Veteran Interviews: Ricky McDivitt
At the young age of 18, our featured Vietnam veteran, Mr. Ricky McDivitt, bravely enlisted to join the Navy. This decision has shaped the course of his life ever since. His military career began in January of 1967 and he retired in September of 1990. As we sat on his back porch and he reminisced about his experiences, McDivitt opened my eyes to the daily reality of serving in the Military and reminded me why they deserve to be honored every day, not just on Veteran’s Day.
McDivitt definitely comes from a military background. While his parents were not in the military, all of his brothers were. He explained, “I had 6 brothers and all of us served in the military. We were all Navy. Forrest was with me in Vietnam.” His older brother joined the Army and was killed in Korea at the young age of 20 years old. “I didn’t know him,” McDivitt explained. “He was missing in action, and then 3 years later, declared dead. I was only 2 years old when he was killed.”
When asked what boot camp was like, McDivitt explained, “It’s not like it is these days! When I went through boot camp, they were pretty tough on you back then. I went in January of ‘67, Friday the 13th. I went to my first ship in May of ‘67, which was the USS Wexford County, LST 1168.” He disclaimed, “I rode 8 ships while I was in the Navy, so sometimes I get the numbers a little messed up!” He remembers the very day he came home from Boot Camp. “You come home and you can wear your uniform around, and everyone knows you’re Navy!” The chance to come home became even more special as he got married and had children. “I wouldn’t see them for 6, 7, or 8 months. Be home for 2 or 3 months then you’re gone again!” Leaving never got any easier, no matter how many times he did it. He remembered, “It’s hard leaving every time.” He credits his wife for being so strong throughout his time in service. “Military wives have the hardest jobs in the military,” he said proudly. “Or husbands...just the single parent that has to stay behind,” he added.
McDivitt thinks back to the first time he stepped foot on a ship. He recalled, “The first time I was on a ship, it was an LST.” An LST, or Landing Ship, is a ship capable of delivering tanks, amphibious assault vehicles, and troops from shore to shore. He continued, “We hauled Marines over in ‘67. The second time I was over there, I was on the riverboats in Vietnam. Third time I was over there, I was on a Destroyer on the gunline.” McDivitt recalls that day-to-day life was quite difficult during his service, specifically when they were on the riverboats. “When I was in the country of Vietnam the second time, I was on the riverboats...you know, I was on the army troop carrier. It was [about] 7 of us on board. We lived on it. You know, we did all of our operations. We lived on a boat, ate sea rations…” I was curious to know exactly what sea rations consisted of, and he explained that they are little boxes or cans. “Then they came out with long-range...you just add water to them and heat it up. We kept them on board.”
He quickly rose in ranks during his time in service. He explained, “As you go through the military, you get more responsibility. I went all the way from a Seaman Apprentice...to Senior Chief Boatswain’s Mate.” As Chief, he had a long list of responsibilities. Boatswain’s Mates are responsible for deck maintenance, small boat operations, navigation, and supervision of personnel. “My guys did all the watches on the bridge. We did all the refueling...we got the fuel hoses going across and got the Helicopters to take supplies. My guys were in charge of all that,” he explained. They were also responsible for painting and preserving the ship and boat handling. “They used to say they were ‘Jack of all trades, master of none!” he laughed. He continued, “I made Chief, which was the best part, in ‘86.” For McDivitt, being initiated as Chief Petty Officer was an incredibly special moment. “That’s a goal in the Navy - to reach Chief Petty Officer. That was the highlight - that and making Senior Chief.”
When asked whether he made special friendships during his time in service, he responded eagerly, “Oh yeah! I got a buddy of mine I still talk to. Matter of fact, I saw him about 3 or 4 years ago now. He flew here - first time I’ve seen him in 40 years! We still talk all the time.” He also gets together with his fellow shipmates every couple of years, explaining, “I go to a reunion every 2 years, in Indianapolis. But I missed it this year because I was on the Battleship of Iowa and they had a reunion in Nashville! I had never been to my Iowa reunion - it was so close that I had to go to that one.” He also explains how he has watched men he has known since the beginning of their military careers grow and eventually retire. He explained, “I knew a lot of guys that used to work for me when I brought the USS Iowa back to commission in ‘84...I had first division, and that was their first command in the Navy - that was their first Command out of boot camp! Now they’ve retired out of the Navy. I know 3 or 4 that worked for me that stayed in and retired.” Incredibly, McDivitt also served alongside his brother for a period of time. He said, “My twin brother was a Marine. He was the Marine Detachment on board, and we were stationed together when we brought the Iowa back in.”
For McDivitt, by far the hardest part of serving in Vietnam is never quite knowing what’s to come. “You never know what’s going to happen,” he explained. “The two ships weren’t bad, but the riverboats...you just never knew. [The unpredictability] is just something you dealt with every day.”
He found his time in service to be a fulfilling endeavor, and it positively impacted his life overall. “It was definitely positive overall. The good times outweighed the bad times. Just like they say, we were brothers. We were. We depended on each other.” While he was there, he didn’t get the chance to contact his family very often at all. “I got to talk to my mom one time. Back then, we used the MARS [Military Auxiliary Radio System]. You could call home and get another radio operator to patch you through to the phone. You know, when you got through talking, you had to say ‘Over’ so they would know to switch,” he explained. “Well, my mom never really [caught onto that], so we never talked long.” McDivitt also really enjoyed sending and receiving mail. “Back then, when we wrote a letter, we just wrote ‘Free’ in the corner because we didn’t have to pay for a stamp,” he explained. “I did have some close friends of mine that I grew up with, and they had three daughters, Sherri Jo, Ginger, and Nancy...they used to write me quite often.”
When he returned home in ‘72, he got married to his first wife. His son from that first marriage has followed in his father’s footsteps and is now getting ready to retire from the Army. “He’s a Green Beret in Clarksville, Fort Campbell.” In addition to his son, he has 6 other children, as well. When he looks back at his time in the military, it is clear that it is a very special part of his life. When asked if he could sum up his experiences in service, he said, “If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it. It was an adventure!” On the topic of the military as a whole, he responded, “It’s different! It’s a league of its own. [During] my 23 years, I spent more time out of the United States than I did in the United States. I really don’t care if I never see another ocean,” he joked. “They [my family] try to get me to go on cruises...I’ve been to everywhere y'all are going to!”