Today we pause to remember one of SOGs legends who is still Missing in Action from the Vietnam war, SFC Jerry M Shriver who went MIA on April 24, 1969. Jerry is credited with taking part in an extraordinary number of recon missions with SOG.
Welcome to Stories of Sacrifice, American POW/MIA Podcast. In this Vietnam War edition written by the Special Operation Association in memory of one of their legendary heroes who gave the ultimate sacrifice but his remains were never returned to his family.
Today we pause to remember one of SOGs legends, SFC Jerry M Shriver who went MIA on April 24, 1969. Jerry is credited with taking part in an extraordinary number of recon missions with SOG.
Born Jerry Michael Tate, he was a military brat. His biological father, Henry A Tate, Jr., was in the Air Corps and Air Force. His parents married in 1941 and his father served during WW II in Italy. After the war, the family spends time in Germany and Bermuda. By the time he was 12, Jerry had three younger siblings and his parents had split up. Soon afterwards his mom "Doll" marries another career Air Force man, Dale L Shriver. Jerry and his siblings all take the Shriver surname. Three more siblings were added to his family.
In Dec 1958 - 17 year old Jerry Shriver drops out of South Fork High School (Miranda, CA) to join the Army. He is listed as living in Weott, Humboldt County, California. His mom and step-father live in Sacramento.
After basic training at Fort Ord, Jerry receives infantry/11B training. He probably finished all of his initial training in early 1959. It’s unknown what he does for the next few years, but sometime prior to 1961 he attends jump school and then is assigned to Wildflecken, Germany as a member of Co A, 75th Infantry, serving on a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) team.
Jerry’s years as a LRRP with 75th are told in a 3 page article in the Fall 2008 75th Ranger Regiment Association's newsletter. 'Tales of Digger' (Digger was Jerry's nickname) show that his eccentric and sometimes risk taking nature was well established before he stepped foot in Vietnam. On the flip side of the coin his passion for training and conditioning himself into a fierce fighting machine and his talent to put his skills to good use was recognized.
In 1965 Jerry was at Fort Bragg attending Special Forces training. His off base housemates were Ron Dahle & Roy Link. His rather bizarre and dangerous shenanigans continued at Fort Bragg, but he managed to arrive in Vietnam in 1966 wearing Staff Sergeant stripes and was soon promoted to Sergeant First Class.
On 8 October 1966 Jerry earns the first of his seven Bronze Stars w/V device and 19 days later he earns his first Silver Star while serving as an assistant team leader on a recon team.
Below is a list of the personal decorations he received:
For action on 08 Oct 1966 Bronze Star w/v
For action on 27 Oct 1966 Silver Star
For action on 02 May 1967 Bronze Star w/v
For action on 05 May 1967 Soldier's Medal
For action on 10 Aug 1967 ARCOM w/V
For action on 23 Sep 1967 Bronze Star w/v
For action on 23 Oct 1967 Bronze Star w/v
For action on 13 May 1968 Bronze Star w/v
For action on 04 Nov 1968 Bronze Star w/v
For wounds on 12 Mar 1969 Purple Heart
For action on 24 Apr 1969 Silver Star (awarded posthumously 2 Oct 1974)
By 1968 the 5th Special Forces Group executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Norton, had been watching SOG recon casualties skyrocket and grew concerned about men like Mad Dog whose lives had become a continuous flirtation with death. Norton went to the 5th Group commander and urged, "Don't approve the goddamn extensions these guys are asking for. You approve it again, your chances of killing that guy are very, very good." But the group commander explained SOG needed experienced men for its high priority missions. "Bullshit," Norton snapped, "you're signing that guy's death warrant." Eventually 5th Group turned down a few extensions but only a very few; the most experienced recon men never had extensions denied. Never.
Unless you were one of Mad Dog's close friends, the image was perfect prowess -- but the truth was, Shriver confided to fellow SOG Green Beret Sammy Hernadez, he feared death and didn't think he'd live much longer. He'd beat bad odds too many times, and could feel a terrible payback looming.
It was said that by his third tour of duty Shriver had become troubled and anti-social. He had even started to drink heavily and was said to be having trouble sleeping. He slept with his M3A1 (Grease Gun) Suppressed Sub-machine Gun under his pillow. But most people who served with him acknowledged that he was also a brave, dedicated, and committed soldier, who would do anything to help his team.
"He wanted to quit," Medal of Honor winner Fred Zabitosky could see. "He really wanted to quit, Jerry did. I said, 'Why don't you just tell them I want off, I don't want to run anymore?' He said he would but he never did; just kept running."
"Mad Dog was wanting to get out of recon and didn't know how," said recon team leader Sonny Franks, though the half-measure came when Shriver left recon to join his teammate O’Rourke’s Reaction Company.
LTC Earl Trabue stated “I had taken Shriver out of Recon and put him in the Reaction Company commanded by O'Rourke based on advice from my Sergeant Major who told me Shriver was burnt out. I also refused Shriver's request for another extension. I personally told him that he needed a rest. I had a rule that at 10 days before DROS no one went on a mission. Shriver was two days short of the 10 days when the mission took take place.”
As his longtime friend Ron Dahle has said about Jerry, "Jerry had to die in Nam, there was no place in a civilized world for him. He was great sober (seldom) unfortunately he was a total alcoholic and totally crazy when drunk. Don't misinterpret what I am saying, I loved Jerry to death, but what was...was."
