Mr. Drake had been a smokejumper for the U.S. Forest Service in the northwestern states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana during the 1950’s. His wonderful stories of parachute jumping into remote mountainous wilderness areas to fight forest fires and his encounters with wildlife endemic to the northwest appealed to my adventurous nature and convinced me to apply for a summer job with the U.S. Forest Service.
During the summers of 1964, 1965, and 1966, I fought forest fires, fished for trout in the cold, clear mountain streams and enjoyed the pristine outdoors of beautiful Idaho.
As the summer ended 1966, the lure of big game hunting for elk in the back country of Idaho during the fall led me to stay in the northwest rather than return to college for the fall semester. Little did I realize that my absence at school and my failure to report to college classes at the University of Alabama would prompt Uncle Sam to come looking for me. It wasn’t too long before I received a very official letter from the Selective Service System summoning me to join other fortunate young men from my home county in reporting to local Draft Board 18, Grenada, Mississippi. My life from that point took a detour onto a path that would take two years to travel and would drastically change my life forever.
I entered the service on January 17, 1967, took my basic training at Fort Campbell, Kentucky and Advanced Infantry Training (AIT) at Fort Gordon, Georgia. By June of 1967. I had just completed my airborne training at Fort Benning, Georgia and was promptly assigned to Company A of the recently reactivated 3rd Battalion (Airborne), 506th Infantry (“Currahee”). It was quite an honor to be assigned to this old and proud war horse unit from WWII. The new battalion commander, LTC John P. Geraci, was a combat veteran of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.
This prestigious commander was staffing his unit with the finest officers and NCOs that he could beg, borrow or steal from other airborne units in the military. News that this famous WWII battalion had been reactivated for service in Vietnam as the fourth maneuver battalion to the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne and for the specific purpose to make the first parachute assaults for the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam, spread quickly through the military ranks, and paratroopers from other airborne units volunteered for the 3-506th. The remaining officers and enlisted men needed to fill the ranks came straight from OCS and jump school-myself included (MOS 11B2P).
On October 3, 1967, the battalion deployed to Vietnam aboard the USNS General William Weigel and arrived in country late October of 1967. Shortly after our unit arrived in Vietnam, I was offered and accepted the position of battalion PIO. My primary duties as the combat photographer and reporter were to chronicle our tour of duty in Vietnam through pictures and newspaper articles for the period of October 1967 to October 1968.
I was by no means a “privileged character” within the ranks, but my status as a PIO did give me the freedom to move around from place to place and to travel with all units. As the battalion PIO, I had a unique opportunity to become acquainted with everyone in my battalion, either by face or name. Many friendships developed as I spent time with my fellow soldiers documenting our harsh living conditions, engaging the enemy, and writing stories about the combat experience of individual soldiers and hunting the enemy. I attempted to photograph every soldier in the battalion, either individually or in a group setting. My presence as the lanky, redheaded guy named Jerry Berry with the camera made a lasting impression on many of my fellow Currahees.
I usually carried two, sometimes three cameras with me as I traveled within
the boundaries of II and occasionally III Corps performing my duties as
battalion PIO. The most important camera, of course, was used to take military
photographs; the others were carried with permission as my personal cameras and
were used to shoot my own personal
photographs. As a result, I took thousands of photographs and slides during my tour of duty.
My incredible journey eventually led me back home and to the girl who had waited patiently for me to return from Vietnam. Donna and I were married in June of 1969 in Greenwood, Mississippi, then traveled to Idaho on our honeymoon to start our lives together beyond the security of the home and family we left behind. We would both work for the U.S. Forest Service as a fire lookout team. I had come full circle since leaving Idaho in 1966 and finally returned to the northwest and my position with the Forest Service.
