Tom Butt
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  Remembering Richard J. Roughgarden this Memorial Day
May 26, 2018

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War is a dangerous place. Not all casualties are a direct result of combat.

Richard (Rich) Joseph Roughgarden graduated from Notre Dame with a Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1966, a year before I graduated from the University of Arkansas with the same degree. A friend of Rich’s, Don Mulcare, wrote many years later:

I met Rich Roughgarden at Notre Dame. He illuminated his architectural drawings much like an ancient monastic scribe. They were works of art, science, and social commentary. Shortly after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Rich took me along on a road trip east. I visited friends in Brooklyn and attended the Notre Dame-Syracuse game in the old Yankee Stadium. Rich and I lost track of each other, but years later, I noticed his obituary in the Notre Dame Magazine. He served in an engineering unit and died in an accident. His name is on the Wall.
Roughgarden entered active duty November 21, 1968, and in 1969 was a 1st Lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers assigned to the 46th Engineer Battalion, 159th Engineer Group, 20th Engineer Brigade at Long Binh, Vietnam.

Richard J. Roughgarden

On the night of September 14, 1969, after a night of drinking at the battalion Officers Club, Roughgarden and his best friend, another lieutenant, were on the second floor balcony of their two-story “hootch” (“hootch” is slang for any primitive living quarters in a Vietnam combat zone). Somehow, Roughgarden was fatally shot in the head by his friend with his friend’s .45 pistol.

Although the 46th Engineer Battalion compound was next door to my 159th Headquarters compound, I didn’t know either Roughgarden or his friend, but I was nevertheless drawn unforgettably into the tragedy when I was appointed to serve on the board of a General Courts Martial in the spring of 1970.

I recall two cases that came before us. The first was a soldier who had been accused of a “fragging,” that is tossing, a hand grenade into the tent of his sergeant and seriously wounding him. We convicted him, but I don’t recall what his sentence was.

The second case, Roughgarden’s killing,  was more complicated. There were no witnesses, and Roughgarden’s friend testified he couldn’t remember anything. Both the prosecution and the defense accepted that it was an accident, but the prosecution wanted a manslaughter verdict. There were not supposed to be any loaded weapons inside the perimeter of Long Binh Post except for guard duty, and the prosecutor made a case for negligence. Eventually, I recall that we delivered a manslaughter verdict but directed only a letter of reprimand because we believed the man had suffered enough and would carry the guilt of his actions with him the rest of his life.

Roughgarden, who was from Hawthorne, New Jersey, was born August 19, 1943, the son of Frederick and Anna Mae Roughgarden. He had one brother. He was 26 years old when he died, one of 58,220 Americans who died in Vietnam. His name is on the Vietnam Memorial Wall at Panel W18, Line 86.



Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country's armed forces. The holiday, which is observed every year on the last Monday of May originated as Decoration Day after the American Civil War in 1868, when the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans founded in Decatur, Illinois, established it as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the Union war dead with flowers. By the 20th century, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions, celebrated on different days, had merged, and Memorial Day eventually extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service. It typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.

Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veterans Day; Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans.

This Memorial Day, I remember Richard J. Roughgarden, a fellow architect who died before he had a chance to practice his profession.