United States Marine Corps

Service Reflections of SGT Jack Riley, U.S. Marine Corps (1966-1972)

March 23, 2023


The following Reflections represents SGT Jack Riley’s legacy of his military service from 1966 to 1972. If you are a Veteran, consider preserving a record of your own military service, including your memories and photographs, on Togetherweserved.com (TWS), the leading archive of living military history. The following Service Reflections is an easy-to-complete self-interview, located on your TWS Military Service Page, which enables you to remember key people and events from your military service and the impact they made on your life.

Please describe who or what influenced your decision to join the Marine Corps.

Boot Graduation Day

It was 1965, and my wife and I were living and working in Atlanta, Georgia, when I received my ‘Greetings’ letter from Uncle Sam. I was working full-time and carrying a full semester load in college. Since I was working full-time, I was not eligible for a student deferment, and my rating was 1A.

I knew my options would be limited since Vietnam was heating up if I went into the military as a draftee. After talking with the various recruiters, I told my wife since I was going to war, I was going into the Marines. I knew my training would be the best I could get. I had planned to serve after obtaining my degree since that was the tradition in my family. My father-in-law was a WWII Navy vet, and he said that I was insane. ‘You don’t get three hots and a cot in the Marines!’ I was in the very first draft of married men for the Vietnam War. Joining the Marines enabled me to become a member of a Brotherhood like no other, and my training and brother, Marines, did get me back home.

Whether you were in the service for several years or as a career, please describe the direction or path you took. What was your reason for leaving?

Boot Camp (Parris Island, SC), C/138

I arrived at Parris Island and went through the testing all boots were given. My SDI pulled me out of training one day to meet with an officer about my having qualified for what was at that time called the Marquette Program. A commissioning program leading to pilot training. I wore glasses and didn’t understand how I qualified. I learned helicopter pilots were allowed to wear corrective lenses. I declined the program since my college path had been set. I was to be a 0311. A Grunt! After going through all my training, I ended up in Vietnam with ‘The Flaming I’ India Company, the 3rd Battalion, and the 9th Marines.

If you participated in any military operations, including combat, humanitarian and peacekeeping operations, please describe those which made a lasting impact on you and, if life-changing, in what way?

Ontos working with I/3/9 An Hoa

In 1966, while we were down south working around the Da Nang, Hill 55, An Hoa, Phu Lac, and Goi Noi TAORs, we operated much differently than we did when we moved to the DMZ. Due to an always less-than-TO status, we had three-man HKT (Hunter-Killer Teams) that patrolled and pulled ambushes. If the company was involved in an operation, the entire company would come together. Otherwise, we worked from PPBs in order to cover all the areas assigned. I’ve listed the operations on my profile, and all were memorable, especially those where we lost Marines. Operations Macon, Kern, Prairie 3, and Buffalo stand out.

When you are a leader of the Marines, you do not forget those who fought so bravely and gave the ultimate sacrifice. I was wounded in three of those operations, so I also have physical reminders. Losing some of my best friends is something I will never forget.

Did you encounter any situation during your military service when you believed there was a possibility you might not survive? If so, please describe what happened and what was the outcome.

My medevac ride from Getlin’s Corner

Every firefight, ambush, and operation placed us in situations where any number of us could become a KIA statistic. My job was to control our firepower use in the most effective way to overwhelm and kill the enemy! I was wounded on three dates but multiple times in two of them. The first was the running battles of September 3-5, 1966. My PL was 2nd Lt. John Bobo, and the same Chicom grenade wounded us; later in the battle, a stone building collapsed from an enemy mortar blast onto myself and two other Marines. The heavy stones compressed my spine, cracked vertebrae, and cracked my skull. My men, while under fire, removed all those stones, pulling me to safety. The other two Marines did not fare as well.

Sniper fire was just routine for us. There were good snipers as well as just poor shots, but anyone of those numerous rounds could have resulted in death.

Operation Prairie 3 was another case where we had 15 killed and 46 wounded. I was wounded three different times that night, and our small continent of 47 on Hill 70, was being attacked by a battalion of NVA. The battle became known as the Battle of Getlin’s Corner and became the most highly decorated battle of only 6 hours during the entire Vietnam war.

Of all your duty stations or assignments, which one do you have fondest memories of and why? Which was your least favorite?