A wealth of photographs, information, and personal experience came home with me from Vietnam some five decades ago. Hardly a day goes by in my life without thoughts of Vietnam and the many lives that touched mine. In the first few years after returning home, I contemplated the idea of writing a book about my experience as a paratrooper in Vietnam. My many photographs, diaries, newspaper stories, notes from interviews, and extensive collection of weekly editions of the Screaming Eagle and other Vietnam newspapers provided the sufficient material I needed to write a book. As the years went by, however, my efforts were channeled into building my career with the U. S. Forest Service. The urge to write a book about my experiences in Vietnam would surface now and then, but priorities still demanded that I concentrate on nurturing the home environment and raising a family.
The fire was rekindled in 1985 when Eddie Blanco, a fellow paratrooper from Alpha Company, and living in Brooklyn New York, placed notices in local newspapers in various
towns where I had lived in an attempt to locate me. At the time, I was still in Idaho. We were able to renew an old friendship that had been established years before by the bond of the original group of Currahee brothers who had fought together side by side in service to their country. This contact led to contacts with other fellow Currahees, and these renewed friendships triggered my latent desire to write the books that I had given so much thought to over the years.
In 1997, I made the decision to retire from my position with the U.S. Forest Service after 30+ years of government service and devote full time to locating other Currahees and completing my books.
This small group of newly found 3-506th members gave me the incentive to locate other Currahees-not only to provide the much-needed personal input that I needed to complete my book, but a genuine desire to rekindle the unique bond of friendship we once shared as airborne soldiers. At this point in time, I was ecstatic and definitely gaining momentum for the goal I had set for myself-to locate every surviving member of the 3-506th and include some of their personal information in my books.
The desire to be reunited with my fellow Currahees has become a personal quest. As I locate each former Currahee, it gives me great pleasure to personally tell them “Welcome home, soldier” and to learn where their lives have led them since Vietnam. I am currently in touch with over 700 of my fellow Currahees. At our eight Annual 3-506th reunion (2004) in Clarksville, TN, over 250 former members and family members were reunited once again. We reaffirmed our bond as 3-506th paratroopers and airmobile while strains of “Blood on the Risers” were sung by the proud group. This is the true camaraderie of the 3-506th--a bond that has withstood the perils of war, the loss of friends, and the painful memories of Vietnam. We stand alone-We stand proud-We are Currahees!
It has been a definite challenge to bring former members of my group together after so many years. Even more challenging is the task of persuading many of them to “unlock” their feelings and memories of Vietnam that have been locked away in their minds for so long. For many of them, it has been and still is a painful trip back to the memories they hold of Vietnam. Those who have shared their Vietnam memories and experience with me have done so for the sake of what has developed into “Our Books.” They have placed their faith and trust in me as the author of "The Stand Alone Battalion" to write this book, as well as other to be written, as truthfully and as factually as possible at the time.
It is my continuing goal to locate 3-506th members who served in Vietnam-not only those from our tour of duty, but also those who followed us and continued the proud tradition of the Currahees until the unit finally left Vietnam in May of 1971. It is my desire to be reunited with as many of my fellow Currahees as possible in the years ahead and to finish “Our Books” for all of us who served honorably in Vietnam. My personal “Rendezvous with Destiny” continues-some fifty years beyond the Vietnam experience come October 2018. The legacy I will leave for future generations will be set forth in picture and story between the covers of books about our "Stand Alone Battalion".
This website will provide information about past and upcoming events, personal stories, and memorabilia items for sale. If you would like to contact us, you can always leave us a message in our Guest Book, or if you prefer email me directly at email@example.com Check our Message Board for announcements and ongoing conversation, and log onto our Task Force 3-506th Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/157897248091835/ for our posts and stories about our time in Vietnam. If you were a member of the unit, a support unit member, or are a family member of a Currahee or Support Unit member KIA, and have any information to share about fellow veterans, please get in touch either by mail at the address below, or by email. The information you provide will aid in the completion of our unit history.
I currently reside in Libby, Montana with my wife of 49 years, Donna. We have four grown children-Stephanie, Jennifer, Heidi, and Christopher; and three beautiful grandkids--Blake, Rowen and Connor.
Thanks for stopping by and paying us a visit at "The Stand Alone Battalion", the website, your home on the web. Always feel free to send along any ideas or requests, and we hope you stop by often to check for new content. Jerry Berry in Montana