CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
Vietnam War / Cold War / Desert Storm Oral History Interview
US Army, 75th Ranger Regiment / Special Forces
Date: January 30, 2017
Interviewer: Carol Fowler, William Elwell
Summarizer: William Elwell
Stanley Perlman served in the United States Army, on active duty and in the National Guard, from December of 1964 through May of 1996, retiring with the rank of first sergeant. During his career, he served as an army ranger in the Second Battalion, Seventy-fifth Ranger Regiment, and then in the Special Forces, earning a Silver Star and a total of five Purple Hearts in the Vietnam War.
Perlman was born in September of 1944 at Manhattan’s Beth Israel Hospital. His father was a paratrooper in B Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, a unit of the famed 101st Airborne Division. While his father was overseas, Perlman’s family moved to Brooklyn, where he was raised. The senior Perlman served in combat from the Normandy invasion through the Arnhem operation, and he was at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. Perlman recalled that his father “didn’t really want to talk about it,” and that even after his own first tour in Vietnam, his father continued to keep many of his war experiences to himself.
After high school, Perlman attended Pace College (now University) where he received a degree in accounting. He was drafted on December 7, 1964, “literally a day after [he] graduated college.” Two weeks later, Perlman entered the Army. The experience was “different,” due to “being outdoors that much” and “being regimented,” but he was not uncomfortable because of his father’s service. He went through basic and advanced infantry training at Fort Jackson, near Columbia, South Carolina and then attended jump school at Fort Benning, Georgia, which was special to him, as his father had been a paratrooper.
While awaiting further orders, Perlman “noticed two guys at the PX who had this look, this confidence,” and he found that they had just graduated from the Army Ranger School. He then asked his first sergeant what his chances of joining the Rangers were. Since Perlman had already completed jump training, he was quickly accepted. He went through Ranger training at Fort Jackson and Fort Benning, as well as desert training at Fort Hood, Texas, swamp training in Georgia, and mountain training in Alaska.
Following graduation, Perlman was assigned to a company of the Second Ranger Battalion in Hawaii, which was attached to the Twenty-fifth Infantry Division. He recalled that the Twenty-fifth, also known as the “Tropic Lightning” Division, was “at the time… the only division trained for jungles.” Maneuvers were intensive in Hawaii, but since the Ranger company was “attached” its members were never fully integrated into the division. Service in Hawaii was significant to Perlman, due to the Pearl Harbor attack almost a quarter century earlier. He was able to take leave in Honolulu twice, including right before he was deployed to Vietnam.
Perlman’s Ranger company was attached to the First Battalion, Fourteenth Infantry Regiment, and they arrived by ship at Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam in December, 1965. Told their deployment was a secret, Perlman and his comrades were surprised to see, as they debarked, signs hung everywhere reading, “Welcome Fourteenth Infantry!” His company and other elements of the Fourteenth Infantry formed the Third Brigade of the Twenty-fifth Infantry Division, stationed at Pleiku.
Combat operations began ten days after arrival “due to the Twenty-fifth Division’s jungle training,” as opposed to a two month learning curve for other deployed units. Perlman’s first night at Pleiku was highlighted by hostile rocket fire. A rocket impact blew him out of his makeshift “two by two by you” shelter, and “hit the foxhole behind [him]; there were two people in it, direct hit. And we couldn’t tell what they were. We lost two people our first night.”
The first offensive missions “were relatively short, maybe four or five days,” and the Rangers “went out as a unit.” Most took place in the Ia Drang Valley, made famous only a month prior with the air assault and stand of Lt. Col. Harold G. Moore’s First Battalion Seventh Cavalry Regiment of the First Air Cavalry Division. Initial operations evolved into Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs), in which five-man, lightly-armed detachments of Rangers spent periods of five to fifteen days searching for evidence of enemy movement through the jungle. Information was relayed to headquarters via radio around once a day, and if the squad was outside normal radio range, a Forward Air Controller would fly above the area to establish contact. These patrols were dangerous, with a high chance of enemy contact, “no medic, [not] much sleep,” and little chance of emergency evacuation. Perlman noted that: “Of our original platoon of forty seven, only about thirteen of us came home. Not too good.” Counting wounds, he said, the “total casualties for the unit made 100 percent.”
Perlman received his first Purple Heart after being shot in the chest by a female Vietnamese sniper. The wound nearly killed him. He recalled that: “As my heart contracted, the bullet hit,” allowing for the bullet to avoid causing further damage as it would had his heart not contracted. The bullet, however, did hit his left lung. As a Ranger, he was not sent home for a serious wound because “there weren’t that many Rangers,” and therefore, not many replacements. The medic kept his finger in the hole in Perlman’s chest to “keep the air from getting in,” and he was quickly evacuated by helicopter. Perlman spent time in hospitals in Pleiku and underwent surgery at the facilities of the Thirty-sixth Evacuation Hospital near Saigon. After three weeks of recovery, he returned to his unit.
