Navy SEAL Richard (Rick) C. Hetzell passed away on 31 January 2021 after a long fight with COVID-19 complicated by combat related injuries to the muscle groups in his right neck, shoulder and arm areas. He died at the VA Hospital in Phoenix, AZ. He is survived by his wife, Dotti, adopted disabled son Noah, daughter Jennifer Englin and husband Scott, daughter Kelly Lynn Ruiz and husband Andrew, son Richard junior, and son Jason Viara.
Rick served in the Navy from January 1969 until November 1975 when he was medically retired. He served with SEAL Team One, X-Ray platoon in the Mekong Delta, where he was severely wounded during an ambush by the Viet Cong. Losses were so high in X-Ray platoon that the SEALs retired the platoon designation. After recovery from his injuries Rick was a member of the SEAL group operating from the submarine Grayback during the highly classified Operation Thunderhead in the Tonkin Gulf off the mouth of the Red River of North Vietnam. They were in place to rescue any POWs who might escape and make it to the coast. The ill-fated operation was cancelled after the loss of a SEAL and many other problems.
After leaving the Navy Rick worked as a commercial diver during the dredging of San Diego harbor. Then he started his own construction company, building houses in New Jersey and in Arizona when he and the family moved to Phoenix in 1992. He managed a crew of workers in Louisiana during the cleanup after the hurricane and oil spill in 2010 and volunteered his construction experienced during the cleanup in South Florida after hurricane Irma. Later he worked armed security aboard commercial ships operating in the pirate infested waters off the east coast of Africa. After the security job he often traveled around the country helping disabled or financially strapped SEALs with construction jobs on their homes. He accepted no money for his work, just room and board during the job.
Rick was a strong supporter of the SEAL community, the Silent Warrior Foundation and the Vietnam POWs. He was a friend to all and a man of many talents. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.
One attached picture is of Rick holding the last of his famous ox horns that he engraved in the fall of 2020. The horn was presented by Rick to retired USAF Colonel Larry Ropka who was the master air planner of the Son Tay Raid and who attended this year’s Whiskey & War Storiess via video link. The horn was sent to Colonel Ropka just after the Silent Warrior Foundation dinner in November 2020, honoring the Son Tay Raiders on the 50th anniversary of the raid. The other picture is of the SEAL group on the deck of the USS Grayback. Rick is the one with the beard and the dark shirt.
Thank you Captain John D, Burns, USN, Ret., for providing this write up, sharing Rick’s great military history and his commitment to serve fellow veterans beyond the battlefield.