Richard Knight has enjoyed an excellent year.
He was named the statewide Veteran of the Year for Alabama’s 10 chapters of the Vietnam Veterans of America. The Huntsville resident received his award at the veterans award dinner Nov. 10 in Birmingham. There was also an honoree apiece for the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Military Officers Association of America, and the Disabled Veterans of America.
Knight’s plaque cites him as the one “who has done the most to foster the highest ideals in community service, membership and our American way of life.”
Knight serves as membership chairman of Huntsville’s 650-member Chapter 1067 of the Vietnam Veterans of America. He was one of the chapter’s founding members in 2012. Chapter 1067 is the largest chapter in Alabama and the eighth largest of the more than 670 chapters nationwide.
“He’s absolutely a man that has supported our chapter 100 percent,” Charlie Miller, president of Chapter 1067, said. “And because of his hard work, he’s added to our membership probably 400 members. That’s exceptional. He’s the Alabama state Veteran of the Year.”
Besides recruiting members for the chapter, Knight assists veterans in navigating their paperwork through the system to be awarded their benefit claims. He’s not a veterans service officer but a self-taught “paper shuffler,” he said. Knight learned the system by pushing his own paperwork from the late 1990s to 2000 when he gained 100 percent disability. He was diagnosed with diabetes and heart disease.
“It took me by surprise,” Knight said of his award. “I didn’t feel the work that I do would get to that point to be recognizable.”
He served as a machine gunner with the Marines in Vietnam from 1969-70. He was a 23-year-old lance corporal with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines in An Hoa. His unit, H Company, went out on numerous patrols. But in mid-February 1970, shortly before they were scheduled to return to the U.S., one of his friends volunteered to go on patrol with G Company. His friend stepped on a land mine. All that remained was part of his flak jacket and his left foot.
In April 1970 when Knight arrived at the Pensacola airport, he encountered protesters.
Knight received the combat action ribbon, national defense ribbon, good conduct ribbon, sharpshooter badge and expert badge on the machine gun. He completed his two-year obligation and left the service as a lance corporal. Knight joined the Marines after receiving his draft notice in November 1968.
His hometown Excel is in Monroe County in south Alabama. He retired in 2004 as a refractory ceramic engineer after 34 years at what was then Inland Steel in East Chicago, Indiana.
He and his wife of 46 years, Lillian, have three children and three grandchildren. Terrance, the oldest, lives in Athens. Their younger son, Kevin, and their daughter, Leslie, both reside in Huntsville.
At 71 Knight likes to read and spend his time working with veterans to get the benefits they deserve.
“I think it’s wonderful,” he said of this nation’s commemoration of 50 years since the Vietnam War. “I believe the 50th commemoration has brought a lot of veterans out of the shadows to be recognized.”
Editor’s note: This is the 250th in a series of articles about Vietnam veterans as the United States commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.