On 1 July 1964, Jeffry Randal Riekrealized one of his greatest dreams as he entered West Point with the Class of 1968. An Army brat, he had grown up around the Army and assimilated early the idealism and devotion to country that molded his character. A natural athlete, Jeff maintained an active interest in sports and physical fitness throughout his life.
As a child, Jeff was the original entrepreneur, mowing lawns with a push mower before he was 10 years old. His family remembered that Jeff always had money—he even charged his sister interest when he loaned her money. He developed a keen interest in the stock market early and stayed involved with it all his life.
Jeff had an early interest in the military and guns. He watched every western that came out on television. His first cowboy outfit was a childhood treasure; his first horse was a broom.
As a cadet, Jeff was a unique combination of the true greyhog and its arch antithesis.
On one hand, Duty, Honor, and Country were the essence of his life. He was fiercely idealistic and positive in his outlook of the world around him. A persevering but unrecognized student, Jeff managed to juggle academics with a busy athletic, extracurricular, and social schedule. He was a great roommate, as eager to help with studies as he was to solve problems with women.
On the other hand, Jeff also loved to tweak cadet regulations. Generally, these had something to do with women. Unluckily, he always seemed to be the one who got caught. He achieved fame early in Plebe year when he and Dave Sackett mistook the light of the Officer-in-Charge for that of some young women who had promised to meet them after “Taps” on the stairs to Building 720. (The women never showed up.) Eventually, Jeff would earn Century Club honors for each of his first 3 years at the Academy.
Jeff’s intensity carried into sports as well. He trained tirelessly at cross-country and would regularly run more than 70 miles a week. He loved the self-discipline that running gave him.
His interest in animals also put him in contravention of Army regulations. His most famous pet was his turtle “Atlas.” When not hidden in his secret pen under the ladder closet, “Atlas” could be found under the collar of Jeff’s immaculately made-up bed. To prevent some ecological tragedy, Jeff always placed a 3″x 5″ card on his bed with the word “Atlas” and an arrow indicating the location of his pet. Unfortunately, “Atlas” still met a tragic end. He had nearly completed a rigorous airborne qualification course that included jumping off the roof of New South Barracks in daylight, at night, in water (during a rainstorm), and under combat conditions (cadets throwing rocks during the descent). On his last and final jump, “Atlas” was unexpectedly swept up by a sudden gust of wind, blown off the area drop zone, and carried over the hospital. He was never seen again.
As a cadet, Jeff spent much of his time studying the stock market and his investments. Inspired by Schulman’s book Anyone Can Make a Million, he spent his graduation leave at the Bache Company offices in DC trading commodity futures. There, he made enough money to pay his car loan and had enough to invest in stocks as well. He continued these activities during his interim assignment at Ft. Riley, Kansas, with his roommate, Ross Irvin.
After graduation, Jeff was proudly commissioned into the Infantry by his father. He attended IOBC, Ranger School, and Airborne School at Ft. Benning. He then reported to Ft. Riley as a platoon leader and participated almost immediately in the first of the “Reforger” exercises. Finally able to lead troops, putting the many years of preparation to use, when Vietnam called, Jeff was ready.
For the few months he was in Vietnam, he served well and was proud of what he was doing for his country. He became a friend of the Vietnamese and took very good care of his men. He was loved by them. From September 1969 to 25 Feb 1970, he received the Soldier’s Medal, the Air Medal, two Army Commendation Medals with “V” device and oak leaf cluster, Army Commendation with “V,” the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star with 3 oak leaf clusters and the Silver Star.
Jeff was killed on February 25, 1970 while leading his reconnaissance platoon on a mission. They ran into an ambush with heavy fire—the 4 Vietnamese soldiers at the front of the formation were wounded. Characteristically fearless and responsible, Jeff and his RTO provided covering fire so the rest of the platoon could get to a bomb crater. While doing so, Jeff and the RTO were killed. The irony was that Jeff was scheduled for R&R the next day. He had planned to go to Sydney and, except for this last mission, was all set to go.
Jeff was buried at Arlington Cemetery on 5 March 1970, two days after his 23d birthday. In the spring of 1974, Colonel Justus Riek, Jeff’s father, was buried in Arlington Cemetery no more than 20 paces from Jeff. In a very moving gesture, Jeff’s mother Ruth, took a bouquet of flowers from Justy’s casket, and placed it by Jeff’s headstone. Not only is Jeff with his fellow fallen comrades, but he also is within “hailing” distance of his father.
Jeff remains with all those who had the honor of knowing him. We can never forget his idealism and dedication. His humor was infectious and his friendship dear. He was a delightful young man, loved and remembered by his family. He remains as young and vibrant today—more than 25 years later, as he was then.
We miss you.
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard