Jarrett Goodman was 4 when his father was hired to teach math at Milton College. The eight-member family left Des Moines, Iowa and relocated to Milton.
Goodman graduated from Milton High School in 1969 and made plans to attend college. After a summer spent at UW-Whitewater, he decided his football skills might be better honed at Milton College and he put in for a transfer.
To afford tuition, Goodman went to work. He began spring semester classes in 1970, but the delayed start lapsed his draft deferment. He was assigned draft number 147, he said. He hoped he could finish the semester.
In May of 1970, Goodman was called into service. He was sent to Fort Campbell, Ky., for eight weeks of basic training, and then to Fort Polk, La., for advanced individualized training (AIT). As an infantry soldier in the US Army, his AIT focused on weapons. He emerged as a private first class, and, after a two-week leave spent in Milton, he reported to Oakland, Calif. From there, he was shipped via Continental Airlines to Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, arriving on Oct. 13.
On his first night in country, he said, he and a buddy, after having a few drinks, were confronted by a group of what he was later told were AWOL soldiers. He felt a knife in his back, he said, but he was not injured. After the altercation, he wondered, he said: “What in the world is going on? Who am I fighting?”
After three days at Cam Ranh, he was shipped to Phu Bai, an Army base in central Vietnam.
He was assigned to Alpha Company, within the 3rd Battalion, 506th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division. His unit was the 1st Platoon, which consisted of about 24 men.
As a private, he said, he had been assigned an M16 machine gun, but after two weeks in Phu Bai, he was selected to carry an M60, a weapon he described as “the machine gun with the big belts.” He was called a “gunner.” There was only one assigned to each platoon. He was upgraded to E4 and given a nickname: “Goody.”
Days were spent on search and destroy missions, Goodman said.
“The enemy was the North Vietnamese soldiers up in the I Corps (a tactical zone located in the northernmost region of South Vietnam), but we sometimes would run into VC (Viet Cong), South Vietnamese people who were sympathetic to the North Vietnamese cause,” he said.
For nearly eight months, Goody and his platoon worked the jungle.
Said Goodman: “In 1971, they started talking about sending the 3rd Battalion home. My unit was included and the offer was for those who had been in country for at least 10 months.
“I didn’t qualify, so I got transferred to another unit.
“It was tough; you were with this group of guys and you have connections and all of a sudden, boom, your unit goes.”
After his battalion was deactivated, Goodman was transferred to Da Nang where he cleaned weapons for two weeks. Next, he was sent to the 1st Battalion, operating out of Firebase Gladiator, he said.
Goodman described a firebase as an AO (area of operations) supported by “big guns.”
“They have 105s and 175s, those are artillery. A company within the battalion would pull security on the firebase and the other four companies would be off in the jungle looking for the enemy. Every night you would call into the firebase so they knew where you were,” he said.
While a member of the 3rd Battalion, he moved through the jungle as a member of a platoon. As a member of Delta Company with the 1st Battalion, he moved through the jungle in company formation, which consisted of three platoons, and a commander and his entourage. They were a group of about 80 soldiers.
Goodman said he traveled with two guys from his former company: William “Bill” Knitmeyer and an assistant gunner whom they called “Rocky.”
Out one afternoon on a five-man RIF (patrol), the men were looking for a place to set up a perimeter for the night. As they searched, a point man saw movement nearby.
“It was a group of Vietnamese and some of them had M16s and some had AK47s, which was the enemy’s weapon, so we thought they were South Vietnamese soldiers that the US troops support. We called them ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam),” Goodman said.
After communicating with command, they were told no ARVN were in the area. They were ordered to fire on the enemy. Outnumbered, and with no large weapons, the men each grabbed two magazines, engaged in a firefight, and left the area, Goodman said.
The next day, blood trails and enemy dead were discovered. The troops followed the trails, which led to an NVA bunker complex. That night, Goodman said, the platoon lost its sergeant to a booby trap.
On the third day, the soldiers moved into the bunkers, Goodman said. Nobody was there. It was May 22, 1971.
“My squad leader said: ‘hey, Goody, look at this.’ There was a rock with a grass hutch and a tunnel, and a rolled up paper. He took one step forward and stepped on a mine and that caught me in the head,” Goodman said.
His squad leader lost his leg, he said.
Said Goodman: “It caught me across the face on the right side. I was semi conscious. I took some shrapnel in the jaw. My eyes were so dirty from the blast that the first thing the medic did was put a bandage over my eyes.
“I remember thinking, this could be my way out.
“Two of us were wounded, so they went to get a helicopter, but in the triple canopy, it is really thick and so dark you can hardly see your hand in front of your face.
“We didn’t want to sit still so we found another spot where the helicopter could get in.”
Hoping to help guide a bandaged soldier, Goodman said: “Bill Knitmeyer grabbed me by the shoulder, and he walked me right onto a mine.”
According to Goodman, the second mine blew his body into the air, and blew his right leg from his body, severing it seven inches below his knee.
A medic placed a tourniquet on Goodman’s leg and they waited for a helicopter to take the wounded men to evacuation hospitals. Looking for immediate care for his eye, doctors sent Goodman to evac hospitals in Phu Bia and Da Nang. Next, he was transferred to a hospital in Okinawa, Japan. He was there for 30 days.
He was flown from Okinawa to Fitzsimons Army Medical Center, Denver, Colo. where he remained for one year.
Goodman was released from the hospital and discharged from the Army on June 15, 1972. He and his hometown girlfriend, Ginny Bier, were married on June 24.
Today, he has three daughters, all of whom are married and live in the Milton-Janesville area. He also has six grandchildren, he said.
“I learned about Dick (Fry) being wounded while I was in basic training. He was wounded on May 24, 1970. I went into the Army one day after he was wounded.
“Bill took one in the arm, but it must not have been so bad, because he went back,” Goodman said.
After he returned to Milton, Goodman worked for Gilman Engineering and returned to Milton College, but, he said, he had trouble with his right leg, making it hard to stay in school.
He had nine prosthetic legs made because they were injuring his stump, he said. The bone fusion performed in Colorado to repair his leg did not work. In 1976, two inches were removed from his stump at the VA hospital in Milwaukee.
“I’ve been doing really well since then,” he said.
While in college, Goodman said, he was working at a gas station when the Milton postmaster pulled in and asked if he wanted a job at the post office. He had become aware that Goodman, while in the hospital in Colorado, had taken the post office exam.
In 1974, Goodman went to work for the Milton Post Office as a rural route carrier, a job he would keep for 31 years. He retired in 2004.
Shortly thereafter, he said, he was asked to help research a book titled: My Gift to You, by Jerald W. Berry (Xlibris, LLC., 2010), about the 152 soldiers killed in action while serving with the 3rd Battalion, 506th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, Goodman said.
While researching, he said: “I got to know a lot of those families and that got me interested in the memories of those who served, and in the pavilion at Veterans Park.”
This week, Goodman is traveling to Colorado. If all goes according to plan, he said, he will see Bill for the first time since he left Vietnam. A meeting is scheduled for Thursday.