The breakdown of this country’s high school graduates in the 1960s probably wasn’t much different from ensuing decades. You had the high achievers setting goals for their futures, and you had the disciplined teenagers who followed rules.
And you had the rest of us, testing the parameters for what could be gotten away with, and relying on getting lucky by stumbling into a job we liked.
The major difference between the 1960s and today was this: There wasn’t technology to monitor youthful misdeeds, meaning you could get away with unsophisticated skulduggery.
Mike Tittle was part of the Class of ’67 at St. Paul Central, and his closest running mates included Rich Nuessle, Bill Hazen, Doug Heltne, Marty Jensen and Jim Varco, all Central, and Bill Kronschnabel, a Cretin kid with an aptitude for slipping the family station wagon out of the garage for nocturnal cruising with friends.
“Central gave us these small ID cards with a photo of the individual on them, which was very convenient,’’ Tittle said. “We typed in our names and dates of birth, laminated them, then went to Menomonie [Wis.] and presented ourselves as Stout State students of legal drinking age.’’
Tittle paused and said: “The worst ideas we had usually came from Rich.’’
There was a young woman named Kathy in Central’s Class of ’67. She was admired for her smarts, personality and attractiveness and received considerable lobbying for dates, including from Nuessle.
“We were walking to our car at 1:30 in the morning in downtown Menomonie and there was a big sign stretched from two trees,’’ Tittle said. “All it read was, ‘Vote KATHY.’ She was a Stout student running for homecoming queen.’’
Nuessle said he needed that sign.
“Next thing I know, I’m climbing 15 feet up one tree and 15 feet up the other to cut down the sign,’’ Tittle said. “And then at 3 in the morning, we’re tying it to trees across the sidewalk in Central High Kathy’s front yard.
“I don’t think Richie got a date, but Kathy got a good laugh.’’
Tittle was an outstanding football and basketball player. Nuessle was a determined hockey player. That whole Central crew was composed of athletes, despite missing a few curfews.
Graduation was followed by the reality of the time: Tittle, Nuessle and Hazen all ended up in the military. By 1968, Tittle was with Army infantry, the Big Red One, in the southern portion of South Vietnam.
“Rich was up north, near the Cambodian border,’’ Tittle said. “No picnic either way, but I think the Marines were into it more frequently than we were in the South.’’
An Hoa Combat Base was a large facility for Marines — not far from a major Viet Cong base that was across the Vu Gia River.
“Fifth Marines, First Battalion, four-Marine crews to operate the 106 [millimeter] recoilless rifle,’’ Jerry Havens said. “That was the duty for Dick and me. We also spent a lot of time on bridge security.’’
In St. Paul, he was Rich; to fellow Marines, he was Dick Nuessle.
On Oct. 9, 1968, Havens and Nuessle were on an observation platform, looking for potential enemy movement. Havens decided to do some checking on foot.
“I stepped on a booby trap,’’ he said. “It was attached to a grenade that was wedged out of sight. I actually saw it go off two feet behind me. I had facial injuries, hands and arms, but the problem was my legs. They were torn up badly.’’
Nuessle arrived quickly from the platform. He radioed for a corpsman and went to work trying to halt the blood that was “pouring out of me,’’ Havens said. “Dick used everything we had — bandages, uniform pieces — to try to block the bleeding.’’
How long before a corpsman arrived?
“Probably a few minutes, but it seemed like forever,’’ Havens said. “There’s no doubt, if he hadn’t responded quickly … I would’ve bled out.
“Dick Nuessle saved my life.’’
• • •
Nuessle returned from his two-year enlistment in early-winter 1969. Jim, the third Nuessle brother after Walter and Rich, said: “There was snow on the ground. When Rich got off the plane, the first thing he said, happily, was, ‘Boo koo snow.’ ”
Goodbye, Vietnam; hello, Minnesota.
Nuessle loved sports. He wanted to get a job in sports. He took some classes aimed at journalism at the University of Minnesota. He also signed up for a ski trip. He was D- in skiing, but A+ in chalet.
