A Special Kind of Hero

Story by Heike Hasenauer

Courage, skill, dedication and love of country combined to make Maj. Richard Meadows ...A Special Kind of Hero

RETIRED Maj. Richard Meadows lived a life punctuated by adventure, danger and intrigue. When he died of leukemia in July, only hours before he was to receive the Presidential Citizens Medal, the special operations community lost a legend.

"I see him as the same hero they saw," said his son, Capt. Mark Meadows, commander of Company F, 51st Infantry Regiment, a long-range surveillance unit attached to XVIII Airborne Corps' 519th Military Intelligence Battalion at Fort Bragg, N.C.

"When he came out of the Korean War at 19, he was a master sergeant. Special Forces cranked up, he got involved and became intrigued with long range reconnaissance and special forces stuff," Mark said.

President Bill Clinton, in a letter to the elder Meadows before his death, wrote, "In Korea, Vietnam, Iran and many other dangerous locales, you established a legendary reputation that will forever be hallowed within the special forces and by all Americans who know of your extraordinary exploits."

Shortly after Meadows' death, Clinton, in a public statement, wrote, "I am pleased that Maj. Meadows knew of [the presidential honor] before his death."

In the citation that accompanied the award, presented to Meadows' family, Clinton wrote: "His exceptional special forces and civilian career included operations behind enemy lines in Vietnam for which he received a rare battlefield commission, leadership in a daring rescue attempt of POWs at Son Tay Prison near Hanoi, infiltration into Tehran for the Desert One hostage rescue mission, and a key role in establishing the elite Delta Force."

The elder Meadows joined the Army at 15 and spent more than 30 years serving his country -- most of it in Special Forces and Ranger positions. He fought in the Korean War, and became its youngest master sergeant.

In 1953, he joined the 10th Special Forces Group and, in 1960, became the first NCO to participate in an exchange program between the 7th SFG and the British army's elite 22nd Special Air Service Regt.

In 1961 Meadows deployed to Laos as part of the White Star mobile training team that spent six months teaching combat tactics to the Royal Lao Army and Laotian tribal guerillas.

During three tours in Vietnam Meadows conducted numerous cross-border reconnaissance and commando missions. He also helped write the operations plan for the daring raid to free American POWs from Son Tay Prison, near Hanoi, in which he served as assault team leader.

His actions in Southeast Asia so impressed the senior U.S. commander in Vietnam, Gen. William Westmoreland, that he obtained approval for Meadows' direct commission to captain. It was the first battlefield commission to be given during the Vietnam war.

Meadows' last assignment was at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., in 1977, where he was the training officer and deputy commander of the jungle phase of Ranger School.

But his special operations career was far from over.

Meadows traveled to Iran in 1980 during the Iran hostage crisis and, as a U.S. Army consultant, posed as a foreign businessman to scout the American Embassy in Tehran where the hostages were being held. That mission was aborted when three of eight Navy helicopters involved experienced system failures.

Meadows' many military awards and decorations include: the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, Bronze Star with Valor Device, Air Medal, Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, Ranger Tab, Scuba Badge and numerous foreign awards.

The man who, in the words of U.S. Special Operations Command commander Gen. Wayne Downing, "made extraordinary contributions to the security of the nation," was remembered at a July reunion of the Son Tay Raid Association at Hurlburt Field, Fla. During the reunion, Meadows was inducted into the Army Ranger Hall of Fame.

Attendees included Meadows' widow, Pamela; son, Capt. Meadows; daughter, Michele Gilmore; and USASOC's Downing, who made the presentations.