Richard I. “Butch” Neal, a Hull native and retired four-star Marine Corps general, died on June 17, 2022, just three days prior to his 80th birthday. At presstime, General Neal’s obituary and information about public ceremonies honoring his life and legacy had not been finalized. Watch the Times in print and online for more details as they become available.
Appreciation by John J. Galluzzo
General Richard I. Neal reached magnificent heights in his chosen profession. Born in Hull in 1942, he studied history and education at Northeastern University before enlisting in the Marines in 1965. Thirty-three years later, as he retired, he held the role of Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps. That made him the second-highest ranking officer of the entire service. Along the way, he had commanded at every level, from battery, to battalion, to brigade and division.
Yet, no matter how high he rose, he never forgot his hometown.
During his first tour in Vietnam, he survived an ambush on March 30, 1967, that killed his immediate superior officers and left him in command, a brief, horrifying event that stayed with him for the rest of his life. He felt the eyes of every other Marine in the aftermath of the Battle of Getlin’s Corner staring at him as if to say “What now, lieutenant?” Five decades later, he turned that phrase into the title of a book on leadership lessons he had learned in Vietnam, during Operation Desert Storm, and elsewhere during his career with the Marines.
He never stopped learning. His assignments included Forward Observer with the 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines during that first tour in Vietnam, and then Infantry Battalion Advisor to the Vietnamese Marine Corps when he returned for his second tour. He attended Amphibious Warfare School and the Marine Corps Command and Staff College before becoming Head, Operations Division, of the former in Quantico, Virginia. Along the way, he picked up a master’s degree in education from Tulane University in New Orleans.
Throughout his career, he accepted assignments that exposed him to the various facets of Marine Corps operations, showing a special propensity for the “big picture” elements of battlefield strategy. In 1982, he was selected to attend the Naval War College in Newport, R.I.
By 1985, as a colonel, he transferred to MacDill Air Force Base in Florida as the Chief of Policy/Strategy Division at U.S. Central Command. By 1988, he was back at Amphibious Warfare School, this time as the school’s director. In 1991, during Operation Desert Storm, he took on a temporary duty that put him on television screens around the world.
Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf became a media star during Desert Shield, the build-up of troops in the Persian Gulf on the eve of war against Iraq, and Desert Storm. Briefing the press each day as head of the operations, Schwarzkopf answered questions from the gathered international media scrum with directness and energy, explaining why and how American forces had taken specific actions. When Schwarzkopf was unavailable for the press briefings, the Deputy for Operations at U.S. Central Command for Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Brigadier Gen. Richard Neal, took control.
Up and down the Hull peninsula, the locals took notice. We couldn’t believe it. Our “Butchie” was on TV. It was a moment of swelling pride for the local community.
Butch was the nickname his grandmother gave him, the one his friends picked up on and called him for the rest of his life. He grew up in a small town, one that had about a third of today’s population. Everybody knew everybody. When he lost his dad at a young age, the community kept watch over him. When he needed work to make his way through college, the locals found it for him. He never forgot that.
He served seven more years in the Marine Corps, retiring November 1, 1998, at the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C. It felt like half of Hull was there. With high-powered politicians and military officials in place, all eyes turned toward General Richard Neal, Assistant Commanding of the Marine Corps, waiting for war stories that only a man in his position could share, and in that moment he became Butch. He told the assembled crowd about Hull, about how it had rallied around him as a youth and gave him a chance at life. He explained that when he needed a job, Ernie Minelli gave him a spot on his garbage truck. He then mingled with the crowd, seeking out every Hull resident he could find, posing for photos with them. He thanked each one for making the trip to D.C. on his behalf.
In the days that followed, he returned to Hull and drove around town, tracking down everybody who had been at the ceremony. He gave each one a framed, signed picture of themselves with the general taken in D.C. He personally thanked each one again.
He never forgot.
In retirement, he became an idea-generating machine. Always proudly carrying his Marine Corps heritage with him, he served on corporate and education boards, including roles on the Board of Overseers of his alma mater, Northeastern, as a trustee of Norwich University and Senior Fellow of the National Defense University. He directed much of his energy to intellectual property licensing companies, acting as president for four of them. The Marine Corps was the biggest listing on his resume, for sure, but it was far from the last.
Five decades after the events at Getlin’s Corner, Neal invited his fellow Vietnam-era Marines to join him on a cruise of Boston Harbor. While the cruise was meant to be a fun excursion, the general happy to show off his hometown and the beautiful surroundings in which he grew up, it also had a meaningful turn. Cruising toward the mouth of the Fore River, the ship stopped within view of the old Fore River Shipyard where, years earlier, the Navy took charge of the USNS 2nd Lt. John P. Bobo. The ship was named for a 24-year-old Marine who stayed forward and took on the attacking North Vietnamese soldiers at Getlin’s Corner so his men could retreat to a safer position to continue the fight, losing his own life in the action. Without any prodding, the Marines fell into a moment of silence in remembrance of their lost brother.
After Neal wrote his first book, the idea for another started germinating. He considered a second book on leadership, this one based on historical examples. His chosen subject? Joshua James, Hull’s hometown Life-Saving Service hero. General Neal could think of no better way to share the values of leadership than passing on the stories he was told as a kid growing up in Hull of a man who stared down storms and tested their mettle against his.
The Marine Corps motto is Semper Fidelis, shortened to Semper Fi, meaning “always faithful.” General Richard I. Neal was faithful to his country, his Corps and his fellow veterans, not to mention his family, friends and his hometown. To his dying day, he never forgot Hull.
Don’t worry, Butch. Hull will never forget you.