Salvatore Marranca and Garrett Richter can each cite the kind of achievements common to long-serving, successful bank executives.
Richter, 65, president of TGR Financial in Naples, Fla., and its subsidiary, the $1.2 billion-asset First Florida Integrity Bank, is a two-term member of the Florida Senate, where he serves as president pro tempore. He has also lectured at the Louisiana State University School of Banking as well as the Florida School of Banking at the University of Florida.
Marranca, 68, who retired after 32 years as chief executive of the $200 million-asset Cattaraugus Community Bank in Little Valley, N.Y., at the end of 2014, served as 2011-2012 national chairman of the Independent Community Bankers of America. He continues to sit on Cattaraugus' board and is slated to move up to chairman in 2016.
He has also taught banking as an adjunct professor at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, N.Y.
Marranca and Richter also share a bond relatively few banking execs can claim.
Both served in Vietnam.
"We're the exception," Marranca said in an interview just ahead of Veterans Day. Through his service with ICBA, he met hundreds of bankers around the country, but only a handful saw action during the 1965-1975 conflict.
"I run into relatively few" who were in Vietnam, he said. "I'd say the percentage is in the single digits."
Of the bankers who did see wartime service, many had military backgrounds.
Former Fifth Third Bancorp Chairman and CEO George Schaefer, perhaps the industry's most prominent Vietnam veteran, was a 1967 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. Another vet, Norman E. Beatty, president and CEO of the $455 million-asset, Hope, N.J.-based First Hope Bank, graduated from West Point in 1963. Beatty spent 20 years in the Army, retiring in 1984 as a lieutenant colonel.
George W. Hamlin IV, chairman of the $2.2 billion-asset Canandaigua National Corp. in Canandaigua, N.Y., did not graduate from a service academy, but he joined the U.S. Air Force in 1963. That was three years before he was posted to Vietnam, where he would fly 100 combat missions as an F-105 pilot.
Even among that rarified group, Marranca's and Richter's stories are singular.
They went to war as grunts.
Forty-five years ago, neither man was quite as dedicated to lifelong learning or professional development as they are today. And since the late 1960s and early 1970s were a unique period in American history, when a young man's college prospects largely determined whether he spent his days on a leafy American campus or in war-torn Vietnam, that ambivalence altered both of their lives.
Janitor, Soldier, Spy
A Pittsburgh native, Richter's path to Vietnam can be said to have started in high school.
In 1968, he failed his chemistry final and missed graduating on time with the rest of his class -- and being able to apply for college.
His score "wasn't even close" to passing, Richter recalled. "I flat-out flunked."
The infamous Tet Offensive had taken place that spring. With the war raging, call-up was all but inevitable. It wasn't immediate, though, so at his father's insistence, Richter got a job. It was at a Pittsburgh institution. He worked as a janitor with the old Mellon Bank. After a few months, though, he decided to quit waiting for his draft letter. He volunteered with the Army in hopes of landing a job as a clerk. Unfortunately, he flunked again - this time at typing.
"I think I typed about 17 words per minute and the Army wanted about 117, so I got orders to go to infantry training at Fort Polk," Richter said.
Once training was completed, Richter joined the 25th Infantry division in Vietnam
The 19-year-old with substandard typing skills and a limited grasp of chemistry proved to be an exceptional soldier. Richter served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1971. He split his tour with the 25th Infantry and the 75th Ranger Battalion. With the 75th, he was part of a five-man long-range reconnaissance patrol, or "LRRP," that operated mainly behind enemy lines, spending as many as 28 days a month in enemy territory.
It was on one of those long stretches that Richter, who was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery, passed his 21st birthday without even realizing it.
His family threw him a belated 21st-birthday party in 2010 -- the year he turned 60.
Looking back, Richter said he doesn't get too engaged in the long-running debate about the propriety of America's involvement in the war, although he described Robert McNamara's book "In Retrospect," which included the former defense secretary's admission that he had quickly concluded America's involvement was futile, as "a little disappointing."
"But I don't give the war a lot of thought," Richter said. "It's in the rearview mirror. I didn't want to go, but I figured this was my country. We're at war."
Marranca's Vietnam journey was also rooted in academic underachievement.
After a childhood in Buffalo, N.Y., he graduated from Bethany College in Bethany, W.Va., in 1968 with a degree in economics, but he admits now he valued football (he was a four-year letterman on Bethany's offensive line) and fraternity activities more than academics.
"My priorities were playing football, having a good time and maybe getting a degree," Marranca said. "I thought about graduate school, but I didn't want to go back because I was afraid they'd take away my [undergraduate] degree."
The 'Lucky' Clerk
Like Richter, Marranca managed to get a job before being drafted.
He applied at a number of banks and other companies, but was turned down by all of them.
"They told me, `You can walk and chew gum. We know you'll be gone in a few months.'"
The one employer that would hire him was the same outfit that was about to send him to Vietnam. Marranca got a civil service job as a bank examiner with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
When his call came, Marranca, too, was assigned to the infantry. He completed basic training at Fort Dix in New Jersey.
He shipped to Vietnam in January 1970.
Ironically, through chance, Marranca landed the job Richter had sought. He was assigned to the 518th Adjutant General Company as company clerk.
Although he came under indirect fire on a number of occasions, "I was lucky. I wasn't crawling around the jungle," he said.
Still, "it was not a fun year. It was not a good scene. There were a lot of ways to get hurt over there: accidents, "Dear John" letters, drugs, booze. A lot of people went home in worse shape," he recalled.
Bankers Back Home
When their tours ended and they returned home, neither Richter nor Marranca received much of a welcome.
Richter landed in Pittsburgh early on a Friday, so he stopped at Mellon Bank to let them know he was back. He doesn't recall whether his boss thanked him for his service, but he does recall being asked to show up for work on Monday.
Richter said he had been counting on a few weeks to decompress and drink beer.
"I didn't want to go back to work for a couple months," he said.
But Richter's father, who had served in World War II, told him at some point he would have to learn to work and drink beer, so Monday morning, he boarded the bus and reported for work.
Marranca said his trip home took about 72 hours.
The mood about the war had turned ugly, he said.
"When you came back, you didn't tell people you had been over there. I literally threw out everything I had with any connection to the Army," he said.
Marranca, who had married his wife Kay shortly before entering the Army, said he took about two weeks off before returning to the FDIC and regular civilian life.
Both men prospered after Vietnam. Marranca spent 14 years at the FDIC. When the regulator wanted to transfer him to its headquarters in Washington, he opted to go to Cattaraugus, where he oversaw its growth from one branch and about $16 million of assets to its current 8 branches and $200 million of assets.
Richter spent 20 years with Mellon. In 1989, he partnered with Gary Tice to help found First National Bancshares of Florida, which grew into the largest publicly traded Florida-based bank before its sale to Fifth Third in 2005.
Richter reunited with Tice at TGR Financial in 2009.
Interestingly, Marranca, who recently bought a winter home in Naples, chose First Florida Integrity Bank when he decided to open a local account there.
Looking back, Marranca said he is angered by the politics of the war, as well as the waste he witnessed.
"I saw miles and miles of equipment just lying there," he recalled.
At the same time, he believes his service made him a better person.
"It made me stronger," Marranca said. "I learned about life, determination, certainly teamwork."
Richter said much the same thing. "The experience grew me up quick."
Before Vietnam, Marranca said, the only time he'd ever been out of the country had come on trips to Niagara Falls and Toronto. Vietnam "showed me there was as big world out there. It taught me the price of freedom."