By Kathy Henderson
Over the years, when the idea about writing his life story as a personal record for his family would come up, Como Park resident and former Vietnam War helicopter pilot Raymond Wilson had good intentions that someday he’d get around to it.
What Wilson never imaged was when he finally put words onto paper, he’d end up co-author, with Bruce Richardson of St. Louis Park, on their recently published memoir titled “Brothers.”
The book title and their co-author experiences are especially noteworthy because Wilson and Richardson aren’t really brothers. And they didn’t meet until 2017, when recruiting for Twin Cities PBS/TPT’s “The Telling Project: Minnesota Remembers Vietnam” brought them together at a Dunn Brothers Coffee shop in Minneapolis.
Discovering they both served in the Vietnam War and knew the Army’s base camp at Củ Chi could have ended in a one-time coffee shop conversation for the two veterans.
Instead, it actually started a lasting friendship between Wilson, an Army helicopter pilot in 1970-71, and Richardson, who was an Army airborne ranger in artillery in 1969-70 in Vietnam.
Parallel life adventures
As their conversation and connections continued, Wilson and Richardson discovered they had several parallel life experiences. Those common situations led to them writing their memoirs. At each life juncture, Wilson first tells his story, Richardson follows with his account and then “together” they bring their stories to the present time, reflect, provide lessons learned or offer friendly mentoring advice to their readers.
When the two men met, Richardson, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, was serving his fourth four-year term as a member of the St. Louis Park School Board. Since 1999, he had been invited by teachers to talk to their students about his days at West Point and Vietnam service or add a personal perspective to a class studying Tim O’Brien’s well-known book “The Things they Carried.”
Not long after meeting, Wilson accepted Richardson’s invitation to join him in the schools.
“My presentation was good, but Ray’s contribution made it great,” Richardson said. Until the COVID-19 pandemic, they teamed up for presentation at schools in St. Louis Park, St. Paul and Edina.
Richardson said the idea of writing a book together germinated from the times “when we spoke to the students in schools and other forums, and we realized that we had a lot to say about dreams, success and failure, and equity and justice.”
The two men found the students were interested in more than their formal history-oriented presentations. Often the white students surrounded Wilson, who is Black, with questions, while the Black students were asking questions of Richardson, who is white. It was apparent that the students wanted more than a war narrative from them.
Thus, “Brothers” became more than a war narrative, although 63 pages of the 216-page book take place in Vietnam and present a realistic portrayal of combat action. Spoiler: Each was shot down in a helicopter, an experience that Richardson said “brought him back to God.”
Their lives before and after Vietnam service take unanticipated twists and turns and are covered in chapters such as “Dreams,” “Education,” “Awakening to Be Leaders” and “Building Our Communities,” details of which are best saved for the reader to discover.
It took three years before they were ready to submit their book for publication and landed Austin Macauley as their publisher.
Wilson credits Richardson with the drive to push it through to completion. Both credit the support and encouragement they received from their wives and families. They also joke they spent so much time discussing their planning and progress over Dunn Brothers’ coffee that that’s where the title “Brothers” came from.
However, a more realistic explanation for the title can be found on page 130, where they write, “Vietnam brought us together. Combat experience cemented our bonds. Equity and justice woke up that brotherhood in us.”
Wilson, Richardson today
Wilson, who has lived with his wife and family in their home near Como Lake for 26 years, retired after a 22-year Army career, followed by flying for Northwest Airlines (now Delta Air Lines) and as a medical evacuation pilot with LifeLink. He plays third trumpet with the St. Anthony Park Community Band and volunteers with Ramsey County Veterans Court.
Meanwhile, an opportunity to work at an accounting firm in Minneapolis brought Richardson, now a CPA, and his wife Audrey, to Minnesota in the late 1970s. These days, you’ll find Richardson not only serving as managing director of Minneapolis-based RSI Consulting, but also on stage as one of the veteran narrators when the Fabulous Armadillos rock group presents its “What’s Going On: Songs From The Vietnam War Era” tribute show.
Now that “Brothers” is in print, Richardson has shifted his writing skills from memoir to working on a historical fiction story set during the Civil War.
“Brothers” is available for loan at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities library or for purchase from online book retail outlets.
Wilson and Richardson plan to give most of their profits to veterans organizations such as the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans and Veterans Treatment Court support.
You can view Wilson’s 2017 TPT “Minnesota Remembers Vietnam” segment at video.tpt.org/video/raymond-wilson. Richardson’s TPT’s “The Story Wall” profile is available at mnvietnam.org/story/most-of-us-made-it-through-okay/index.html.
Kathy Henderson lives in St. Paul and is a regular freelance writer for the Park Bugle.
Raymond Wilson (Como Park neighborhood) and Bruce Richardson (St. Louis Park) are the co-authors of the book “Brothers,” a memoir with mentoring highlights. As described in the book, “Vietnam brought us together. Combat experience cemented our bonds. Equity and justice woke up that brotherhood in us.” Photo by Kathy Henderson.
Their two photos from Vietnam War era service—although slightly faded and showing age—depict Raymond Wilson (helicopter pilot, 1970-’71) and Bruce Richardson (airborne ranger, artillery, 1969–70) in almost identical poses. © Photos contributed by “Brothers” co-authors Wilson and Richardson.