Perlman received his second wound during a Recon-to-Contact patrol, where a full platoon of Rangers was deployed to probe enemy defenses in the West Central Highlands. The platoon was supposed to be dropped by helicopter on hill #10-Bravo, but was mistakenly dropped on hill #10-Alpha. The drop zone, Perlman recalled, was “right in the middle of their base camp, I mean literally.” Realizing their desperate situation, the Rangers “ran a hundred yards to the trees, and when [they] got there, over a third of the guys were down.” Ammunition was dropped by a passing helicopter, but in another miss-drop, landing in the open instead of in the trees as requested. Perlman ran from cover to recover much of the ammunition, as well as some wounded men, “some three or four guys.”
The Americans were badly outnumbered, and their plight seemed dire. AC-47 gunships arrived on-station, however, pushing the enemy back. After the gunships sprayed the area, another unit arrived to reinforce the Rangers and evacuate the survivors. Perlman was hit by small arms fire in the leg at some point during the day, earning him a second Purple Heart. He was also awarded the Silver Star for his actions during the fight. He remembers asking: “Why? I did what I was supposed to do.”
Perlman subsequently contracted malaria. After a month in the hospital, he returned to find that a number of men in his platoon had been killed in an ambush. There was usually a week between return to duty and the next mission, but Perlman was instantly sent to the company commander. Thinking that he had done something wrong, Perlman was surprised when the CO instead asked him to take command of the remains of the platoon, and he was promoted to Sergeant from Private First Class. Some of his platoon’s subsequent missions included forays and reconnaissance in Western Vietnam, and even across the border into Cambodia and Laos. According to Perlman, “Let me put it this way: we were in Laos before we ever were in Laos.”
Perlman’s first tour in Vietnam ended in February of 1967. Returning to San Francisco, he reenlisted “while everyone else” was being discharged. He was promoted to staff sergeant, assigned to Fort Benning, given a thirty day leave, visited home, and began training for the Special Forces. As the Army Special Forces became more and more involved in Vietnam, losing men as casualties while at the same time expanding their mission, they looked to the Rangers for recruits. Perlman was trained and sent back to Vietnam in November, 1967, “just in time for [the] Tet [Offensive]” of early 1968.
On his second tour, Perlman was attached to a number of different units, including the Thirty-Sixth Vietnamese Ranger battalion and the First Cavalry Division. Most of the time he served as a member of various “A-Teams,” where “a group of Americans were supporting a group of Vietnamese” in reconnaissance and other operations. Initially, Special Forces “B-Teams” were support units for the A-Teams.” Team roles became interchangeable during the course of the war, and then all were placed under the command of the “Studies and Operations Group.” His second tour lasted from November of 1967 until January of 1969. Perlman served a third and final tour in Vietnam in 1970. Much of that tour reflected his earlier experiences. In the end he was the recipient of five Purple Heart medals, with wounds including shrapnel in his chin, a broken jaw, and shrapnel in his back — “and that piece is still there.”
During his tours in Vietnam, Perlman noticed the changing technology of the enemy: “By the end of my first tour, there were no VC (Viet Cong) left.” They had been replaced by North Vietnamese. On one occasion, near Pleiku, he “heard something [he] thought he never would; tanks in the wire.” The North Vietnamese attacked with a few armored personnel carriers and what appeared to be a World War II-vintage, Soviet-supplied T-34 tank, which fortunately became mired in a ditch.
Perlman’s active military service was not confined to Indochina. After his first Vietnam tour, he spent a short period of time in the Sinai Peninsula following the 1967 Six Day Arab-Israeli War as a part of the Multinational Peacekeeping Force. Between tours Perlman also spent time in South Korea and Taiwan and served in the Return of Forces to Germany (REFORGER) operations. While in Germany, at a strike base near the East German border and with “nothing to do,” he and some friends decided to visit the border fence. They traded taunts with an East German border guard for a bit, but then the guard expressed an interest in trading military goods for American cigarettes. Over the course of a week, the German swapped four rifles for cartons of American cigarettes.
On completing his second enlistment, Perlman decided not to reenlist. He got married, earned a Master’s degree in computer science, and joined the Army Reserve Fourteenth Special Forces at Fort Dix, New Jersey, staying with them for four and a half years. The unit was reassigned to Fort Devens, when he transferred to the New Jersey Army National Guard’s Second Battalion, 114th Infantry, based in Red Bank, where he served initially as a platoon sergeant and eventually as a first sergeant. One of his assignments in the Guard was to teach anti-tank warfare. Perlman returned to active duty with the Guard, serving for four weeks in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm, an experience he described as “different” from his earlier active duty stints.
Perlman retired after almost thirty years of service. He opened a small computer store which eventually closed, and then he worked as a chief insurance officer for an insurance firm. While still in the military, Perlman contends that coping with PTSD was easier than as a civilian, as “there were people to talk to.” He remembers his military service fondly. Perlman stated that he was grateful for all of the opportunities the Army gave him. His awards included, in addition to five Purple Hearts and the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal, Air Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Distinguished Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal, the Southwest Asia Medal, Jump Wings, Halo and Master Pathfinder Wings, Air Assault Wings, and Expert in Rifle and Pistol Marksmanship.