Lt. Bob Mueller, USMC: The “Magnificent Bastard” who will get to the bottom of the Russia-White House scandal.

It is with some irony that tomorrow, Veterans’ Day, 2017, President Trump finds himself in Danang, Vietnam, where he might well cozy up with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in a private meeting.

In 1965, U.S. Marines of the Third Division landed at Danang to protect its strategic airport from being overrun by Vietcong units backed by the North Vietnamese regular army. The 3rd would later move its headquarters north to Quang Tri and then in 1968, further north to Dong Ha, only eleven kilometers from the DMZ.

The photo is of PFC Ed Piscopo of the US Army’s 25th Division with the visage of Bob Mueller, rifle platoon commander, Company H, superimposed. No known photos of Mueller in Vietnam are in the public domain.

1968 would be an important year for it was that year that Robert S. Mueller III arrived in Vietnam as a Marine Lieutenant. For unlike Trump, who had five deferments from the draft, including two for a “bonespur” that magically disappeared after the U.S. began withdrawing troops from combat, Mueller had volunteered to serve as a rifle platoon leader.

Recently, an old friend commented to me that he appreciated Mueller’s distinguished civilian post-war service more than his combat service. What needed to be explained to my friend and perhaps to the public at large, is that one served as the predicate for the other. For there is no position of responsibility that can prepare one for future challenges than serving as the commander of a small combat unit, whether NCO, lieutenant or captain.

For while Trump was immersing himself in the Manhattan party scene and cynically boasting that “fighting venereal disease was his Vietnam”, Mueller was commanding a platoon of Company H, 2nd Battalion (“The Magnificent Bastards”), 4th Marines. Mission: “Close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver, or repel the enemy’s assault by fire and close combat.” The enemy consisted of two experienced regular NVA divisions, the elite 320th and the 324B, headquartered only a few miles away, just north of the DMZ.

In this stressful and dangerous leadership role, Mueller had to learn and learn fast the countless things that would keep his men alive and make the enemy dead: ensuring that his men had their helmets and flak jackets on, camouflage paint properly applied, carrying sandbags with them, in case they have to dig in, weapons clean, feet clean, knowing his people. Who can speak Vietnamese and talk to the villagers who don’t trust the Vietnamese interpreter, who’s on a second tour, experienced in fire fights, which NCO’s judgment is best when you select point men or to set up an ambush?

Who can best teach the “fenuges” or newbies about booby traps? This is not the mickey-mouse, candy-ass bullshit you get on the golf course where you can hook and slice all you want and some kiss-ass underling tells you how great you are. or is it signing a lease deal, figuring you can wriggle out of it later if things go south. This was dotting the Is and crossing the Ts in life and death situations. You better get it right every time.

Mueller, like any good platoon commander, would work the extra hours to minimize the risks, studying the maps, knowing the terrain before going out on patrol, checking the weather report for the next day, calling for the latest intelligence, plotting a return different from his outgoing route, making sure his corpsmen are squared away on supplies.

He would learn to be unpredictable to the enemy, mix up his missions, never be ambushed because of something he did or didn’t do. Placing his experienced men strategically throughout the platoon to emphasize fire discipline: well-aimed fire, making sure the enemy doesn’t see the muzzle blasts.

In other words, making every round count, making the enemy pay big-time so they would stay away and bother somebody else. Making the killing zone his killing zone, not the other guy’s.

Last but not least was the loyalty Lt. Mueller displayed toward the Marines in his unit. The reticent Mueller has always been reluctant to blow his own horn, a rarity in Washington. But it is important to mention that he was awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.

The citation for his Bronze Star said in part that during an attack on his rifle platoon, “2nd Lt. Mueller fearlessly moved from one position to another, directing the accurate counterfire of his men and shouting words of encouragement to them.” During the firefight on Dec. 11, 1968, Mueller “personally led a fire team across the fire-swept terrain to recover a mortally wounded Marine who had fallen in a position forward of the friendly lines.”

These are all the things, the bits and pieces that Mueller returned home with, to apply in law school, in the Justice Department and the FBI, and now as special counsel. And this is why he and his team will succeed in their current mission. And they will make every round count.


  1. While Mueller was indeed a “Magnificant Bastard”, the U.S. Army PFC in the photo above was not (check out his sleeve insignia — single private’s stripe with rocker, an insignia that is not used in the USMC). His name is Ed Episcopo and he served in the 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam in 1967-1968. For some reason somebody stole this photo off of Ed’s Flickr web site (despite the copyright notice saying all rights reserved and the download protection, apparently they took a low-resolution screenshot of the photo) and attached Mueller’s photo to it. This is sort of an insult to both Ed and Mueller — Ed because his photo is being used without his permission, and for Mueller, because I’m sure no Marine ever wants to have a photo of an Army grunt attached to his name!

    • Stan Trybulski says

      Badtux, thanks for the heads up! I should have spotted the insignia but just looked at face. You are right, this is a damn shame for both Episcopo and Mueller. PS I don’t think Mueller would ever be ashamed of having another brother-in-arms’ photo attached to his name:). Stan Trybulski

  2. John Townsend says

    Anyone who sought deferrals five separate times to blatantly avoid military service is not qualified to be commander in chief. Trump doesn’t know the first thing about military service or sacrifice. The shameful spectacle of his lame attempts at consoling grieving families who have lost loved ones defending the country is sickenly galling.

    • Stan Trybulski says

      And Trump cynically boasted that fighting VD was his Vietnam. Compare that to Mueller who never once swore in front of his men.

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