Raymond Holford, a veteran of Vietnam, remembers very little about that day last May when seven years of repressed rage and guilt finally exploded. He says he cannot remember the shooting, or the police barging in, or his sitting in a corner, seemingly in a trance, screaming out his name, Marine rank and serial number.
He does remember that earlier that day, tense, depressed and perhaps drunk, he had entered a local 7-Eleven store, leafed through a Time magazine on the rack, and recoiled in shock at the vivid, full-color photographs of the charred remains of Marines who had died in the ill-fated Iranian hostage rescue mission. Those pictures triggered powerful memories that Holford had tried so long to forget -- the memories of a close friend burning to death on an air strip in Vietnam.
As Holford stared at the grisly photographs, the charred bodies of the Marines in Iran became, in his mind, the blackened corpse of his drinking buddy and confidant, Samuel Rodriquez. Now, painfully, he could picture Rodriquez crawling toward him, aflame and dying as television reporters hovered close, photographing the scene.
Suddenly, to Holford, College Park, 1980, became Vietnam, 1973. He set out, without really understanding what he was about to do, to get some revenge for his friend's death seven years ago and for the dead Marines on the makeshift airstrip in an Iranian desert.
Holford was gripped by what psychiatrists have termed an "isolated explosive disorder," part of what has become known as the post-Vietnam syndrome. The path of his vengeance took him by 7:30 that night to the University of Maryland apartment building where he had worked as a groundskeeper for a few months. There, with a newly purchased rifle in hand, he stormed into an apartment that he thought housed an Iranian couple. He says he planned to take them hostage or, possibly, to kill them.
Finding no one there, Holford became more frustrated. He fired a round of ammunition into the empty apartment and out the window. One of the shots hit a passing newspaper boy. A short time later, Prince George's County police arrived at the apartment, searching, they assumed, for a mad sniper.
They found Vietnam veteran Ray Holford, 27, sitting in a dark corner, a rifle across his lap. As they entered, he shouted, "Kill the gooks! Kill the foreigners!" He started screaming his name, rank and serial number. Then he fainted.
This week, the ordeal of Ray Holford, the slender, sandy-haired former Marine, moved to a courthouse in Upper Marlboro, where he was found innocent by reason of insanity of assault with intent to murder charges. Today, he sits in the county detention center, waiting to be transferred to Clifton T. Perkins, the state mental hospital.
The ordeal of Raymond Francis Holford began in 1970 when he left high school to join the Marines. He "wanted to get away from home. I just wanted to be independent," he said in an interview yesterday at the county detention center.
His father had been a career Army officer and Holford had grown up on a number of Army bases in Europe and the United States. Holford's entrance into the Marines was in many ways a natural and expected progression of his childhood life style.
Holford spent the next three years in Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where he met Samuel Rodriquez who would become his closet friend, and on Okinawa before getting assigned to Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base outside Saigon. At the base he served in military security and spent his days patrolling the base perimeter, fending off Vietnamese civilians who were trying to escape their country, and watching American prisoners of war return home. At night, he, Rodriguez and other members of his platoon would drink, talk about the United States, the "gooks," the war and the girlfriends they left behind.
He felt good about the camaraderie that developed in Vietnam and his close friendship with Rodriguez and believed strongly that the United States had a duty to protect the spread of communism, an effort in which Holford wanted "to do my part."
The excitment of the Vietnam assignment changed to horror one day just months after his May 1973 arrival in Vietnam. It was a hot, steamy day and the air base was muddy and slipppery from the continual rain. He and Rodriguez were on the airstrip when they heard the explosions of a mortar attack around them.
Holford remembers running for the cover of nearby bunkers as the attack began. Just as he reached the shelter he heard a huge explosion -- a rocket hitting one of the transport planes near him -- and turned around to see where Rodriguez was.
"I looked back and saw him. He had been hit when the plane exploded and was crawling toward me, trying to get there," Holford said. Rodriguez had been scorched by the huge flames of the explosion and Holford could see that his friend's body was smoldering and blackened.
"You couldn't hear no more than screams," he said. "That's when I see the news people coming out. It was inhuman. They could have saved his life and instead they were taking pictures. I'm sure they weren't Americans."
Holford grabbed a poncho and flag in the bunker and rushed to his friend to put out the flames. But within seconds, he knew his friend was dead.
Holford doesn't remember much more about that day, except that there were lots of injuries. His friend's body was sent home and Holford tried to forget what had happened and what he had seen.
He didn't talk about it to anyone, and began drinking more heavily. Holford said he thinks he became an alcoholic at this time. At night he dreamed about what had happened and developed severe headaches and depression.
Six months after he arrived in Vietnam, Holford was transferred to Okinawa. Not long after that, his tour of duty ended and he returned to a country that, for the most part, did not want to hear about his experiences or problems.
His drinking and nightmares persisted, and unable to find a job or settle down, he found himself sinking into regular depressions.
Holford said he resented the lack of respect or thanks from his fellow Americans. In 1976 he rejoined the Marines, but this time the experience was only depressing. One night, driving near his parents' Riverdale home, he tried to commit suicide by driving off the highway.
Holford spent the next few months recovering in a hospital, then returned to the Marines and requested a discharge, which he received in 1978. For two years he held a series of odd jobs, while his problems -- the tension, depression and drinking -- became worse.He tried to commit suicide again, and again was unsuccessful.
Not long after the second attempt, Holford was hired as a groundskeeper for the University of Maryland's married students apartment complex on Adelphia Road. He liked the job because he worked outdoors. His drinking was still a problem, but at least he seemed to have settled down.
On May 24, the day after receiving his paycheck, Holford was feeling "down and out" and he began drinking early. At some point during the day he stopped in a 7-Eleven store, and it was there he saw the pictures of the failed Iranian hostage mission in the magazine.
"I looked through it and saw the [mullah] picking up a charred hand with a wristwatch on it, and I thought, 'I don't believe these people.'" Almost immediately the picture of Rodriquez' death flashed in his mind, and Holford began drinking even more to hold it back.
He went to a friend's house where a television was on, and saw more pictures of the burned American corpses, and Iranians poking at them with their feet. At this point he went out and bought a rifle, although Holford says he doesn't remember doing that. He does recall driving to the apartment complex where he worked, but at this point his memory fails him and the police reports pick up.
According to the county police, Holford barged into the apartment complex and headed for the dwelling of a Pakistani couple who the police believe Holford thought were Iranian.
He broke into the apartment but found it empty and began shooting at random aroung the rooms, police said. He then began firing out the window and hit a passing newspaper boy, the reports said. The boy, who had been hit in the shoulder, ran into a neighboring apartment and called police. Some 45 minutes later, when county police entered the apartment, they found Holford sitting in a corner in the dark with the gun across his lap. As they entered, he yelled out and soon collapsed.
When he revived some time later in the Hyattsville police station, Holford couldn't remember anything. He was charged with assault with intent to murder and three other offenses.
This week the state prosecutor on the case, the circuit judge presiding over the trial and Holford's defense attorney agreed that the former Marine "was a danger to himself and society" and he was found to be innocent by reason of insanity.
In the next few days Raymond Francis Holford will be taken to the Clifton T. Perkins State Hospital in Jessup for psychological evaluation, and in all likelihood will spend 12 to 18 months undergoing intensive psychiatric care, the first such care since the death of his friend Rodriguez. p