March 17, 2017
Colloquium Speaker: Col. William Reeder Jr.
Dr. William Reeder is a training and leader development consultant living in the Pacific Northwest. He spends parts of each year in the education of NATO Special Operations Forces (SOF) at the NATO SOF School at Chievres Air Base, Belgium. He was formerly an associate professor of social sciences and deputy director of the U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He retired from the U.S. Army in 1995 as a colonel and subsequently earned a PhD. in history and anthropology from Kansas State University. His military service included assignments in field artillery, cavalry and aviation, and he has extensive combat experience
He is a thirty-year Army veteran with two tours of duty in Vietnam, flying armed OV-1 Mohawk reconnaissance airplanes and AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters. He participated in deep reconnaissance and surveillance operations throughout Southeast Asia and supported the special operations of MACV-SOG (Military Assistance Command Vietnam, Studies and Observations Group). He has in excess of three thousand hours of flight time including more than one thousand hours in combat. During his second combat tour, he was shot down and captured by the communist North Vietnamese, spending nearly a year as a prisoner of war. He recently wrote a book on that experience, Through the Valley: My Captivity in Vietnam, published by the Naval Institute Press and available from bookstores everywhere or any online book dealer.
Subsequent military assignments included various Army command and staff positions and a stint at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He commanded at all levels, platoon through brigade (including command of an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter squadron). His last assignment before retirement in 1995 was as the Deputy Chief of Staff, de facto Chief of Staff, for the United States Southern Command in Panama.
His military awards and decorations include the Silver Star, Valorous Unit Award, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, and three Bronze Star Medals; three Purple Hearts for wounds received in action, the POW Medal, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Bronze Star, and numerous Air Medals (one with “V” device). In 1977 he was named Army Aviator of the Year and was inducted into the U.S. Army Aviation Hall of Fame in 2014. He was featured in the PBS documentary The Helicopter Pilots of Vietnam, as well as the “Attack Helicopters” episode of Deadliest Tech on the Military Channel. He has provided military commentary on CNN and the Discovery Channel.
Through the Valley is the captivating memoir of the last U.S. Army prisoner captured during the Vietnam War. A narrative of courage, hope, and survival, Through the Valley is more than just a war story. It also portrays the thrill and horror of combat, the fear and anxiety of captivity, and the stories of friendships forged and friends lost.
In 1971 William Reeder was a senior captain on his second tour in Vietnam. He had flown armed, fixed-wing OV-1 Mohawks on secret missions deep into enemy territory in Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam during his first tour. He returned as a helicopter pilot eager to experience a whole new perspective as a Cobra gunship pilot. Believing that Nixon’s Vietnamization would soon end the war, Reeder was anxious to experience combat action. From his perspective, the Americans had prevailed, beaten the Viet Cong, and were passing everything over to the South Vietnamese Army so that Americans could leave.
Less than a year later, while providing support to forces at the besieged base of Ben Het, Reeder’s chopper went down in a flaming corkscrew. Though Reeder survived the crash, he was captured after evading the enemy for three days. He was held for weeks in jungle cages before enduring a grueling forced march on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, costing the lives of seven of his group of twenty-six POWs. Imprisoned in the notorious prisons of Hanoi, Reeder’s tenacity in the face of unimaginable hardship is not only a captivating story, but serves as an inspiration to all.
In Through the Valley William Reeder shares the torment and pain of his ordeal, but does so in the light of the hope that he never lost. His memoir reinforces the themes of courage and sacrifice, undying faith, strength of family, love of country, loyalty among comrades, and a realization of how precious is the freedom all too often taken for granted. Sure to resonate with those serving in the armed forces who continue to face the demands of combat, Through the Valley will also appeal especially to readers looking for a powerful, riveting story.