As the group was leaving for home, Terri Gellerman walked on a bus and saw the only remaining seat was next to Nuessle. The over-and-under on Rich saying, “This seat is saved,’’ to others was 12 ½.
“Terri had caught his eye for sure,’’ Tittle said. “Rich got Terri’s number by giving her a couple of raffle tickets we were selling for our fastpitch softball team, and saying he needed her name and number in case she won.’’
Terri and Rich were married in August 1971.
He also was smooth in landing a job as a sports photographer at Channel 9, then the ABC affiliate in the Twin Cities.
Nuessle was doing menial tasks at the station. Shorthanded, a set director asked if anyone could operate a camera, Rich said, “Yes,’’ pointed a camera in the right direction, and a career as a TV sports photographer was born.
He was a staple in the Twin Cities sports media from the mid-’70s to the early ’90s. If you were in that circle and failed to have a wacky adventure with Rich, you had to be in quarantine.
Said Jim Gilleland, Nuessle’s sports reporter at Channel 9: “I loved that guy. Drove me crazy because at 1 o’clock in the morning, he still wasn’t ready to call it a night. He also got me into sports betting, which I gave up after N.C. State beat Houston in the Final Four, but I loved him.’’
Said Jeff Passolt, Nuessle’s sports reporter for Rich’s early years at Channel 11: “I could write a book. Seriously. You know who also loved him — players, guys like Kent Hrbek. Herbie would be ready for an interview and say, ‘Let’s wait for Richie.’
“When the Twins won the ALCS in Detroit in 1987, [clubhouse manager] Jim Wiesner let us in the back door of that tiny visitors clubhouse, because of Richie. We were the first TV crew in there, ahead of NBC.’’
There was another side to Nuessle, sadly.
“He was always a drinker,’’ Terri said. “Whatever gathering, we were always the last to leave. He didn’t sleep, either. He told me, ‘I feel this heaviness.’ Rich couldn’t explain it, but then he was diagnosed with PTSD.’’
Post-traumatic stress disorder. The horrors of war, the horror of Vietnam.
Nuessle spent three months in a PTSD treatment facility in Tomah, Wis.
“He had a weekend pass to come home,’’ Terri said. “Instead, he went to Rent-A-Wreck, drove to the airport and flew to Las Vegas.’’
Jim Nuessle, the kid brother, said: “I think Rich’s idea was he’d go to Vegas, win big money and come home a hero. Our dad, Jerry, was great at gambling. He was in World War II, and he won so much playing poker with the other soldiers that it paid for our house.
“Rich also loved to gamble. He just wasn’t that good at it.’’
Rich’s three sons — Jeremy, Steve and Dan — were sheltered from their dad’s demons as much as possible by Terri. About the only Vietnam story they ever heard from Dad was his being chased through a village by a rampaging water buffalo.
Nuessle lost his job at KARE-11 after multiple drunken driving incidents in the early ’90s. Terri divorced him a couple of years later; a “saint’’ for staying so long, said Gilleland, Passolt, Tittle, son Steve and others.
Tittle said: “Rich loved his job, he loved Terri, and Vietnam — the stuff he didn’t talk about — was always there, clutching at him.’’
On Nov. 24, 1999, Rich Nuessle, age 50, went to the garage of a condo that he owned and died by suicide. His body was found the next morning. Thanksgiving.
• • •
Jerry Havens never again saw Nuessle after that October day in Vietnam, when he almost lost his legs and his life to a Viet Cong booby trap.
“We talked on the phone a few times,’’ Havens said. “I knew he was struggling with PTSD. I had a brother George, a great brother, who was in Vietnam and also died from suicide in 1983.’’ Jerry and his wife, Linda, have driven from their home in Woodstock, Ill. — 50 miles northwest of Chicago — to the Twin Cities in the fall for two decades. The motive is to be at Fort Snelling on Oct. 9 and to spend time at the grave of Cpl. Richard P. Nuessle, USMC.
“I’ve had a tremendous life with Linda and our family for over 50 years,’’ Havens said. “I wouldn’t have had that without this good Marine.’’