the Silver Star; It’s a small token for a job well done.’

Lt. Beaton told the McConnells that he did not usually write to the parents of his men but made an exception in Mc-Connell's case because, ‘He is the best I have.’

Ultimately, in May, 1968, he was evacuated; back home, he was offered an awards ceremony which he refused as ‘inappropriate.’  In fact, once back Stateside, finding that a career in pro football had been effectively quashed by his war wounds, he earned an engineering degree and resumed life as a normal—if battle scarred—citizen.

In the years prior to his retirement in 2004, McConnell found that he had kept most of the demons surrounding his memories of Vietnam under wraps, but such demons do not remain hidden forever.  Despite his career as a water and sewer superintendant, McConnell admits to spending ‘a lot of times in bars’.

He credits his wife for having been the driving force in his successful post-Vietnam life.  He can’t forget what happened overseas, and still wears a jacket bearing the names of fifteen unit members killed in action—names which he found on the Healing Wall during our interview of him at the Clinton Township Civic Center on September 4.

During the course of the interview, which will be a centerpiece of Our Vietnam Generation,
McConnell was able to speak candidly, if emotionally, about his experiences both in Vietnam, and throughout his often troubled return to civilian life.

Through it, however, he maintained the dignity and honor which coincides with his status of a genuine Michigan hero—one whom the rest of world recognizes equally. 

Brave warrior,  loving father, devoted husband, and now, a doting great-granddad, Sgt. Randy L. McConnell represents the best of what we hope for in our veterans.



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