Lieutenant Gary Qualley started Army life by joining ROTC in 1964. So he already knew that he had his ticket punched for Vietnam. He spent a year with the 2nd Armor Division, as a tank platoon leader at Fort Hood until he received his orders for Vietnam. Prior to leaving for Vietnam, he was sent to the Army Jungle Warfare School in Panama. He describes it as excellent training. For someone, from the suburbs of St. Paul, Minnesota, training in the jungle was a bit of a culture shock. It was a surreal experience to be in a triple canopy jungle and have to use a flashlight in the middle of the afternoon. He even had to spend a night with a tarantula inside of his mosquito netting in the Panamanian jungle. Every time he sprayed it with repellent, it would disappear, then reappear again on another part of the hammock. One night his group of trainees slept on their ponchos in a swamp. His leaked.
Lt. Qualley arrived in Vietnam during the monsoon season. He went through the 1st Cavalry Division orientation then joined the Blue platoon of Apache Troop in Tay Ninh.
For Lt. Qualley, the main objective as a leader, was to accomplish missions without sacrificing a single man in the Blue Platoon. Lt. Qualley relied heavily on his jungle warfare training. He kept them off of the trails that looked like possible ambush spots and tried to never backtrack on the same path from which they came. The Blues, as Gary’s replacement Lt. Jack Hugele attests, was an experienced combat team. Also key were the Scout and Cobra teams that worked with the Blues to find and warn them of NVA activity and to back them up in fire fights. During his service with the Apache Blues there were several fire fights, rescue missions, patrols and helicopter insertions into suspected enemy locations.
On December 5th, 1969 Lt. Qualley, Sgt. Joe Sanchez, and SP4 Tim McCreight were wounded during an assault on an NVA base camp. Tim’s wounds were fatal and would become the only soldier that Lt. Qualley lost under his command. Gary was shot in both legs. Both femurs were shattered, a femoral artery was severed, and permanent muscle, joint and nerve damage were also incurred. It was the quick thinking of the medic to immediately apply tourniquets that may have meant the difference between life and death. The Blue platoon and the air crews made sure that the extraction of the wounded, while under fire from the NVA, was successful.
Gary went through multiple surgeries over the next few weeks before being sent to a hospital in Japan and later Fitzsimons Army Hospital for the remainder of his recovery. Unable to move, his first three months were spent in traction until his femurs started to stabilized. This was followed by a series of plaster casts and intensive physical training. Eventually his body started to respond. It was depressing at times, but he kept reminding himself that unlike several others in the hospital, he was going to be able to keep his legs. In total it was eighteen months before he was out of his last cast and finally released from Fitzsimons. He was promoted to Captain while in the hospital.
After leaving the Army, Gary went on to a career in international business and is now retired and living in Minnesota.