CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
Gregory D. DeLaurentiis
Vietnam War Oral History Interview
US Army, 101st Airborne Division
Date: June 27, 2018
Interviewer: Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Alyssa Mata
Gregory Dennis DeLaurentiis, a Vietnam war veteran, was born in 1947. His father had served in World War II as a drill instructor in Florida. DeLaurentiis was living in Neptune, New Jersey with his wife and child, when, on December 20, 1967 he received a letter informing him that he was being drafted for military service. He recalled it as: “Merry Christmas you’re drafted.” On January 4, 1968, DeLaurentiis traveled to his first military station, Fort Dix, for Basic Training.
The life changing transition from civilian to military life was a huge eye opener to DeLaurentiis. The military lifestyle was strictly organized and structured. Before the military, DeLaurentiis was an average American working at a nuclear power plant as a time stamper. He was the only one among his cousins and brother who was drafted, because he was not in college. DeLaurentiis still found it unusual that he was drafted, as he was married and had a child.
Recalling his basic training, DeLaurentiis felt he had an advantage over other trainees. His camping experience as a child gave him knowledge of how to start a fire, cook, stay quiet, or even move around without anyone hearing him. DeLaurentiis explained a childhood game where there were base camps, and he had to sneak around to free his friend. He noted that the skills learned in that game helped him multiple times.
DeLaurentiis completed his boot camp training at Fort Dix. He told an amusing story of he and other trainees running in the woods. DeLaurentiis was falling behind the rest of the group, so his drill sergeant tried to scare him by saying there were bears behind him, and if he did not keep up, he would provide them with dinner. As he was telling this story, DeLaurentiis started chuckling because since he was from New Jersey, he knew there were no bears within the area. He said that someone from the Bronx would have believed the drill sergeant. After boot camp DeLaurentiis went to Louisiana for advanced training and then was assigned to Fort Knox, Kentucky.
In June of 1968, after completing training at Fort Knox, DeLaurentiis went home on leave to visit his family. On his return to Knox, he received orders to Vietnam. While describing what it was like getting off the plane in Vietnam, DeLaurentiis recalled seeing body bags being loaded on planes to be returned to the United States. He was originally scheduled to go to Camp Eagle, headquarters of the 101st Airborne Division, yet ended up at Firebase Veghe, where he was assigned to the division’s 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry.
At Firebase Veghel, there was a bunker located on a mountain overlooking the jungle. Soldiers were assigned to four-hour shifts at that location, hoping for early warning on a threat. If they heard a mine detonate, they would shoot in that direction. If he was not on duty, DeLaurentiis would smoke with the rest of the company. Although he smoked, one thing that baffled him was why the army offered free cigarettes. (There was a packet containing five cigarettes in each C-Ration meal and soldiers could also buy a carton of cigarettes one dollar.) DeLaurentiis said that everyone in his unit covered the smoke with their hands, but DeLaurentiis always thought about the smell, which could give away your position to the enemy.
Eventually, after observing and analyzing North Vietnamese movements from the bunker, the Americans figured out their supply route and started to move on it, resulting in the bloody battle of Hamburger Hill. Four hundred American soldiers, including two of DeLaurentiis’ good friends, were killed in the ten days of fighting on Hamburger Hill. DeLaurentiis and his friend Jose were in the third assault launched by the 327th. The two battalions before them failed to fight their way to the crest of the mountain. DeLaurentiis and Jose were laying down as their sergeant was yelling at them to stop being scared to fight. As soon as Jose stood up, he was shot in the leg and died due to shock. DeLaurentiis’ other friend, Specialist 4 Lural Lee Blevins, was injured the previous day, but did not want to go back to base, because he did not want to leave his friends. Blevins was the eyes and ears for the group. Staying, cost him his life that day.
DeLaurentiis’ Company was told to retreat, and the men thought the fight was over. They quickly realized it was not going to be that easy to get out of this bloody battle, however. The North Vietnamese were counterattacking, and there was confusion all around. DeLaurentiis explained how he and his comrades could not shoot, because they might be firing at their own people. Eventually, they did make it to the bottom of the hill and were picked up and brought back to the base. In the end, Hamburger Hill fell to the Americans, although some questioned the cost.
DeLaurentiis was told the bodies would be picked up after they got everyone back. Jose’s body was never found. He is classified under Missing in Action to this day. Specialist Blevins was never awarded a medal, even though he stayed to fight with his men. Since he never went back to base when he was first wounded, it was never written on paper. Even if it had been written on paper, a typhoon wiped out many of the records from that battle. To this day, DeLaurentiis is still fighting to honor Specialist Blevins for his honorable work.
After Hamburger Hill, DeLaurentiis spent some time at the base camp Leadership School. Another soldier told him that if he reenlisted, he would never have to go back to the jungle, plus would get a pay bonus. He followed this advice and had to travel back to Camp Veghel one more time to get his reenlistment papers signed. DeLaurentiis traveled to Cam Ranh Bay. He said that base, a major resupply point, was great, due to miniature golf and beaches.
At Cam Ranh Bay, DeLaurentiis and some other soldiers started a “business” trading material from the post to local villagers and vice versa They made a small profit, although the legal status of the “business” was dubious. When he returned, he ended up in Texas, where a friend told him to use his parents’ address, so he could get unemployment and use the GI Bill.
After his time in the military, DeLaurentiis found a job at Tower Records and traveled throughout the United States. After that job, he worked in Ohio with his brother. DeLaurentiis ended the interview by explaining the bonds he made within this experience. The men looked out for each other, and they would take a bullet for each other. These are bonds that will never be broken. The one thing DeLaurentiis hoped for was getting Specialist Blevins’ name to be remembered forever. He will keep fighting for him.