Robert Swan Mueller III is perhaps best known as the former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who is now responsible for the Special Counsel investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections.
But before he was appointed by President George W. Bush to the position of FBI Director, Mueller served as a Marine Corps officer during the Vietnam War. As the Washington Post attested, Mueller’s service was brief but remarkable. He studied politics at Princeton University, where he met lacrosse teammate, David Spencer Hackett, who would be killed by enemy fire in Quang Tri Province on April 30, 1967.
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Mueller has cited Hackett’s death as his motivation for joining the Marines.
“One would have thought that the life of a Marine, and David’s death in Vietnam, would argue strongly against following in his footsteps,” Mueller said in a speech for the College of William and Mary’s May 2013 commencement ceremony.
“But many of us saw in him the person we wanted to be, even before his death. He was a leader and a role model on the fields of Princeton. He was a leader and a role model on the fields of battle as well. And a number of his friends and teammates joined the Marine Corps because of him, as did I.”
Mueller applied for Officer Candidate School and would train at Parris Island, Army Ranger School, and Army Airborne School. As a Marine, Mueller’s attendance in elite Army training was a testament to his proficiency — the positions were highly competitive and reserved for the best.
Mueller deployed to Vietnam with H Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, a unit that was decorated for two particularly intense battles. In December 1968, Mueller, then a 2nd lieutenant, would receive the Bronze Star Medal with the “V Device” for his valor during combat.
According to his citation, Mueller was the lead element in a patrol that fell under attack when he “skillfully supervised the evacuation of casualties from the hazardous area and… personally led a fire team across the fire-swept terrain to recover a mortally wounded Marine who had fallen.”
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In April 1969, Mueller was shot in the thigh during an ambush, but maintained his position and ensured fire superiority over the enemy and defeated the hostile forces. For his actions that day, he received the Purple Heart and a Navy Commendation Medal for valor. He remained in Vietnam despite his wounds, however, and continued to serve after his recovery.
Mueller separated as a captain in 1970, and would be inducted into the Army Ranger Hall of Fame in 2004, where he was credited with leading the FBI “through the dramatic transformation required in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks.”
“I do consider myself fortunate to have survived my tour in Vietnam. There were many – men such as David Hackett – who did not. And perhaps because of that, I have always felt compelled to try to give back in some way,” Mueller said in his 2013 commencement speech. “The lessons I learned as a Marine have stayed with me for more than 40 years. The value of teamwork, sacrifice, and discipline – life lessons I could not have learned in quite the same way elsewhere.”