From Portsmouth to Smithsonian

Reflecting on James K. Redding’s impressive military career

By Ivy Potter - [email protected]

Redding’s 1959 Portsmouth High School photo

Redding’s 1959 Portsmouth High School photo




Redding’s uniform on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History


Growing up near Mound Park in Portsmouth, Jim Redding said he always knew he wanted to join the military after high school.

He had no way of knowing however that his career in the United States Army would span a period of 27 years, would result in him being awarded for his acts of valor, and that he would one day see his own uniform on display at the Smithsonian Institute of American Military History in Washington, DC.

Jim Redding graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1959 and entered the Army as a Private.

“Even in high school, there were a bunch of us that ran around together and I knew I was going to go in,” said Redding.

Redding said that Portsmouth has changed a lot from from when he graduated in 1959 to today, but said jobs were still hard to come by and for those reasons he went into the Army — to buy some time and get his head straight.

“The army gave me time to think about things and figure out what I wanted to do,” said Redding.

Redding would retire years later from the U.S Army as a Lieutenant Colonel. Redding was awarded the Bronze Star, the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Clusters, the Purple Heart, and the Silver Star all in the year 1968.

Redding won the Silver Star while serving as the American advisor with the South Vietnamese 7th ARVN Airborne Battalion, where he was cited for rallying them while under heavy fire from the enemy. Accompanying the award, the citation stated Lt. Redding crawled 40 meters through intense enemy fire to rally the ARVN troops and then lead a counter attack, personally destroying two enemy bunkers with hand grenades. Redding also directed helicopter gunship fire against enemy positions hidden in deep undergrowth which were attacking the ARVN with heavy automatic weapons fire.

Two Bronze Stars for valor, a Bronze Star for meritorious service, the Vietnamese Gallantry Try Cross with Bronze Star, the Vietnamese Honor Medal #1 Class and a Purple Heart for wounds received during battle also fill Redding’s resume, along with both the U.S and Vietnamese Master Parachutist Badge. Redding also completed Jump Master training in Ft. Benning, as well as Pathfinder, Jungle and Ranger training during his military training.

Another notable battle Lt. Redding fought while with the 7th ARVN Airborne Battalion occurred when they were attacked by a large number of enemy forces and, after seeing the size and fire power of the attacking force, Lt. Redding had his troops slowly withdraw to better cover while he remained to cover their retreat. When starting to withdraw himself, Redding found himself surrounded and out of ammunition. Out of options, Redding jumped into a small pond with some foliage cover, where he remained for approximately 3 hours while the enemy searched for him. While he hid, enemy troops ate food rations on the bank near to where he was hiding. When he was finally able to exit the pond and reunite with friendly forces nearly 40 leaches were removed from Redding’s body.

When leaving Vietnam, Redding said someone asked him what he was going to do with his uniform and asked if they could donate it to a museum in Georgia.

“I couldn’t wear it anywhere else, the American Unit I couldn’t wear it with” said Redding, “So I said yeah take it.”

Years later in 2017 Redding’s sister visited the Smithsonian Institute of American Military History in Washington and happened across an American Advisor’s uniform from the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) that appeared with Redding’s name, completely by chance. Redding said his sister called him and described the uniform and through small details the two were able to confirm that the uniform had belonged to him. Redding’s sister contacted the museum curator and when learning he was still alive, the Smithsonian reached out to Redding and invited him to travel to Washington for an oral interview about his combat experiences during the North Vietnamese TET Offensive of 1968.

“I didn’t know it was there, and they didn’t know I was alive,” said Redding. Redding learned the uniform had been on display since 2005 and had been viewed by approximately 50 million people as they visited the Smithsonian. Redding said he was initially confused as to how the Smithsonian had ended up with his uniform, and was very surprised at the entire situation.

On his visit to see the display, Redding said he was able to get a behind the scenes look at some of the pieces at the Smithsonian from throughout history, which he thought was a very unique experience. Revisiting his own history through the help of the Smithsonian, Redding decided to begin writing his memoirs to document his memories. “I thought I had a lot of bad memories, but when the uniform was discovered I sat down to write the memoirs,” said Redding.

Redding’s preface reads: “I did not write these memoirs for fame or glory, but to complete my memoirs for my family and friends before my memory fades or death takes me. The facts and dates in these memoirs are true to the best of my knowledge and, since there were no other Americans around when most of these events occulted, I don’t think anyone can challenge them.”

When reflecting on his time in the service, Redding said while there were surely some difficult times, he doesn’t have any regrets.

“I spent six years overseas, all six years was either Vietnam, Korea or Germany. Surprisingly, I’d say they were all very interesting, although Vietnam had more excitement. I enjoyed all six years. The sad part is I also had six years of Christmas spent separated from my family. I don’t have any regrets for doing what I did, I think being in the Army made me a much better person,” said Redding.

Redding stated that his years away from home made him grow to appreciate family, and said that in those days you weren’t able to make a call home like you can today.

“The worst one was in Korea. You couldn’t talk on the phone,” said Redding. Redding said he had to rely on letters and tapes sent back and forth with his family to communicate with them.

When asked which of his accomplishments stood out the most, Redding stated each award was an honor.

“If you think about those medals that I got, they’re medals for valor. You don’t win medals, you’re awarded medals by the Army and by the government. In a four months I was awarded a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, and a Purple Heart. I was inducted into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame in Columbus at the Statehouse and that was quite an honor,” said Redding. Redding said he had not been to Columbus in many years prior to being inducted in 2011 and sat next to Governor Strickland during the ceremony. As a graduate of the Ohio National Guard Officer Candidate School, he said it was a great honor.

Redding now resides in South Carolina, and visits him hometown of Portsmouth whenever he can while offering words of encouragement for young people looking towards the military.

“The military offers you lots of opportunity to get your head screwed on right. You’ve gotta have the right attitude, you’ve gotta be prepared for separation. The military will give you a lot of skills if you are willing to do them, they give you a trade. The military is a great place to start if you don’t know what to do,” said Redding.

Redding said with opportunities like the GI Bill which can help pay for college, becoming a member of the armed forces can help you establish yourself.

“You get to see things and do things, and mature while you’re in there,” said Redding.

Redding added that his own experience in the military and the connections he made is what led to him to be appointed as a judge following his retirement from the military.

Redding’s 1959 Portsmouth High School photo’s 1959 Portsmouth High School photo Submitted

Redding Submitted

Redding’s uniform on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s uniform on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History Submitted
Reflecting on James K. Redding’s impressive military career

By Ivy Potter

[email protected]

Reach: Ivy Potter (740) 353-3101 Extension 1932

© 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved

Reach: Ivy Potter (740) 353-3101 Extension 1932

© 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved