Richard Dennis "Buck" Ator
Commanding Officer Company B 1/22 Infantry 1967
4th Infantry Division
(died as MACV advisor)
Home of Record: Moses Lake, WA
Date of birth: 03/10/1937
Service: Army of the United States
Grade at loss: O4
ID No: 533343078
MOS: 2162: Operations & Training Staff Officer (G3, S3)
Length Service: 06
Unit: ADV TEAM 26, HQ, MACV ADVISORS, MACV
Start Tour: 11/28/1969
Incident Date: 03/05/1970
Casualty Date: 03/05/1970
Age at Loss: 32
Location: Tuyen Duc Province, South Vietnam
Remains: Body recovered
Casualty Type: Hostile, died outright
Casualty Reason: Ground casualty
Casualty Detail: Artillery, rocket, or mortar
"Buck" Ator had served
several years with 1/22 Infantry at Fort Lewis and during the
Battalion's initial deployment to Vietnam. He commanded Company B in Vietnam 1966-67
and returned to Vietnam for another tour in 1969 with MACV Advisory Team 26.
Richard Ator was killed in
action when his Advisory Team camp came under attack
by hostile forces.
He was awarded the Silver Star Medal in MACV General Orders 1293 dated March 13, 1970.
He left behind his wife, one son and one daughter.
Bob Babcock writes:
"Buck Ator was
killed in action on March 5, 1970 on his second tour in Vietnam.
He earned the Silver Star
while running through mortar and small arms fire to resupply the South Vietnamese unit he was serving as an advisor.
His name is engraved on panel 13W, line 84 on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C."
Major Richard D. Ator's decorations
As an ROTC Cadet Captain,
The medal was presentd by
The Legion of Valor Cross
Photo and caption by Bob Babcock
The following is a story by Bob Babcock, from his book, "What Now, Lieutenant?".
by Bob Babcock
After Sandy Fiacco was
promoted from company commander to Commandant of the 4th Infantry
Division NCO Academy
and Replacement Orientation School, we felt we would never get another CO as good as he had been. How wrong we were !
The luck of Bravo Company held and Captain Buck Ator, though operating in a totally different style, proved to be
more than competent to fill Sandy's boots.
"Buck" Ator had been the aide to General Collins, the
commander of the Fourth Infantry Division,
before taking command of our company. As the general's aide, he had his choice of companies and chose Bravo Company,
First Battalion, 22nd Infantry regiment. While at Fort Lewis, he had served as a staff officer in our battalion prior
to his move to general's aide. Several of the old timers knew Buck but to most of us, he was a totally unknown quantity.
Everything we heard
about him was positive. In fact, those who knew him could not say
enough good things about him.
I hated to lose Sandy but was happy to be getting a commander who came so highly recommended.
Buck was calm,
professional, and much more laid back than Sandy. He was good
with the people but did not have
the personal involvement and intense personal interest in them that Sandy had. He worked through his officers and NCOs,
letting them take care of the day to day needs of the men in the company.
I had just taken over as
Exceutive Officer (XO) when Buck came in. From the very first
day, he told me it was my job
to run the company in the rear, providing logistical and personnel support to him and the troops in the jungle.
If I had any problems, I was to let him know. If I could handle it, I was to do so, with his full support.
It was a good feeling to start out with such a vote of confidence.
As the company moved
back into the jungle on Operation Sam Houston, Buck showed he had
many of the same traits
we had admired and appreciated so much while working under Sandy.
Buck had common sense
and used good judgment in his decision making. He listened to the
experiences our company
had gone through in our first six months and elected to build on that base rather than trying to change our proven routine.
Many commanders did not have the self confidence to listen to others. They felt they had to make their mark by
making sweeping changes, whether they were needed or not. Buck did not suffer from that problem. He worked
under the assumption, "if it's not broke, don't fix it".
Even though the fighting
was intensifying in January and February of 1967, Buck stuck to
the same methods that had
proved to be effective during Operation Paul Revere IV. While other companies were regularly suffering substantial casualties,
Bravo Company sustained its incredible record of not losing any men to the enemy.
The company continued to
stay out in the field more than the other companies, continued to
cover more ground,
and uncover more enemy activity than the others. Buck insured all our standards were maintained.
The men quickly learned to trust and respect him.
In mid March, Bravo
company suffered our first casualties from the enemy. Throughout
the fire fights and mortar attacks
which lasted on and off for three days, Buck reacted as a true professional.
He assessed the
situation as it constantly changed. He made smart decisions which
kept the casualties to a minimum
while inflicting heavy casualties on the NVA. He kept artillery barrages and air strikes saturating the area to help
neutralize the enemy while maneuvering his company to engage them.
Four men in my former
platoon were seriously wounded and evacuated. All four survived.
Our record of no men
killed in action by the enemy remained intact, due in no small part to Buck's outstanding command capabilities.
Soon after that action,
I had the privilege of announcing to Buck the birth of his son,
Steven. We were waiting daily
to get the notification from the Red Cross that his wife, Joanne, had delivered their baby. When the message came to me
at Plei Djereng, I lost no time in radioing the good news to Buck as he trudged through the jungle.
That night, I flew out
and spent the night in the jungle with him. We did not know many
of the details of the birth
but we had become friends and it was a time he wanted to talk. I was glad to be able to share that time with him.
As the end of our tour
of duty neared, replacements started coming in to take the place
of the men who had been there
for nearly a year. Buck managed the transition of personnel and maintained a set of standards for Bravo Company
that held until he returned to the States two months later, after most of us had already returned.
He maintained our record
of losing no men killed by the enemy. As had happened when Sandy
Fiacco was in command,
we lost one more man, James Hubbard, killed by an unavoidable, unfortunate accident.
Why our company had been
so fortunate is still a mystery to me. Of the 180 men who went to
Vietnam with us,
only three did not return home alive. Two were killed in separate, unavoidable accidents where "friendly" artillery
and mortar fire had fallen on us. One died because he left a hospital where he was confined with malaria and,
delirious with fever, had tried to catch the plane he was scheduled to go home on.
I do attribute part of
it to luck. But I attribute the largest portion of our phenomenal
record to the outstanding leadership
we had - Buck Ator and Sandy Fiacco were both outstanding leaders. I am proud to have served in their commands.
Buck Ator's photo from the 4th Infantry
Division STRAC yearbook, 1962.
At that time LT Ator was a Platoon Leader in Company A 1st Battle Group 22nd Infantry
Left to right: 1st SGT Bob McDonald,
CPT Buck Ator, CPT Jim Stapleton with 1/22 Infantry in Vietnam
At the time of this photo McDonald was 1st SGT for Company B, Ator was Commanding Officer of Company B and
Stapleton was Commanding Officer of Company C.
Photo from Russ Zink via Bob Babcock
Pioneer Memorial Gardens
Plot: Section GDES L-98 #5
Grave marker for Richard Dennis Ator
Photo by Mindy from the Find A Grave website
For a tribute to Richard D. Ator click on the following link:
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