Short in Height, Not in Courage: The Fascinating Story of this Connecticut-born Soldier Who Fought in Vietnam War

Jhemmylrut Teng
Private Richard Flaherty during military training(Source: David Yuzuk)

Standing tall in four feet and nine inches, Captain Richard Flaherty, might be too small for the conventional height for the United States Army. Still, his skills, tenacity, and leadership can tear down an entire enemy's stronghold. Flaherty was the U.S. force's mighty mouse but eventually dubbed as the "Giant Killer."

He showed his fearsome warrior spirit during the Vietnam War, and later entered the roster of the Army's elite task force - the Green Berets. His story is too fascinating to be ignored, and even after his death, this Army's little man lived a bigger life than anyone could ever imagine.

Small but standing tall

Flaherty was born on November 28, 1945, in Stamford, Connecticut. When he was born, doctors from Stamford, Connecticut's Regional Hospital worked intensely to save him because his mother wasn't aware of her Rh-negative blood type.

The complications caused a hormonal imbalance that affected Flaherty's growth. Medically speaking, he would be considered a proportionate dwarf. He was expected to only grow to the height of 4’ 7,” but Flaherty proved them wrong as he grew to 4’ 9.” Growing up, Flaherty was sensitive about his dwarf-sized height.

He got bullied and called names because of it. But whatever he lacked in size, he compensates it in other skills like learning martial arts. He might be small, but he was fit. Flaherty even spent time focusing on breaking woods and bricks using his bare hands to become physically strong.

As a teenager, he already knew what he wanted, to be a combatant. And the only option to do that is to be part of the United States military. When Flaherty was about to graduate high school, the Vietnam War occurred; he saw this as an opportunity to be enlisted in the Army.

The making of a warrior

Flaherty's determination to become military personnel was solid. However, the minimum height requirement for the Army's recruitment at that time was five feet. And Flaherty was three inches short. But he never backed down. Instead, he reached out to their congressman for assistance.

He was then endorsed to a general, which later allowed him to join the initial entry training at Fort Jackson, North Carolina. During the training, Flaherty's dilemma about his height never stopped as he was ridiculed not only by his cohorts but also by his superiors.

Upon showing up on the first day of the course on the inspection line, he was welcomed by the drill sergeant with words: "What the heck is this?"

Flaherty knew from day one; he needs to work doubly hard as anyone else to break everyone's prejudices about him. And he did. Flaherty showed his physical strength and sharp mind during the training to the amazement of the drill sergeant and other recruits.

He was even dubbed as Private Mighty Mouse as he always ended up at the top five positions on all the courses. When he was supposed to climb over the wooden wood obstacle, he would do it with the help of a sharpened screwdriver at the same pace as the other soldiers.

Apart from the various obstacles in training, he also had to fight with the disdain of other recruits who found him unworthy of being a soldier because he was a "dwarf."
Featured article about Flaherty as the shortest private(Source: David Yuzuk)

Therefore, Flaherty engaged in a fight with another rookie who always picked on him. The man was twice as large as Flaherty's size. But he won the match, and that was the time he officially earned the respect of his peers.

Because of his outstanding performance in the entry training and advance course, he got an official offer to enter the Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Benning, Georgia. From being a mighty mouse, he eventually earned the nickname, "Giant Killer," and he brought these badass skills with him when he was finally sent to the battlefield.

Deployment in Vietnam
Richard Flaherty, with his platoon in Vietnam(Source: David Yuzuk)

After graduating from OCS, including the jump school, Flaherty was sent to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to be part of one of the most legendary U.S. Army units - the 101st Airborne Division.

By December 1967, Flaherty was deployed to Vietnam at Bien Hoa Airbase. In Vietnam, Flaherty was engaged as a platoon leader on the search and destroy missions. It was an arduous job, with days spent in the deep jungle, setting up ambushes, and hunting down the enemy.

Like the rest of the 101st Airborne, Flaherty and his men were always at the center of the action. One of the encounters his team had to face left him wounded from the gunfire and grenade shrapnel. He later recovered and continued their mission.

Vietnam War: Operation Delaware
Richard Flaherty in Vietnam (Source: David Yuzuk)

On April 19, 1968, Second Lieutenant Flaherty, 3rd Platoon C leader of the Company C of the 501st Infantry Regiment, was presented the Operation Delaware. His unit was tasked to block the enemy's supply route to the Oshawa Valley, where the primary operations were conducted.

