Last Vietnam War draftee retires from active-duty

CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea– As the cold wind blows on a crisp and calm morning in South Korea, a voice echoes, Get Ready! Get Set! Begin!

Chief Warrant Officer 5 Ralph E. Rigby executes the commands as he prepares for his final Army Physical Fitness Test, a test which he has devotedly taken for the last 42 years.

Rigby, a native of Auburn, New York, began his military service when he was drafted, in 1972, during the Vietnam era. Today, he is known as the last continuously serving draftee on active duty in the U.S. Army.

Where it all began

As a young boy, Rigby always had a love for vehicles. He would walk around carrying any tool he thought could assist someone who was having car issues. Rigby had just started his own mechanic shop when he received a draft notice.

At the young age of 19, joining the Army was far from his life plans. He was clueless as to what would be in store for him. His first response to the notice was, “I don’t have to put up with this! I can just move to Canada like everyone else, and avoid all of this.” he said jokingly.

On the other hand, his mom, Dorothy Rigby, wasn’t going to allow this to happen. Her exact words to him were, “No Way! You are not a quitter,” she said. “We do not quit in this family.”

She was scared that her son had to serve, but her daily prayers reassured her that he would come back home safely. With his mother’s advice, Rigby set out on his military journey. “I took my mother’s words and kept on going,” said Rigby. “After all, being drafted was the closest I have come to winning the lottery.”

Throughout the years

Upon processing through his local Military Entry Processing Station, he was assigned to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for basic training. After training, he attended the United States Army Engineer School at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, as a power generation equipment repairman. Although he was drafted during the Vietnam era, he did not end up deploying there. Instead, his first assignment was to Kwachon, South Korea.

Rigby recalled a message the president of the United States at the time, President Richard M. Nixon, ordered to all draftees. It read, “All draftees would be out of the Army and be home by Thanksgiving,” said Rigby. In his mind, he had other plans. Instead, he signed a waiver electing to remain on active service. He enjoyed his first assignment so much that he decided to extend his tour. After being promoted to sergeant first class, with less than 10 years in service, Rigby joined the ranks of the Warrant Officer Corps.

Throughout his military career, Rigby has served in numerous positions to include Power Generator Equipment Repairman, Platoon Sergeant, Engineer Equipment Maintenance Supervisor, Maintenance Technician and Ground Support Maintenance Technician. Rigby, who now serves as the senior ordnance logistics officer in the 2nd Infantry Division, on Camp Red Cloud, South Korea, is responsible for making sure the division’s equipment is fully functional, as well as ensuring all vehicles assigned to the division are ready to “Fight Tonight”.

“I love what I do,” said Rigby. “Knowing that I am able to work with all the brigades while still getting the opportunity to mentor officers and junior enlisted Soldiers.”
Rigby believes he has made a positive impact on the lives of the Soldiers who have worked for him. He has a lot to offer, and he ensures he uses his vast knowledge and extensive experience when helping Soldiers.

Chief Warrant Officer 5 Jacqueline Fitch, Army Sustainment Command Logistics Support Team Chief, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and former co-worker of Rigby remembers Rigby as “fiercely loyal, and his work ethic as tireless. His attention to detail is uncanny, and his dedication to the mission can never be questioned,” said Fitch. “He exemplifies the value of selfless service.”

Rigby’s love for maintenance will spark a conversation with anyone who shares the same passion as him. “He would walk into anyone’s motor pool and start talking,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jefferson Whipp, Support Operations Maintenance Chief, 1916th Support Battalion, Fort Irwin, California. “He was always trying to resolve some kind of maintenance issue. He is very involved and hardworking.”

Bidding farewell

“It is with heartfelt thanks and our utmost appreciation that we thank Chief Rigby for his service, and wish him the best of luck in his well deserved retirement,” said Maj. Gen. Thomas S. Vandal, commanding general of the 2nd Inf. Div., and guest speaker at the ceremony. “Chief, you have truly been a bargain for the American people and our Army; a giver who has sacrificed much for the sake of our nation.”

In a packed room filled with fellow U.S. and Republic of Korea soldiers, community leaders, and family members, Rigby, looked on as the crowd expressed their gratitude and support with a standing ovation for his 42 years of military service.

Today, Rigby, not only celebrated almost half of a century in the U.S. Army, but he also celebrated his 62nd birthday.

“Everyone thinks they’re here to celebrate my retirement. Guess what? You’re really here to celebrate my birthday. It’s my birthday, and you’re at my party,” Rigby said. The crowd sang happy birthday as he cut his cake.

Life after retirement

The Army turned out to be a great career choice for Rigby, and has afforded him many opportunities. Unfortunately, he has to let it go. “It’s mandatory to get old, but only optional to grow up,” said Rigby. “The Army has allowed me to travel and see things that I would have never seen otherwise. For that, I am thankful.”

Rigby flashed back to 1972, same country, different location, where it all began 42 years ago and said, “If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would!” I’ve watched Korea grow, and I’ve watched it grow immensely. I’ve been a part of history ??? I’ve witnessed firsthand the strengthening of the U.S.- ROK-Alliance,” said Rigby.

Rigby, who has no plans to retire completely, will make Fayetteville, North Carolina his home.


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