Richard J. Rinaldo is a Vietnam War veteran and a Distinguished Service Cross recipient. Keep reading to learn about his early life, his inspiration for collecting the stories featuring in Courage in Combat, and his thoughts on courage in today’s military in the interview below.
Where were you born? Where did you grow up?
I was born in Brooklyn, NY, but my mother wanted to be near her mother in New York City’s “Little Italy.” So we moved back to what we called, “The Neighborhood,” which is where I grew up.
Where is this Little Italy? Barry Moreno, in his book, Italian Americans, part of the Barron’s Coming to America series, says that, “The first important Italian settlement in New York was located in the notorious Five Points neighborhood in the 1840s. But as more Italians arrived, the community slowly crept northward and finally found its richest cultural expression in the immigrant world of Little Italy.” (My emphasis). This is my old neighborhood, bounded by Bleecker Street on the north, the Bowery on the east, Canal Street on the south, and Lafayette Street on the west. Some will call parts of it NOLITA for north of Little Italy. However, for most of us that grew up there it will always be the “The Neighborhood,” our Little Italy.
Could you tell us a bit about any history of military service in your family? In what ways was the military part of your life from an early age?
My father was too young for World War I and too old for World War II, but many of my uncles and cousins served in World War II. In fact the most vivid memory of my childhood was V-J day with the streets alive with jubilation, flags, fire engines sounding their horns and sirens. Another was the return of one of my uncles from service as a Sailor in the Pacific. The neighborhood was patriotic and had big banners, signs and events in support of our serviceman. After the war murals and plaques adorned the streets.
What kinds of books did you read growing up? Which had the greatest impact on you?
Comic books such as Superman, Captain America, Classics Illustrated. Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage. God is my Co-Pilot. The Marauders, Ivanhoe, The Deerslayer. Magazines like National Geographic, which we could get for pennies in the city’s Book Row, survived now only by its famous Strand Book Store. I think that Joseph Altsheler’s historical Civil War novels had the greatest impact on me as a young reader, as they were designed for young readers. They involved heroes and adventure, which appealed to me.
What did you do before you started (or in addition to) writing? Did you have any odd jobs?
In high school and college I worked part-time delivering groceries, on a truck in the garment district and parking cars at a Ford plant in New Jersey. After ROTC in college, I was commissioned as an infantry officer in the Army.
When did you first realize that you wanted to become a writer? What is it about writing that appealed to you?
I really began writing after Vietnam, reading and writing reviews of books dealing with the war. Even a movie review of “Apocalypse Now” and the “Deer Hunter.” I was still on active duty in the Army and these efforts seemed to be therapeutic, given the nature of our society’s views of that war and its warriors then. At the same time an interest in military affairs and military history seemed to fit well with my concept of a professional military officer.
What fascinates you about revisiting the past and bringing it to life in a book?
In the long run we are all dead, as someone once said. Yet, hopefully, we leave good memories. We leave love. We leave values. We empower and inspire those we leave. We enrich the future. I believe that what we choose to remember often defines who we are. I believe that if we cannot preserve your past, we cannot prepare well for our future or fully enjoy our present.
When and how did you become interested in Military history?
The Army assigned me to ROTC at Hofstra University, where I would teach military history. So it sent me to study the History of the Military Art at West Point, a six week summer course, specifically designed for ROTC instructors. The course was excellent, taught by students with guidance from the professors and was interesting and enjoyable, though rigorous. I excelled with a monograph on the Battle of Gettysburg published in a special pamphlet. We all got a nice collection of classic military history texts to use.
Who are your favorite authors, fiction and non-fiction, and why?
I am drawn to a variety of fiction and non-fiction authors and find it very difficult to list my favorites and why. Among them might be Joseph Conrad, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, C.S. Lewis and Graham Greene because of the keen insights about human nature and the human condition that I find in their writings, History, especially military history, remains an important area of interest for the same reasons. Novels in historical settings, rather than dry recounts of historical events appeal to me. Thus my current interest in Harold Coyle and Stephen Coonts, for example. But I have found W.E.B.Griffin’s work about military folks realistic and interesting. I love Ken Follett, and the scope of his writing is fascinating. Steven Ambrose, David McCullough and, Rick Atkinson are among those that seem to capture so much of interest in historical events without the need for novelization. I truly enjoy Lawrence Sander’s novels for his clever, brisk writing, colorful characters, and interesting whodunits. Others I enjoy for those reasons are David Baldacci, Robert D. Parker, Clive Cussler, Jeffrey Archer. I’ve always enjoyed the spy genre in foreign settings and Robert Ludlum, Jack Higgins and Ian Fleming come to mind as quite enjoyable reading of that type. John Le Carre also. I’d be remiss in not mentioning James Webb and Karl Marlantes for Vietnam War novels that are classics, which resonated with my own experiences in combat.
