Gill Ruderman’s exuberant lifestyle has taken him from bungee jumping, to knocking heads well past the age of 40 on the rugby field — where he broke his nose more than a few times — and traveling the world.
In Manatee County, Ruderman, now 72, is well known in veterans circles, serving on the board of the Manatee County Veterans Council and as a member of Braden River Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Manatee Chapter of Military Officers Association of America.
He also volunteers at Sarasota National Cemetery, Tidewell Hospice and Southeast Guide Dogs. In addition, he helps with the Tribute to Heroes Parade at Lakewood Ranch Main Street on Memorial Day.
This Fourth of July, officials at the Library of Congress are asking the public to think about people like Ruderman, a Vietnam War veteran, who retired from the Army as a full colonel.
Under the library’s Veteran’s History Project, the public is invited to record and submit interviews with war veterans.
Created in 2000 by Congress as part of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, the program’s mission is to “collect, preserve, and make accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.”
Ruderman was born in 1943 into a Jewish family in Tel Aviv, before the creation of the state of Israel, to a Palestinian mother and an American father. His father, a career Army officer, moved the family to the United States from Persia, today known as Iran, in 1948. Ruderman graduated from high school in Fayetteville, N.C., and in 1962 received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Ruderman and many of his classmates in the West Point class of 1966 volunteered for Vietnam. That year, Ruderman was pictured in Newsweek magazine with other cadets who had volunteered for Vietnam, standing around a cannon overlooking the Hudson River.
Before deploying to Vietnam, Ruderman was assigned to Fort Hood, Texas, for five months of additional training, before being transferred to Panama for jungle survival school.
In the summer of 1967, he was deployed to the 25th Infantry Division in Cu Chi as a forward observer for six months. He finished his first tour working in a firing battery for six months. He was promoted to captain in the summer of 1968. To the dismay of his family, Ruderman applied to extend his Vietnam service another six months.
A few months later, while hunched over a radio making a call while flying in a helicopter, he was shot through the foot.
“I was a liason officer, which is now called a fire support officer, for an infantry battalion. I worked directly with the battalion commander. His unit had surrounded a Vietnamese force, and we were just trying to fly around to see what we could find. The commander wanted to pinpoint their location and relay the information. All of a sudden, we took five or six rounds up through the helicopter. One came up through my foot. As I looked at it later, I realized that I was very fortunate in that the angle of where I was sitting and how I was sitting, because it was only about six inches from hitting me in a much more critical place. I was the only one who had been hit,” Ruderman said.
Two days later, the same helicopter was hit again, and crashed, breaking the backs of the battalion commander and the operations officer. The two officers convalesced with Ruderman in a military hospital in Japan.
Helicopter flights in Vietnam were always risky.
“When you came in to a landing zone with an air mobile mission, and the chopper was getting hit, you were absolutely helpless. You couldn’t do a thing about it. You weren’t sure where the bullets were coming from, and you were too far above the ground to jump. It was a very helpless feeling to come into a hot LZ,” Ruderman said.
It was during his second tour in Vietnam, as a general’s aide, that he had a revelation: “We were flying somewhere, and I looked out over the countryside and it dawned on me that the South Vietnamese couldn’t keep the North Vietnamese from coming into the country. It was just too many of them coming into too big a country. And the South Vietnamese would not be able to stop them. I knew once we pulled out, there would be no way that they would be able to last.”
Ruderman and his wife, Florence, who have lived in Manatee County since 2001, have six sons between them, one of whom was recently assigned as a student to the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
He continues to make a huge contribution to his community and says his service in Vietnam helped reaffirm his good fortune to be a citizen of the United States, while underscoring the value of faith, patriotism, and the lasting camaraderie among those who served in uniform.
“I think he is a terrific guy,” said Don Courtney, who serves on the Manatee County Veterans Council and admits to being a Ruderman fan. “Ask him to get something done, and he’ll get it done.”
James A. Jones Jr.: 941-745-7053, @jajones1
Veterans History Project relies on volunteers to interview veterans to contribute to the permanent library collection by submitting audio and video interviews along with documentation. To learn more about the project and download the field kit visit www.loc.gov/vets