A ‘Little Piece’ of War — the Battle of Getlin’s Corner (Vietnam) March 30-31, 1967

The photo is PANEL 17E of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I took it on July 4, 2016, while working with General Richard ‘Butch’ Neal on his memoir, WHAT NOW, LIEUTENANT? The angle of the photo and time of day made for a perfect shot to highlight a particular set of names; some of the men Butch served with who died (one a posthumous Medal of Honor recipient, *John Bobo) at the Battle of Getlin’s Corner, Quang Tri Province, Vietnam, March 30-31, 1967 during Operation Prairie III. A day where uncommon valor was a common virtue.

*[I encourage you to read John Bobo’s MOH Citation.]

Butch received two Silver Star Medals in his two combat tours in Vietnam and went on to retire as a 4-star general and Assistant Commandant of the United States Marine Corps. I’ll share here a little about his book:

ABOUT THE BOOK (from the author)

The Italian poet, and novelist, Cesare Pavese wrote “We do not remember days, we remember moments,” and I agree. This book is a collection of moments—from events—that I assembled. You may wonder about the title. It seemed to fit when I began writing, but I was surprised by how often my story, and my life, circled back to that singular ‘What now, Lieutenant?’ moment.

Wars fought on a grand scale with global consequences are made up of countless smaller battles and events. For the men who fought, bled, and died in them they are not small—those little pieces of war—and the personal aftermath and their effect is beyond measure. One such battle pitted a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) battalion of 700+ men against the men of Company I, Third Battalion, Ninth Marines, Third Marine Division. Of the seven officers in the field at the beginning, only three walked out. I was one of them.

At 24 years old this was my first significant combat experience (and shockingly, what happened—what I was called upon to do—was something I had never imagined. What came afterward defined me for the rest of my life). The fighting lasted six hours and toward the end, we were almost out of ammunition. Those few hours changed forever the lives of the survivors, including me, and the next of kin of the men we lost.

That battle was the crucial event in my life; an ultimate What Now Lieutenant moment that taught me so much that came into play in other such moments in my future. True, they would not be as traumatic as what I experienced as a lieutenant, but they were moments that whether I was a lieutenant, major or general, each forced me to call upon my experience, knowledge, training, and common sense to respond appropriately. That phrase… that question with all it entails and how one responds when it’s asked of them… seemed to fit best as a title for what you’re reading now. Seeing that question in the eyes of the men on Hill 70 that day is how I learned a most valuable lesson about leadership long ago over the course of a bloody day in Vietnam.

Everything that happened to me before that day and afterward is now seen through that prism.

–Butch Neal


My connection with Vietnam War veterans:

My then-new brother-in-law, an Army veteran (1st Cavalry Division, Airmobile), came home from Vietnam in late 1972 but hardly spoke of it. He focused on the present and getting on with life.

In 1974, I was in Army JROTC; the war was already in years-long discussions among instructors (who had served in Vietnam in the early years of the war), family, and a few friends, a topic through the end in 1975. Then much head shaking afterward; questions, anger… and my mother’s relief (like many felt).

When I joined the Navy in 1978, one of my instructors was a special forces operator who served in Vietnam. I remember after workouts, seeing him come out of the showers, towel around his waist, scars on his torso front and back. One that ran diagonally across his stomach from below where the towel covered; a long, puckered, purple scar that wrapped up to his left rib cage and around. I thought, God, how in the Hell did he survive that? He never talked about it; if you brought it up and pushed, he’d fix you with a look you did not want. His stare would pierce you and stick four inches out your back.

I roomed with John from Paris, Texas, in my training school. John, an Army veteran, had been wounded in Vietnam and had three round scars, through-and-through, in his right thigh. He’d DEROS’d in 1972 and spent six years trying to be a civilian. He couldn’t and rejoined the military, but a different branch, the Navy.

Rex, a corporate regional director, who hired me after I got out of the Navy, had been a Marine whose tour in Vietnam in 1969-70 had left him with facial scars from shrapnel that were far worse than the character, Sergeant Barnes, portrayed by Tom Berenger in the movie, Platoon.

There are others I served with, met, and worked with and for… who also bore scars (inner and outer) from the war.

I came to know aspects of the war through what they said and didn’t say about their experiences.

So, the shadow of Vietnam loomed as a teenager and young adult. As a writer, I’ve ghostwritten two novels set in Vietnam from 1967-79, and in my business career, my company, Adducent, has worked with dozens of veterans, many of whom served in Vietnam. All have stories about how their military service, especially combat… changed them forever.

2 thoughts on “A ‘Little Piece’ of War — the Battle of Getlin’s Corner (Vietnam) March 30-31, 1967”

  1. I just saw this post and your photo of Panel 17E is the best photo I have seen containing the names of our 15 KIAs at Getlin’s Corner. Six of these brothers were with my squad during the battle. I was the 2nd Squad Leader of the 2nd Platoon on Hill 70. Butch Neal was a lifelong close friend and we were honored to attend his funeral services in DC. Butch was kind enough to send me exceperts of his book while he was putting together his draft. Lt. John Bobo was my best friend in Vietnam where we served together for 7 months in 2nd platoon. Last November Lt. Dan Pultz also passed away and we will be attending his funeral service in Pittsburgh the weekend of April 13th. I was wounded 3 different times during the battle making the 3rd time I had been awarded a Purple Heart. I was recommended for valor but I refused Top Roger’s Navy Cross submittal after losing 6 of my men. It was not a good time to be thinking of medals while dealing with the loss of so many friends on the Hill. The Marines in my company thinking I had received the Navy Cross ultimately learned of my refusing the award presented me a citation from them in 2008 during a review of the battle with the OCS and TBS training staff at Quantico. This citation from them is my most cherished thing from the war. My family Dan Pultz and Butch Neal and brother Marines finally convinced me to let a recommendation go forward to the decoration branch of the Corps. There it was approved for the Navy Cross and sent to the Navy where it was reduced to the Silver Star still far more than I deserved. Gen. Eric Smith flew down to Huntsville to make the presentation after Butch had passed. Many of those Getlin’s Corner Marines flew in for the presentation on November 11 2022.
    Would it be possible to obtain a digital copy of your photo? I want to have it framed to hang in my home.
    Thank you for the work you did with Butch! His loss remains ever present in my home.
    Semper Fi
    Jack Riley

    1. Jack, I’m honored by you reaching out and commenting. Butch Neal became more than just an author we worked with. He and I worked closely on his book and had been discussing another when he suddenly/tragically passed. Every Friday we’d message each other to check in and exchange wishes for a good Friday and pleasant weekend, and we talked a couple of times each month, long after his book was finished and published. I know I’m only one of many who miss him. Thank you for your service, Jack and to all the men who served with you. Shortly, I’ll email you a copy of my photograph of Panel 17E. All my best, Dennis

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