"It built up and became a big thing for me. I started a program where guys from other teams would stop in and visit the wards at Walter Reed when they came to Washington to play us. Most baseball players were happy to do it. And the guys in the hospital loved it. It was really a great thing for their morale. The AP picked up the story and called it the VIP program for Very Important Patients. I certainly thought they were very important--they were true heroes in my book. A few years later, I got traded to Baltimore, but that was still close so I kept it up."
As it became well-known that the cause was close to his heart, Richert was a natural choice when Major League Baseball sought members for a 16-day goodwill tour following the 1968 season. He didn't hesitate when asked.
Many of their visits were uncomfortably close to the enemy. It was not uncommon to hear both friendly and enemy fire. One night, Richert and Banks were startled awake by the sounds of combat as Viet Cong troops were trying to breach the perimeter of the base--less than 300 yards away from their quarters. Richert had served in the National Guard and Banks had served in the Army in 1951-52, but neither had faced hostile forces up close. It was an eye-opening experience. "To see what those young men faced on a daily basis certainly put things into perspective," says Richert. "It's hard to explain the courage that it takes to function in that environment without seeing it up close."
While two previous baseball-player trips to Vietnam had been uniformly heralded upon return, Richert's group met an ambivalent response. Coming ten months after the Tet Offensive, patriotism was no longer in style. That did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm for Richert. "These guys were just doing their jobs," he says. "They were true heroes." Richert, who played on a World Champion team with the Dodgers in 1963 and appeared in three straight World Series with the Orioles from 1969 to 1971, adds, "It was the most significant thing I did as a baseball player."