Being in Vietnam, Flaherty already faced much combat, but this particular operation was very intense. The next day, several soldiers from Company C were lost behind enemy lines. They almost lost for good, but Flaherty was determined to find and retrieve them.

So, he ordered his troops to bring over a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) cadaver, the smallest one they could find. He stripped the uniform from the dead NVA, put it on along with the helmet to cover his face as a disguise, grabbed an AK-47, and crawled towards the lost men.

That night, he crossed the enemy lines, and successfully gathered the lost American soldiers, and safely returned them to the U.S. Army base. For once, Flaherty's short height was a great advantage. Operation Delaware continued its mission by attacking the enemy's positions.

Flaherty maneuvered his men to outflank the NVA's bunker. When he got the right timing and clear view of the emplacement, he then ordered the 90-millimeter recoilless rifle team to his position. He then directed the fire towards the bunker and destroyed it. The opening gave Company C more lead to an attack, which later accomplished the entire mission.

Green Berets

Such gallantry and leadership that Flaherty showcased during one of the intense battles in Vietnam earned him the highest decoration of the Silver Star Medal. He was also considered without a doubt as one of the best soldiers that the 101st Airborne had.

He was also promoted to First Lieutenant. Flaherty's ambition didn't stop after receiving such honor. Instead, he aimed to be part of the U.S. Army's elite task force - the Green Berets. He, however, needed another height waiver before able to apply. His determination had paid off as he got through the punishing selection process with flying colors.

He was sent to Vietnam again to engaged in special operations behind enemy lines, which he later earned 2 Bronze Medals, 2 Purple Hearts, and promoted as a Captain.
Capt. Richard Flaherty, member of Green Berets(Source: David Yuzuk)

From a captain to being homeless

In the 1970s, the United States Armed Forces was struck by the notorious budget downsizing, which reduced Army personnel. One of the decommissioned officers was Capt. Flaherty. He then went back home to New York as a civilian.

His family welcomed him like a hero, but it didn't take long for his life to went downhill. As a civilian, Flaherty tried to live a normal life; he moved to Florida and studied at the University of Miami. But it seems the life he was not used to wasn't treating him well.

He became more miserable when his fiancée died in 1975. He became a homeless man in Miami, but his confidence made a Miami police officer David Yuzuk intrigued by his character. The two became close friends for 15 years, until one day, the veteran confessed to Yuzuk who he really was, including his works with the CIA and the Drug of Enforcement Administration.

Yuzuk, being a seasoned police officer, was skeptical about Flaherty's stories. It was too fictional to be true. But 10-days after his confession, Flaherty was killed in a hit-and-run. Thus, the person behind the wheel wasn't even charged for what happened to the poor man. This incident raises suspicion for Yuzuk. He then started to dig his friend's background.

The mysterious life of Flaherty

Yuzuk reached out to Flaherty's fellow vets and found his awards and decorations. He then went through Flaherty’s storage unit and found his passport. It was full of stamps to the world’s hotspots: Cambodia, Venezuela, Iraq, and Jordan, among other places, while living as a homeless man.

“My three-year journey of discovery dragged me down the rabbit hole of CIA conspiracies and the hunt for stolen classified weapons—stretching from the bloody jungles of Vietnam to the dangerous streets of Iraq and Venezuela, all in search of the peripatetic Green Beret Captain Richard J. Flaherty,” - David Yuzuk

Based on Yuzuk's research, Flaherty's work with the CIA supporting the Nicaraguan Contras ended him being arrested and spending time in prison for drug-running. That incredible chapter involves high-altitude military parachuting jumps from aircraft over “Alligator Alley” in Florida, guns, and lots of cocaine during the wild Miami days of the 1980s.

Flaherty eventually worked undercover for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tabacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to stop the flow of cocaine and weapons in Fort Bragg, California.

After discovering all these, Yuzuk wrote a book about his badass four-foot and nine-inch tall homeless friend, who happened to be a fearsome warrior and a spy. He then named the book "The Giant Killer" so that the State of Miami and the rest of America would never forget Captain Richard Flaherty's fascinating story.

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I am a PR officer and a professional journalist with a master's degree in international development. I write history, geopolitics, food, and culture. Since I am a member of the API community, I make sure to highlight our stories to promote diversity and create awareness for cultural understanding.


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