Col. Robert Bradley “Bob” Rheault served his country for nearly three decades before returning to Maine, where he put his leadership skills to use helping other war veterans trying to recover from the violence and bloodshed they had experienced in battle.
Mr. Rheault died at his home in Owls Head on Oct. 16 at the age of 87.
After graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Mr. Rheault served in the Army for 26 years.
He retired in 1969 as the commander of Special Forces in Vietnam.
He then went to work for the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School, where he spent 32 years. During his time at the school, which is now based in Camden, he held various positions, ranging from assistant instructor to a short stint as president of the school.
Outward Bound offered outdoor adventures that had all the elements of a military campaign but without the bloodshed, said his wife, Susan St. John.
“War is nasty,” St. John said. “But all that camaraderie, hard work and physical effort without people getting wounded or killed. That’s what he liked. It was absolutely the perfect place for him to be.”
During his tenure at Outward Bound, Mr. Rheault established the Outward Bound program for Vietnam War veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, his wife said.
Mr. Rheault would often lead soldiers from a veterans hospital in Massachusetts on expeditions in the mountains of New Hampshire.
St. John said those wilderness excursions served as a form of therapy.
“I think being in the wilderness reminded them of being soldiers. It might get rough but you know you can count on each other,” St. John said. “Bob’s idea was to let these veterans know that they are still warriors.”
In 1989, he was chosen to lead a group of Vietnam War veterans and Russian soldiers on a wilderness expedition – billed as a peace initiative – in Russia.
His childhood and upbringing prepared him for a life in the military and being outdoors.
His father was a member of the former Royal Northwest Mounted Police in Canada.
As a teenager, Mr. Rheault worked for three summers as a cowboy on ranches in Wyoming. His duties included stacking hay, moving cattle and mending fences.
“He said it was a tough life,” his wife said. “There were times when he was out there alone fixing fences that he wouldn’t see another human being for two weeks.”
St. John said her husband left the military in 1969 following a widely publicized incident involving his Green Beret unit, which was accused of killing a Vietnamese double agent.
Mr. Rheault’s photograph appeared on the cover of Life Magazine’s Nov. 14, 1969 issue after the resolution of the so-called Green Beret Affair. St. John said her husband stood by the soldiers in his unit, and served two months in a jail before all charges were dropped.
“He was always there for the troops. He never left a soldier out to dry,” she said.
Mr. Rheault wanted to be remembered for his service to the midcoast community, his wife said.
He served on the boards of The Apprenticeshop, a traditional boatbuilding school in Rockland, and was a founding member of the Georges River Land Trust. The land trust is responsible for conserving properties for public access and for establishing trails in the midcoast region.
“Bob loved the planet and he loved the people. He was a man of service,” his wife said.
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:firstname.lastname@example.org