Have you read anything lately that you’d like to recommend to our readers?
Harold Coyle, Savage Wilderness. Bone-chilling accounts of combat in early American history. Resurrected scary memories!
Ralph Peters, Cain at Gettysburg. It is to the Confederacy what Killer Angels was to the Union. Masterful.
One subject that published authors often claim to be under-discussed is rejection. Could you talk a bit about any of your experiences with rejection and about the persistence and resilience required of authors? Do you have any advice for budding military history authors wanting to get published?
I had few rejections, given my somewhat limited and part-time writing of book reviews and essays in military publications, though when I did I viewed them objectively and was able to persist with submissions. Sometimes I would revise and adapt an article or writing for use elsewhere with success. Advice: Seek the audience with solid interest in your topic. Network.
How much research did you do for the book? Can you give us some tips on this?
I had a head start and advantage with membership in the organization and friendship with some of the people whose stories are included. Also our General Orders periodical publication provided ma lot of material for use and further research. I made extensive use of the Internet to find further materials, especially public domain materials. Where permissions are needed for this type of anthology I knew that persistence was important. Stay the course and trust that the universe will come to your aid.
Why did you decide to write this book? What prompted you to put this story down on paper?
Ghosts. They surround me all the time. Some are those men dying beside me crying for their mothers. The sanctity of their memories demands recognition. Some guilt involved there, Parents, relatives and friends from long ago and lately. I see their faces smiling with pride. The funnies and comic books read at my father’s feet. Superman. Captain America. General MacArthur. Teddy Roosevelt. Movies. “The Sands of Iwo Jima,” with John Wayne. John Ireland in “A Walk in the Sun.” Joseph Altsheler and his historical Civil War novels. Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage. TV’s “Victory at Sea.” God is my Co-Pilot. The Marauders, Ivanhoe. The men and woman of the Legion of Valor past and present.
How long did it take you to write it?
About three years.
What do you like most about your book? Why should we read it?
I believe that the book provides a good understanding of what combat is like and what courage in combat entails in many different circumstances. Both military professionals and citizens should know about these things. This is because, if history is any guide, wars and combat will continue to plague mankind.
Our nation needs to be ready for war and combat and our youth must realize that others before them have done what was needed in these circumstances, thus giving them the confidence and inspiration as well as some of the knowledge to perform both humanely and competently in the future.
Also combat is a crucible for the expressions of values that adhere to civilization and people in uncivilized circumstances brought on by the imperfections of humanity.
Richard J. Rinaldo is a retired Army lieutenant colonel, who commanded a rifle company in Vietnam. He served in U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, where he wrote about peacekeeping and homeland defense. He also served at Hofstra University, where he taught Military History to cadets and other students. He is a graduate of the Armed Forces Staff College and National Defense University’s National Security Management Course, the Command and General Staff College, and West Point’s History of the Military Art course. He has a B.A. Degree in History from Fordham University and post-graduate degrees from Hofstra University.
About the Book
Published in conjunction with the Legion of Valor of the United States of America, this book tells stories about our military heroes from the Civil War onward. They relate personal accounts and reflections on combat and war from members of the Legion of Valor of the Unites States of America, Inc. and their friends. Courage in Combat explores the concept of courage through aspects of the lives, thoughts, and actions of this elite group. They are recipients of the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, and the Air Force Cross. Their awards are our nation’s highest military decorations, given only to one in 20,000 combatants. Among them are sergeants and generals as well as corpsmen, civilians, engineers, “grunts,” and paratroopers. There are men and women, a mess attendant, aviators, spies and POWs, a cavalry scout, candidates for sainthood, and a President of the United States.
This book also includes a short history of this unique group, America’s oldest military service organization, and an extensive this of its members, past and present.
Courage in Combat discusses the nature of courage, explores the different ways in which courage is shown, and celebrates the courage shown by these recipients, most of whom would say, “I was just doing my job.”