During the next few weeks, we are going to hear a lot about Robert Mueller as he gets ready to release his report about the 2016 election. It’s time we learned something about Mueller.
Robert Mueller was born at roughly the same time as President Trump. Like the president, he came from a wealthy family. Both men received an Ivy League education, Trump at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Mueller at Princeton.
But here the comparisons end. When they were at their respective universities, war raged in Vietnam. Mueller graduated from Princeton in 1966. Inspired by a friend who died in combat, Mueller joined the Marines. This was shortly after the infamous Tet Offensive. 16,000 Americans would die in Vietnam the year he enlisted.
It was a dreadful time. M.L. King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated that year. Around the same time, Donald Trump would avoid the draft. The future president sought deferments five times, once famously claiming that he suffered from bone spurs. A member of his doctor’s family later alleged that the diagnosis was fraudulent, a favor to the young Trump and to his wealthy father.
According to Garrett Graff who has written a book about Mueller’s Vietnam experience, the future FBI chief had postponed active duty until he recovered from college athletic injuries. After joining up, he would serve as a Second Lieutenant until he was wounded in an April 1969 firefight.
Mueller’s Vietnam comrades continue to speak of him in the highest terms. According to Graff, some of them initially worried that a young Ivy-League lieutenant might place them in harm’s way, either through inexperience or as a way to climb the promotional ladder.
They need not have worried. Mueller proved to be as cool as he was brave. He never asked more of his men than he asked of himself.
And he asked plenty.
North Vietnamese units ambushed his men at Mutter’s Ridge, a mountainous crag near the DMZ, one of the most hotly contested spots in the country. Fierce fighting cost the lives of over 80 Marines… and 600 North Vietnamese.
Combat continued for weeks. Under intense fire, Mueller saved the life of one of his men at the risk of his own life. Eventually, an AK-47 bullet passed right through Mueller’s thigh. He apparently did not even realize it. He continued fighting.
He receive a Purple Heart and five battle commendations. He never bragged about them.
One member of his generation is notorious for exaggerating his own importance, even boasting to a radio personality that his sacrifice during a war in which he never served consisted of not contracting a social disease.
Mueller told a different story.
And Mueller can be trusted. “A lie was the worst sin” Graff reports. “The one thing you didn’t do,“ he once said, “was to give anything less than the truth.” His parents had drilled that lesson into him.
His greatest honor was not serving as Director of the FBI. Rather, he said, it was being trusted by the Marines to command men with whom he remains fast friends to this day.
Mueller, a life-long Republican and a man of integrity, will come under fire regardless of what his report will conclude.
None of that will faze him. He understands his duty, and he will have had faced far worse as a young Marine.
Gary B. Ostrower teaches history at Alfred University