RI veteran honored decades later for his service in Vietnam War

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Army Specialist Richard Esposito was presented with nearly a dozen military decorations Friday, decades after serving his country in the Vietnam War.

Born in Washington, D.C., Esposito moved to Rhode Island with his family following his father’s service in World War II. He graduated from Johnston High School, then went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice from Roger Williams College and Salve Regina University.

In 1965, Esposito entered the Army after receiving his draft notification. Less than a year later, after training at Ft. Dix, he was sent to Vietnam as part of the 527th Military Police Company.

While deployed, Esposito’s responsibilities included manning security posts, walking patrols, and escorting military convoys throughout the city of Saigon. In 1968, Esposito’s unit was attacked by a company of Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army soldiers. The responding platoon was ambushed and after 10 hours of gunfire, reinforcements were sent to help Esposito and his comrades win the first of many battles.

After his second tour in Vietnam, Esposito returned to the United States and was stationed at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, where he completed his service in December 1968. 

Shortly after leaving the Army, Esposito joined the Rhode Island State Police. He served 23 years on the force in uniform and later as a detective. Esposito rose in the ranks and retired from the state police as the Lieutenant in charge of the Crime Scene Unit.

“We are proud of his service to both his state and nation,” said Colonel Ann C. Assumpico, Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police and Director of the Rhode Island Department of Public Safety.

Recently, Esposito reached out to U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin’s office to retrieve the service decorations he never received from the Army.

“Mr. Esposito dedicated his life to serving our country, both at home and abroad, and I’m honored to celebrate his bravery and dedication by delivering him these service awards for his time in the U.S. Army,” said Langevin. “We owe him a debt of gratitude for his to commitment to protecting the United States and its citizens.”

On Friday, inside Langevin’s Warwick office, Esposito was awarded the Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Vietnam Service Medal and Bronze Star Attachment, Presidential Unit Citation, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Ribbon, Expert Badge and Pistol Bar, Marksman Badge and Machine Gun Bar, Sharpshooter Badge and Rifle Bar, and  Meritorious Unit Commendation.

He also received a Certificate of Recognition for his service during the Cold War.

“It’s wonderful to finally have these service medals years after I was in the U.S. Army, and I must thank Congressman Langevin for making this possible,” said Esposito. “My time in the service and as a Rhode Island State Police Detective is something I am extremely proud of, and these medals represent my hard work and love for this country.”

To show his gratitude, Esposito presented Langevin with a challenge coin from his military police battalion.

Esposito said the timing of the medal presentation was especially meaningful to him. Jan. 31 will mark the anniversary of the attack on Saigon that killed one-fourth of his company – 17 members of the military police were killed and eight were wounded.

“I’m overwhelmed because I always thought the men that were killed in my company were more deserving of medals than myself,” said Esposito.

Col. Ann Assumpico and Michael Jolin from the Rhode Island Office of Veterans Affairs both attended the award presentation, along with Esposito’s family.

Esposito and his wife, Jean, have two children who followed in their father’s footsteps. Both children currently serve in law enforcement – his son Richard is a Sergeant in the Providence Police Department and his daughter, Michelle, is a Connecticut State Parole Officer.