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.
Which individual(s) from your time in the military stand out as having had the most positive impact on you and why?:
Several heroes had a positive impact on my ability to survive some of the heaviest battles by Marines in the Vietnam War. My Senior DI at Parris Island, S/Sgt Leroy Elliott, named me the second most deserving of promotion to PFC in my Platoon 138. The Honor Marine was a contract journeyman butcher and deservingly so! Promoted to Gunny Elliott, he was killed on May 8, 1967, at Con Thien.
My first Platoon Sergeant in Vietnam was S/Sgt Guy Hodgkins, who was Killed in Action on September 3, 1966. He spent a lot of time with me discussing VC tactics he had encountered and what I could expect as a squad leader.
My second Platoon Leader was 2nd Lt. John Paul Bobo. John quickly recognized that my having already completed two years of college before joining the Corps, including several math courses, he could devote time to my development as a leader. The time John and I spent together, including our both being wounded the first time by the same grenade in a battle, we continued throughout our seven months together. We were each selected by our company commander, Capt. Mike Getlin, to be part of our company’s Advanced Party as we returned to Vietnam for the second time. We spent two weeks together being TAD to Foxtrot Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. During that time, our bond was more akin to brothers rather than officers and enlisted. During our non-patrol time, we spent many hours together going over our many combat experiences together, including what we learned and what, if anything, we could have done differently. John Bobo taught me everything he could from his days at TBS in Quantico. He was convinced that I should return to college, complete my degree, and become a Marine Corps officer. I had already explained how my being married, with plans to become a geologist in the mining industry, did not include a career in the Marines. He countered by explaining how the Corps would pay for my BS and MS with a time commitment no longer than my enlistment. He argued well, but I had already committed to my wife for just one tour. Three Purple Hearts and many surgeries later took care of any thoughts of a career in the Corps.
John and I shared everything about our lives during that time together. He had planned only one tour in the Marines and then decided if God was indeed calling him to the Priesthood in the Catholic Church. I am a Protestant and a Southern Baptist, and many of our discussions dealt with the differences in our religions. John was deeply religious, as was I, but we each held different beliefs concerning our faith. We are both Christian but differ in our interpretation of salvation.
John was transferred to become our company Executive Officer and lead the Weapons Platoon. My duties as a Squad Leader at the DMZ consumed my time. My squad was always selected for the most dangerous patrol routes into known NVA areas. I had a new Vietnam Platoon Leader and missed the close association with John Bobo. He was a busy man pulling double duty. When my new PL was figuratively getting his feet wet, he was transferred to 2/26.
We received a warning order that Bravo 1/9 had been in heavy contact with an NVA regiment south of Con Thien. Captain Getlin assured us, squad leaders, that we were heading into a big fight with orders not to dig in each night. Lt. Col. Wilson was afraid the NVA would hear us! I talked with John after our meeting, and he and I agreed the order not to dig in was stupid! On the third day of Operation Prairie 3, an NVA battalion attacked Hill 70. Our CP consisted of three officers. Capt. Mike Getlin, Capt. Barney Pappas, the FAC officer, and Lt. John Bobo, including their attached radio operators. Two squads from our 2nd platoon, a mortar and rocket team, and one M-60 machine gun team protecting the CP. Hours into the ensuing battle, the CO ordered me to counter-attack with my squad, retake the crest of the hill, move to Lt. Bobo’s position, drop off my Corpsman, Doc Ken Braun, who is to place a tourniquet on Lt. Bobo’s amputated leg and return him to the CP.
When I reached John and observed how the exploding mortar round had blown off his leg, he had his stump jammed into the dirt to curtail bleeding; he was all business, ordering us to leave him there! He had killed many NVA soldiers lying dead all around him. I told him my orders were to bring Doc, and he was going to take John back to the CP while I continued to take out another machine gun and return all the casualties we found. John was in severe pain but, at first, refused any morphine for fear it would cloud his judgment. While I was trying to tell him we would get him out, Doc gave him a shot anyway. My friend and brother performed like the Marine Corps legends of old. It was tough to see him so bloodied and hurting so badly. He was grunting as his severed bones throbbed in agony. As my squad provides covering fire to attack the NVA and their machine gun, an enemy soldier stands up in the tall elephant grass behind me, shooting Doc Braun three times and killing John with shots into his lungs. I first heard the shots of the AK-47 rifle behind me, and then I turned to kill the enemy. I did not learn until returning to the CP that John, Mike, and Barney had all been killed along with 12 enlisted Marines, six with my squad.
I remain close to John Bobo’s three brothers and sister, visiting with them almost annually. John was awarded a most deserved Medal of Honor posthumously. Mike Getlin was awarded the Navy Cross posthumously, as was one of my men, John Loweranitis. My Corpsman, Doc Ken Braun, and our First Sergeant, Ray Rogers, were also awarded the Navy Cross. All are dead now, having suffered from Agent Orange-related disease.
Hardly a day goes by that I do not think of John Bobo and how he impacted my life so much.
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