PRESERVING A MILITARY LEGACY FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS
The following Reflection represents Sgt Jack Riley’s legacy of their 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 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.
What personal and professional achievements from your Military service are you most proud of and why?:
Did each of us Marines in Vietnam have an impact on those in our charge? We follow all orders, doing our duty with the usual subordinate complaints of our being singled out again for something others should also be called upon to do. The common expression was being screwed by the green machine again. The platoon leader assigned combat patrols based on his and the platoon sergeant’s assessment of combined squad skills. Chief among those was whether the squad leader possessed the skills to accomplish the mission and safely return his men. “To safely return his men!”
During Operation Prairie Three, March 30, 1967, I failed miserably to return with my men safely. Four of my Marines, plus two more who joined my squad on Hill 70, were killed that day and night. Two died from one mortar blast, and four died from bullets and shrapnel. Wounded three times myself, we were all hurting and vastly outnumbered. We never stopped fighting both the enemy and trying to cheat death. At battle’s end, while lying on a surgical gurney at the NSA, I felt like a total failure as a leader. We were victorious at the battle’s end, but six of my Marines did not safely return. More had experienced tour-ending severe wounds. So much for being a squared-away squad leader! I declined a recommendation for valor from my first sergeant. Losing six Marines does not warrant a medal! The guilt of those killed stayed with me for decades. I never spoke of Vietnam to my wife or siblings. I was invited to speak at events and did so only to recognize those brave men on Hill 70. I kept my shame to myself!
My Vietnam company planned a reunion at Quantico in 2005. My former commanding officer had been invited to speak to the entire training staff of OCS and TBS describing the Battle of Getlin’s Corner. After his presentation, he called for me to join him on the stage. I had no idea this would happen. He had been the officer at our battalion HQ to write each valor award as our severely wounded first sergeant dictated. The men from my company had always believed I had been awarded the Navy Cross. The skipper explains that even though I had rejected an award in Vietnam, the men with whom I had fought felt that they should award me a citation from them.
My shame melted away as my family heard the citation being read. My Marines took my guilt and cast it away. The Commandant of the Marine Corps has since decorated me, but that citation by my Marines is my most cherished thing connected to my military career. The Marine Corps gave me a medal; my men gave me back my honor!
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