I would say, Camp Hansen, Okinawa, was the one holding the fondest memories. There, I picked up so many new men in my Squad straight out of Staging Battalion at Camp Pendleton. We spent much time at NTA getting these FNG trained up in their Immediate Action Drills. We tried to teach them as much as we could about how to fight in Vietnam versus what they were shown at ITR or Staging.

We also had the time to have some fun as well. Only 40% of my company were veterans of Vietnam, and they loved Liberty! The FNG, after NTA, felt better in their role and were less intimidated being in the company of battle veterans.

My most minor favorite post was Camp Geiger in that day. The barracks were awful, and the chow was worse. Had it not been for PB&J sandwiches, we would have starved! I will add that the Marine Corps invited me to participate in the ribbon cutting for a new barracks named for one of my Marines, Cpl. John Loweranitis. We had lunch at the mess hall, and the food was just outstanding! Col. Mundy informed me that the cooks at Camp Geiger had just been awarded the best cooks in competition with all services.

From your entire military service, describe any memories you still reflect back on to this day.

L/Cpl Arthur Bustamante KIA 1/13/68

The Marine Brothers I fought with those many years ago are just as important today as they were then. I have located many of them, but there are still those I have been unable to find. Sadly, some have passed on before I was able to track their families down. At least I was able to share with their families what magnificent Marines they were to serve with in battle. I have also connected with the families of many of our brothers who were killed in action. Their families are now part of our brotherhood at reunions.

What professional achievements are you most proud of from your military career?

Gen. Eric Smith pinning Silver Star on Jack Riley

In 2008, I/3/9 held our semi-annual reunion at MCB Quantico. We took this occasion to present the ‘Flaming I’ Guidon that we had flown in Vietnam to the John P. Bobo Mess Hall for permanent display. A presentation detailing the battle at which John was killed was shown for the commanding officer and his entire OCS and TBS training staff. At the conclusion of this presentation, I was asked to come to the stage as Col. George Navadel, USMC Retired, one of my former India commanders, read the citation posted under Operation Prairie 3 on my profile.

They also presented me with an exact replica of our Guidon. I was completely surprised that the Marines with whom I had served those many years ago would do this. What makes this more meaningful than any medal to me is that it comes from the Marines who survived the battle at ‘Getlin’s Corner’ with me.

November 11, 2022, General Eric Smith, ACMC, flew from Washington, DC, to Huntsville, Alabama, and presented me the Silver Star Medal for my actions at Getlin’s Corner on March 30, 1967, 55 years since the battle. Some Marine friends who had read the citation I was given in 2008 felt I should be formally recognized. They contacted my platoon commander at that time, and he, in turn, got in touch with General Butch Neal, former ACMC, and our artillery FO at Getlin’s Corner. That was in 2019. Covid slowed the process a great deal. The Marine Corps finally approved the paperwork for a Navy Cross. The package was next sent to the Navy’s decoration branch, where it was reduced to a Silver Star. Still far more than I ever deserved! The Secretary of the Navy finally approved it in September 2022.

Many of the Marines with whom I had fought with at Getlin’s Corner were in attendance at the dinner and presentation. Also present were many family and friends. Why did it take 55 years? When I was being triaged at Delta Med at Dong Ha, my First Sergeant, Ray Rogers, informed me that he recommended me for a decoration. I told him that I could not, and would not, accept it since six Marines with my Squad that night had been killed, and several were wounded. I could not in good conscience accept anything. My Marines all thought that I had been awarded the Navy Cross when we first met for a reunion in the 1980s. I appreciate all the time and effort my Marine friends spent towards achieving this award, for it is truly an award for my Squad of Marines. It was them that made it possible for all of us to survive against such overwhelming odds! Their original citation, given to me in 2008, remains the most cherished procession of my time in the Marines.

Which individual(s) from your time in the military stand out as having the most positive impact on you and why?

Medal of Honor recipient (Posthumous) 2nd Lt. John Paul Bobo

From July 1966 until his death on March 30, 1967, 2nd Lt. John Paul Bobo and I served together. He was my Platoon Leader, and I was a Squad Leader. We were assigned to the advanced party when 3/9 replaced 2/3 along the DMZ.