When Jerry boarded the helicopter at Quan Loi (a small SOG compound) on the morning of April 24, 1969 it was thought the COSVN (North Vietnamese Army Headquarters) raid would make a fitting final operation; Shriver could face his fear head-on, charge right into COSVN’s mysterious mouth and afterward at last call it quits.
The story of Jerry’s last mission by LTC Earl Trabue and others:
LTC Trabue: “I was Flying C&C and was there from the git-go. We had to fly around the area for about 30 minutes to find three dry bomb holes (indicating that they were fresh). We knew at the start that due to aircraft availability it would be a platoon sized mission. However, the reason that there were so many officers on it was that CPT Bill O'Rourke wanted an officer in each flight team. As I had assigned the mission to O'Rourke's company, it was his responsibility to select the men who would go in on the ground. He decided to go in and command the ground operations. His plan was to go in on the last ship to land in order that he might see how the teams were dispersing on the ground. There was an engine failure in his ship at take off. We all knew that the mission was stupid from the time we got the order. I personally contacted Col Johnson at Ops 35 (My immediate Supervisor at SOG) and told him that with the manpower we would have the Mission was not appropriate. We were supposed to capture a prisoner and conduct a bomb assessment. I was told that the B-52s bombs would stun all of the enemy so bad it would be a piece of cake. So much for rear echelon knowledge of the real world in the field. “
Shriver's platoon was air assaulted into Cambodia by four helicopters. Upon departing the helicopter, the team had begun moving toward its initial target point when it came under heavy volumes of enemy fire from several machine gun bunkers and entrenched enemy positions estimated to be at least a company-sized element.
Capt. Cahill and Sgt. Ernest C. Jamison, the platoon medical aidman, took cover in a bomb crater. Cahill continued radio contact with Shriver for four hours until his transmission was broken and Shriver was not heard from again.
LTC Trabue: “Shriver called from his hole over to Cahill and told him he planned to try to get into the trees and get behind the VC. Cahill, who was now the ground commander, told him not to go as the fire was too hot. Shiver went anyway with five ‘Yards. All were killed. Cahill observed Shiver getting hit and going down just short of the tree line. “
It was known that Shriver had been wounded 3 or 4 times. An enemy soldier was later seen picking up a weapon which appeared to be the same type carried by Shriver.
Jamison left the crater to retrieve one of the wounded Montagnards who had fallen in the charge. The medic reached the soldier, but was almost torn apart by concentrated machine gun fire. At that moment Cahill was wounded in the right eye, which resulted in his total blindness for the next 30 minutes. The platoon radioman, Y-Sum Nie, desperately radioed for immediate extraction.
Maj. Benjamin T. Kapp, Jr. was in the command helicopter and could see the platoon pinned down across the broken ground and rims of bomb craters. North Vietnamese machine guns were firing into the bodies in front of their positions and covering the open ground with grazing fire. The assistant platoon leader, 1Lt. Gregory M. Harrigan, reported within minutes that half the platoon was killed or wounded. Harrigan himself was killed 45 minutes later.
LTC Trabue: “The first time the C&C ship went back to the base for fuel gathered up a recon team and put them on the ground to try and infiltrate around to the rear of the enemy. The team claimed that they could not get out of the hole I had put them in as they were under fire. During the action, when it became apparent that the choppers did not have enough fire power to suppress the VC, I got a message relayed to Ops 35 telling them that if I did not get close air support we would lose every one on the ground. I got the support in the form of several sorties but their bombs were having no effect. After the war I found out from one of the gunners from the 195th, which was our Helicopter support, that the bunker complex we were fighting was made of Concrete. He saw them when they went in low to strafe the area. Finally I called for napalm and that stopped the fire from the VC long enough for us to evacuate the survivors and some of the dead. Jamison was left on the ground (he was dead) because the last pickup ship was receiving fire and had to get out of there.”
After seven hours of contact, three helicopters dashed in and pulled out 15 wounded troops. As the aircraft lifted off, several crewmen saw movement in a bomb crater. A fourth helicopter set down, and Lt. Daniel Hall twice raced over to the bomb crater. On the first trip he recovered the badly wounded radio operator, and on the second trip he dragged Harrigan's body back to the helicopter. The aircraft was being buffeted by shellfire and took off immediately afterwards. No further MACV-SOG insertions were made into the NVA stronghold.
A total of 24 men had been inserted; 17 were recovered, and of those 17, ten were wounded and one was dead (1LT Gregory M. Harrigan). Two Americans and five Montagnards were not recovered; one of the seven, medic SGT Ernest C. Jamison, was known dead, while the other six were listed as Missing in Action.
On the 12th of June 1970, a team from the US Grave Registration Unit arrived at the battle-site to search for seven soldiers who had gone missing during the battle, including Shriver. Although they did recover the bodies of SGT Jamison and one of the Montagnards, no trace of Jerry Shriver or his equipment was ever found.
According to the Task Force Omega site, a Radio Hanoi broadcast indicated that Shriver had been killed in the fighting. However, he was carried as MIA until 10 June 1974, when the Secretary of the Army approved a Presumptive Finding of Death. During this time he was promoted from E-7 to E-8. As of April 2019 his remains have not been repatriated.