Rick was born in the small town of Darrouzett,Texas; population around 375 so of course everyone knew him. He was an only child which made the tragedy even worse for his parents. Even though I knew Rick less than a year he has always been and always will be in my thoughts and heart. I met Rick when we were flying out of Amarillo for boot camp in San Diego. We became instant buddies. He was the type of person who never met a stranger. Our personalities were total opposites but we became friends in the few hours it took to get to San Diego. We arrived for training June 27, 1969.
I don't need to tell vets of the Corps what boot camp was like. It certainly helped me having someone there from my home state. We didn't get alot of time to talk but we took advantage of all of those moments. After graduation we stayed together for all the additional training before our trip overseas. We left El Toro Air Station January 12, 1970. I remember wondering if my feet would ever touch US soil again. We flew to Hawaii, stayed in Okinawa a few days and landed in DaNang January 16th. We were fortunate enough to be assigned to 2nd CAG and even CACO 2-4 together. But we were split up into different CAP's. He was assigned to 2-4-2 and I was sent to 2-4-5.
We didn't see each other often after that. Perhaps if we happened to be in CACO at the same time we would visit as long as we could. I was sent to Vietnamese Language School in April for four weeks and when I returned in early May I didn't realize of course how little time was left for him. I think......I think I saw him one more time at CACO before he was killed. During the month of May he had been medi-vaced twice for heat exhaustion/stroke. In my opinion he never should have been allowed back in the bush after that but he was. I wish I could say we had a good conversation that last time but the truth is I don't remember any of the words; just that I got to see him.
But that's not the last time I HEARD him. One of our day sites was right next to the road leading from Hoi An to CACO. I was outside cleaning my weapon when a 6X6 drove by. It had several men on it but I didn't bother looking up. I wish I had. Rick was in the truck also and as they passed by he yelled "Hey Wardlaw!!" I tried to catch a glimpse of him but he was gone down the road too quickly. I had no way of knowing he would be dead in just a few days.
Even after 30 years I miss him. I don't go often enough to see him even though he is only about 100 miles away. Nor did I talk to his folks as much as I should have. I know they were proud of him but I wonder what they thought when the NVA tanks crashed through the gate of the Presidential Palace in Saigon in 1975. And all the other parents and wives and daughters and sons of all those brave men who died so far away. I know all of us are less because of the loss of men like Rick Jergenson.
If we don't remember them...
The Combined Action Program was a little known and even less understood program of the Marine Corps designed to have Marines live in the villages and work with local forces to defend those villages. Ideally 12-14 Marines and a Navy corpsman would be teamed with a group of Vietnamese PF's (Popular Forces). Most of the CAP's were much too far away for a quick reactionary force if we needed help and we all knew that in the back of our minds. The program was active from 1965-1971. An estimated 5,000 Marines served in the CAP during those six years. Only half of our number survived.
The Combined Action Program was divided into 4 Combined Action Groups or CAG's. Each CAG was further broken down into Combined Action Companies. (CACO's). The smallest unit was called a Platoon. I was in CAP's (Combined Action Platoons) 2-4-2 and 2-4-5. Both were about 20 miles south of DaNang near the district city of Hoi An.