I witnessed John’s actions daily and can tell everyone that there has never been a leader that cared more for his Marines than John Bobo. He single handed held off an attack on our left flank after having his leg blown off by an NVA mortar. He was a brother and friend that I will see again when my time on this earth is over.

Can you recount a particular incident from your service, which may or may not have been funny at the time, but still makes you laugh?

Antennae Valley

One common thread among warriors of all ages is to talk about how good the food is back home. Fried chicken, T-bone steak, homemade ice cream. When all we had was C-Rats, it was easy to reminisce about things civilians back in the ‘world’ take for granted.

We were on an operation in Antennae Valley and, due to the monsoon rains, had gone four days without any resupply. Starving doesn’t begin to describe how hungry we were as we chased an NVA regiment in those hills. I noted that all of the grunts had gone from fantasizing about fried chicken to Ham and Lima Beans! C-Rats had become the starving Marines’ top food fantasy!

What profession did you follow after your military service, and what are you doing now? If you are currently serving, what is your present occupational specialty?

After completing my enlistment, I completed my education and went into the stone mining (quarry) business. I ultimately went to work for and retired from the largest construction aggregates company in the world.

What military associations are you a member of, if any? What specific benefits do you derive from your memberships?

As indicated on my profile, I am a Life Member of most of the military/veterans organizations. Being a Marine, I was most active with the MCL and the MOPH. There is nothing like the family of brother Marines or belonging to an organization that helps military families in need.

In what ways has serving in the military influenced the way you have approached your life and your career? What do you miss most about your time in the service?

New Marine House on compound – MSG Det. Djibouti

Once a Marine, Always a Marine! The core values that make Marines will also make you successful in life. I always hired veterans when I could, especially Marines! Personally, I have always believed that we who survived the horrors of war should live our lives as a tribute to the memory of all our brothers who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Having one of our sons spend almost 12 years in the Corps adds another very personal element to our relationship. He obtained both his BS and MS degrees working full time, and the hard work and dedication to tasks learned in the Corps paid off when he graduated with high honors.

Based on your own experiences, what advice would you give to those who have recently joined the Marine Corps?

I am privileged to serve as a team leader in the Semper Fi Odyssey Program that MGen. Tom Jones, USMC Ret. host at his Outdoor Odyssey mountain site outside of Pittsburgh, PA. Trust me, I get much more from these young wounded warriors than I could give. But my advice is never to stop learning. Make sure that all in your charge understand the importance of their role. In combat, our lives depend on it! In the civilian world, that same attention to detail and your CORPS values ensures success.

In what ways has togetherweserved.com helped you remember your military service and the friends you served with.

A few years ago, after giving a Memorial Day speech at a high school, a retired soldier came up to me and said, ‘I’d give anything if we (Army) had what you Marines have!’ He went on to say that in all other military branches, you get in, then you get out! ‘You Marines never get out!’ He is correct; we are Marines until God calls us home.

That brotherhood has never gone away, and TWS has provided a means for old friends to find each other after decades have passed. When Leslie Little posted the video of his DI presenting him with his boot camp platoon Guidon, that spoke volumes about the relationships of Marine brothers.

I’ll never forget the PI Sergeant Major’s words just before my DI picked us up at receiving barracks. ‘Just remember, everything we do has a purpose behind it!’ How RIGHT he was! My DI, S/Sgt. Leroy Elliot paid the ultimate sacrifice at Con Thien as the Gunny of D/1/4 on May 8, 1967. TWS provided a way to honor his memory as well as the memories of all our brothers. My DI and all who have so admirably filled that billet gave us more than the tools of war. They gave us a tried and tested blueprint for success in life, plus a pride that only another Marine will ever fully understand.

Semper Fidelis!

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Tags: 2/3, 2nd Lt. John Bobo, 3rd Battalion, and the 9th Marines, Battle of Getlin's Corner, Buffalo, C-Rats, Camp Geiger, Col. George Navadel, Cpl. John Loweranitis, General Butch Neal, General Eric Smith, Hill 55, Marquette Program, MCB Quantico, Memorial Day, MGen. Tom Jones, Navy Cross, Navy Crosses, Operation Prairie 3, Operations Macon, Prairie 3, S/Sgt. Leroy Elliot, Semper Fi Odyssey Program, Silver Star, Staging Battalion at Camp Pendleton, TWS, Uncle Sam, Vietnam War, vrating was 1A


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