“Dear Mom & Dad; Sorry this has been so long …[but] we were preparing for a combat mission. The “chopper” pilots over here are really good. They fly very low; about 10 feet over the top of the trees. It’s really great because [the sides] are open and we sit on the edge with our feet dangling outside.” So wrote Pfc. Barry Berger, U.S. Army Ranger to his parents, Albert and Beatrice Berger of Ocean City, MD, from Vietnam in early December of 1970.
Barry Berger was born and raised on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He attended Ocean City Elementary School and was graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 1967. He was active in Little League baseball, the Masonic order of DeMoley, and local Boy Scout Troop 261. During the summer seasons he assisted his family in running the family clothing store in Ocean City.
After high school he attended The American University in Washington, D.C., where he was majoring in Business Administration. In his third year of college, and according to all accounts tiring of the constant anti-war demonstrations, he dropped out of college and volunteered for the U.S. Army, much the same as his father did in an earlier time during World War II. His family explained at the time that he had been raised to “respect and honor his country and its leaders.” He took his basic training at Fort Dix in New Jersey.
May 9, 1970
“Dear Mom & Dad: [Our] day starts at 4:00 A.M. Wash up, clean our barracks…outside for reveille and a one mile run, then breakfast and on to classes. P.T. (Physical Training) and more P.T…obstacle courses…crawling on your stomach without use of your elbows…more P.T…from 6:00 to 7:00 dinner; 7:00 to 9:00 we have time to shower, polish boots or what ever we want. Lights out at 9:00 P.M. and its not a minute too soon!… Love Barry.”
Though surviving letters are few, he makes reference to advanced infantry training at Camp Polk, Louisiana, and Fort Knox, Kentucky. He had volunteered for training as an Army Ranger.
October 21, 1970
“Dear Mom & Dad:” Well here I am in that “fun and sun” capital of the world. I shipped from Long Bein to Chu Hai, which is the headquarters for the Americal Division [to which] I am assigned. I met the Ranger company requirements and was accepted. [They] are an all volunteer unit and rather elite group. The training will be very hard. There are quite a few guys from the Maryland area here. The main mission of the Rangers is to go on LRRP’s (long range reconnaissance patrols.) They are six man teams which are inserted into a jungle position by “chopper” and stay out in the field for 3 to 5 days and are then extracted by “chopper.” …Love Barry.”
Barry had been assigned to Company G, 75th Infantry (Ranger), 23rd Infantry Division (Americal)
November 10, 1970
Dear Mom & Dad: “ Sorry I have not written for awhile but Ranger School is strenuous, both mentally and physically. …classes all day long…many tests and quizzes…we have run 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 miles with a fifty pound [back] pack. Tomorrow is the last big run; 7 miles. Many of the things that I am learning are new to me. Much is specialized for our type of operation. [Got] to get some sleep now so I’ll be ready for the run in the morning…Love Barry.”
December 6, 1970
“Dear Mom & Dad: We finally graduated…I was named [the] honor graduate of the class and I enclose a copy of the commendation document. The six man group to which I have been assigned is designated “Team Michigan”…we had a party to celebrate the graduation. Religious services are held at Division Headquarters…I have not attended because it is quite aways to travel and so far I’ve not had the time to attend. I have been receiving the bulletins from Beth Israel (Synagogue in Salisbury, MD). All packages you have sent have come in very good condition. The cake you sent was great. It was still fresh and moist and everyone who had some said it was good. This being monsoon season, it rains every day. The rains have not been as bad as they were…Love Barry.”
December 20, 1970
“Dear Mom & Dad: Sorry it has been such a long time since I’ve written, but I am just back from being in the “bush” for 4 days. I was going to write to you before going out, but there were too many other things which had to be done [to prepare for the mission.]…Love Barry.”
January 6, 1971 (282 days to go)
“Dear Mom & Dad: It’s freezing over here (burrrr), for the past seven days it has been about 55 degrees over here. It rained for five days straight and finally stopped yesterday. The monsoon is not over yet, but it should be soon. Enclosed you will find two ‘chieu hoi’ leaflets (pronounced ‘chew hoy’). It literally means ‘helping hand.’ They are part of the army’s psychological operations program. [They] are dropped from planes over areas of heavy VC concentration. I found these leaflets on my last mission. They promise [if the VC] give themselves up [they won’t] be treated as POW’s but will get land from the government on which they can settle down…Love Barry.”
This would prove to be Barry’s last letter home. Shortly thereafter the team was assigned a reconnaissance mission in Quang Ngai Province. They were inserted into the jungle by helicopter. At 11:30 P.M during the night of January 10, 1971, they reported to be under heavy attack by enemy forces and requested to be removed from the area. Four helicopters were dispatched to assist them. [Probably at least two were gun ships to assist in suppressing enemy fire.] The combat report suggests that Barry and his Staff Sgt. were the last to be lifted out of the jungle. His commanding officer explained:
“Due to the mountainous terrain, it was impossible for any of the aircraft to land; instead one aircraft hovered above Barry’s element and lowered harnesses by rope in order to pull the men to safety. During this operation the pilots had no visual contact with the men below because of the dark, cloudy night and aggressive enemy contact on all sides. Another aircraft then signaled that the men were ready to be lifted to safety. Faced with a mountain to his front, the pilot lifted up, backed up, and turned to the left in order to maneuver out of the dangerous area. At this time the aircraft lost some altitude, and the men became entangled in the treetops. One passenger in the helicopter was handling the ropes and was thrown to the rear of the aircraft by the force of the suddenly taut rope. He immediately tried to contact the pilot, but the violence of his fall had disconnected his microphone communication system with the pilot. Before the pilot could be notified, the rope broke and the men fell to the ground. Barry was immediately evacuated by helicopter to the 91st Evacuation Hospital at Chu Lai, where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 12:25 A.M., January 11, 1971.
The President of the United States and the U.S. Army awarded Barry, posthumously, the Purple Heart, Bronze Star Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, and several other medals.
Stephen Decatur High School is named after an early American Naval hero who was born in Berlin, Maryland. Aside from his naval heroics, Decatur was famous for once making a toast at a formal event in Washington D.C. It was: “My country, America, may she ever be right; but my country, right or wrong.”
Barry chose his country, right or wrong. His name is on panel 05W Line 36-Vietnam Memorial Wall.
“This Article prepared by George M. Hurley”