BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D. Delbert Owen Jennings was born in Silver City, New Mexico. Moving to California with his family, Jennings was raised in Stockton where he graduated from Stockton High School.
He joined the U.S. Army in 1956, then came home and said, “I joined the paratroopers today,” his mother, Etta Jennings, recalled.
He joined the Army in San Francisco. Ten years later in late December 1966 he was serving as a Staff Sergeant in Company C, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 12th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Division. On December 27, 1966, in the Kim Song Valley in the Republic of Vietnam, Jennings’ unit came under heavy enemy attack.
Jennings, then 30, was attempting once again to read a book he’d been carrying for some time. But the book was soon forgotten when the 1st Cavalry Division was attacked by a regiment of the North Vietnam Army. Springing into action, Jennings slowed the enemy with machine gunfire, and then had to resort to other weapons – even rocks – when the gun jammed.
Some of his comrades fell as the enemy continued to advance, but Jennings kept moving, waiting for a helicopter to bring reinforcements and rescue the wounded troops.
“He was literally all over the place, pulling men out of trouble, prodding others, rallying any man he could touch. How he escaped is a miracle,” Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall wrote several months later when he recommended Jennings for the Medal of Honor. Jennings became one of fewer than 4000 people to receive the highest honor given to those who serve in the Armed Forces of the United States.
After that battle, Jennings continued to serve in Vietnam, and he was headed back for a second tour of duty when he broke his wrist.
After his wrist healed, he wanted to go back to Vietnam, but he had since received the Medal of Honor. President Lyndon Johnson wouldn’t allow recipients to return to Vietnam, Jennings told the News-Sentinel in July 1968.
During his military career, Jennings served in Korea, several places in the United States and three tours in Germany. He was there when the Berlin Wall was built, his mother said.
Jennings reached the rank of Command Sergeant Major before leaving the Army. He died March 16, 2003 at his home in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Medal of Honor Citation
The President of the United States
in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the
Medal of Honor
JENNINGS, DELBERT O.
Rank and organization: Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company C, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 12th Cavalry, 1st Air Cavalry Division. Place and date: Kim Song Valley, Republic of Vietnam, 27 December 1966. Entered service at: San Francisco, California. Born: 23 July 1936, Silver City, New Mexico.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. Part of Company C was defending an artillery position when attacked by a North Vietnamese Army regiment supported by mortar, recoilless-rifle, and machinegun fire.
At the outset, S/Sgt. Jennings sprang to his bunker, astride the main attack route, and slowed the on-coming enemy wave with highly effective machinegun fire. Despite a tenacious defense in which he killed at least 12 of the enemy, his squad was forced to the rear.
After covering the withdrawal of the squad, he rejoined his men, destroyed an enemy demolition crew about to blow up a nearby howitzer, and killed 3 enemy soldiers at his initial bunker position. Ordering his men back into a secondary position, he again covered their withdrawal, killing 1 enemy with the butt of his weapon. Observing that some of the defenders were unaware of an enemy force in their rear, he raced through a fire-swept area to warn the men to turn their fire on the enemy, and lead them into the secondary perimeter.
Assisting in the defense of the new position, he aided the air-landing of reinforcements by throwing white phosphorous grenades on the landing zone despite dangerously silhouetting himself with the light.
After helping to repulse the final enemy assaults, he led a group of volunteers well beyond friendly lines to an area where 8 seriously wounded men lay. Braving enemy sniper fire and ignoring the presence of booby traps in the area, they recovered the 8 men who would have probably perished without early medical treatment.
S/Sgt. Jennings’s extraordinary heroism and inspirational leadership saved the lives of many of his comrades and contributed greatly to the defeat of a superior enemy force. His actions stand with the highest traditions of the military profession and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.
// Lyndon B. Johnson President //
Command Staff Sergeant Major Delbert O. Jennings is buried at: section 7A site 157 Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington Virginia.
The information in this article was sourced from a variety of sources both internal and external. Every effort was made to ensure that the information is current and correct. These articles are presented to honor the heroes they are written about.
If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a veteran.