Navy Cross

Richard Kaler, a member of the Patchogue High School Class of 1962, was a highly decorated military hero who gave his life for his country while serving in Vietnam just four years after graduation. Kaler had been a football captain and a wrestler at PHS, a young man with many friends who nicknamed him “King” because he was always the organizer of activities and always in charge. Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri, a childhood friend, remembers Kaler as “the classic gentle giant.” 

Everyone knew Richie was “born to be a Marine” and he worked hard through athletics, in long hours at the old Patchogue YMCA, even toiling for the Patchogue Village Highway Department to hone his body into the peak physical condition required for all those who wish to serve in the Corps. In 1963 he fulfilled his dream, and by March 1965 he was a Private First Class in the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Soon he was deployed to Vietnam, and promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal. On July 21, 1966, while on an operation near the Demilitarized Zone, Richie was killed in action. He was just 22 years old, and only 41 days short of the end of his tour of duty. He was decorated with a Purple Heart and the Navy Cross, the second-highest honor that can be awarded to a U.S. serviceman. Richie’s Navy Cross citation reads:

“For extraordinary heroism as a machine gunner with Company H, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines near Cam Lo, Republic of Vietnam, on July 21, 1966. The Company was engaged in a search and destroy mission during Operation Hastings, when the point man from Corporal Kaler’s platoon was fired upon and killed by enemy machine guns. Disregarding his own personal safety, he immediately moved forward through heavy fire and carried the body back. The following day, the platoon attacked the same position. When several machine gun positions opened fire, cutting down several of his comrades, Corporal Kaler, knowing the hazards involved, without hesitation, and in complete disregard for his own safety, exposed himself to the intense fire and charged the enemy positions. Receiving a bullet to the thigh, Kaler nevertheless closed within the North Vietnamese, silencing one position before he was struck and mortally wounded by enemy fire. By his daring initiative, valiant fighting spirit and selfless devotion to duty in the face of insurmountable odds, Corporal Kaler was responsible in a great measure for saving many of his comrades and thereby upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the cause of freedom.” (