“God Meant Me To Be A Soldier”: A Platoon Leader On Hamburger Hill With The Rakkasans

Jerry Walden


Jerry Walden grew up in Monroe and Wingate, North Carolina, where his father was a farmer and truck driver. Jerry and his three brothers helped their father cultivate corn, wheat, soybeans, and cotton. For fun, he enjoyed hunting and fishing. He enlisted at nineteen in 1967 because he figured he was going to be drafted, and was commissioned through Officer Candidate School. He arrived in Vietnam on January 15, 1969, flying into Bien Hoa, and was quickly processed through different echelons at Camp Evans, Camp Rakkasan, and finally Camp Mexico, where he linked up with D Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry, in the 101st Airborne Division. Quickly, he integrated with his Platoon Sergeant, SSG Johnson, and began learning his duties, usually walking as the fifth Soldier in a patrol. His first fire fight occurred after coming across a trail watcher, and he “got more serious” after that. He noted that the North Vietnamese Soldiers were well-equipped and well-trained. During the Battle of Hamburger Hill, A and B Companies were sent in first, and they made contact before D Company was inserted. On May 18, 1969, D Company advanced up the hill. Air strikes had cleared the vegetation 200m from the top of the hill, exposing the advancing Soldiers to enemy fire. After 1st Platoon suffered numerous casualties, and the Company Commander and First Sergeant were wounded, Jerry took command of D Company. The company (fewer than twenty) made it to the top of the hill, capturing four bunkers, and were told to hold in place by the Battalion Commander. The situation became desperate, and wounded Soldiers were passing ammunition up the hill for the defenders. As conditions deteriorated, they were forced to withdraw under cover of an artillery strike, collecting wounded Soldiers and pulling the bolts out of abandoned weapons to prevent their use by the enemy. As Jerry got back to the wood line, 200m down the hill, he was shot in the arm (his third wound of the day) while trying to treat his RTO, who had also been shot in the arm. By May 19th, he noted that D Company only existed on paper, so the remaining five or so unwounded Soldiers, the highest ranking a SPC4, were absorbed into another company. Early on the 19th, Jerry was evacuated eventually all the way to Japan, where he convalesced for two months before returning to Vietnam, right back to D/3-187. Near the end of his tour, he was assigned as an Advisor to the ARVN Airborne. After returning to the United States, he had a difficult time adapting to civilian life, and was recalled into the Army shortly after getting out in 1970. In this interview, he talks about his childhood, enlisting in the Army, and earning a commission through Officer Candidate School. He describes his experiences in Vietnam, focusing on the Battle of Hamburger Hill. He discusses dealing with Post Traumatic Stress, mostly after retiring, and reflects on what his service means to him.


conflicts Vietnam War
topics Leadership Camaraderie Teamwork Courage Military Techniques Mountain Combat Injuries
interviewer David Siry
date 23 June 2021


name Jerry Walden
service Infantry
unit D Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment
specialty Officer Candidate School
service dates 1967 1988