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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

VETERAN'S DAY BLOG: Meet Sgt Wayne P. Puma - A CO, 3rd BAT, 1st INF, 11th Inf BGDE, Americal Div, USARV

Blog Disclaimer: This piece is pulled from an essay I wrote a little over four years ago, around the time I began researching my family's genealogy. I pieced Wayne's story together with much thanks to ancestry.com, vietnamvets.org, and wa.org, as well as a couple of stray articles that are no longer available on the internet. Wayne Puma was my mother's cousin, and a man who deserves to be memorialized as often as possible - just like the countless soldiers who died in the Vietnam War. Please enjoy this reprint. RIP Wayne Puma

Wayne Paul Puma was born to Joey & Claire Puma on Aug 13th, 1947. He was also grandson to Anthony Puma & Mary Muceare.

I don't know much about him because by the time I was born, we had lost touch with that side of the family. But onward I go, because Wayne deserves to be known (even vaguely) by all who care to pay attention, simply because he laid his life down at such a young age.

 Wayne started his tour on December 6, 1967 at the young age of twenty. He, along with the rest of the 11th Light Infantry Brigade, assembled at Schoefield Barracks in Hawaii to later become part of the Americal Division. His Brigade joined the troops in Vietnam on December 20th, training in Duc Pho and conducting Combat Ops as part of the "Jungle Warriors".

It should be said that while the Americal Division successfully completed many operations, they were the least prepared and the least trained of all the troops deployed to Vietnam. They were unfortunately remembered not for their successes, but for incidences like the Battle of FSB (Fire Support Base) Mary Ann and the My Lai Massacre. I'll bite my tongue on what I'd like to say in regards to the U.S. Government and how they chose to prep their beloved soldiers for battle.

I was only able to piece together small bits of his time in Vietnam, all of it having to do with his Brigade. They took part in such successful operations like Muscatine and Norfolk, as well as participating in the Task Force Barker Pacification, in which soldiers took action to get the non-fighting citizens of Vietnam behind them in the war.

On May 5, 1968 - barely five months later - in the Quang Ngai Province of South Vietnam, communist units launched Phase II of the Tet Offensive (also known as "Mini Tet", according to wikipedia), which was a series of rocket & mortar attacks against Saigon, as well as 119 cities and military installations through South Vietnam. The United States responded with air attacks that included the use of Napalm and other explosives.

Wayne sustained massive injuries that day. He died from those injuries two days later on
May 7th, 1968 - three months shy of his 21st birthday. In all, 3000 people were killed in that battle, with thousands more injured. Of those numbers, 1161 were U.S casualties and 3954 were wounded.

To know a bit more about our family makes me happy, but I cried while piecing this story
Two of my cousins, years ago, visiting The Wall. 
together. To imagine what Uncle Joey and Aunt Claire went through when they found out that their son was killed, and to know that his death was senseless, given the political mess surrounding the Vietnam War. To consider the fear he must have felt daily during his tour of duty, and to know that he spent two days in a coma, only to wake and die from shock is absolutely heartbreaking. His was a horrible ending to what otherwise would have/could have been a great life.


Additional information: In an article found on the website for the Patriot Ledger (http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-9359722.html - link no longer active), a veteran named James McGowan recalled Wayne, confirming that he lost both legs in the attack and died from the shock/severity of his wounds. He also confirmed what we all heard as kids: Wayne had been drafted to the New York Yankees and was set to begin playing 2nd base after his tour of duty.   

Wayne was a corporal at the time of his death, and was promoted to Sergeant posthumously. He was also awarded the Purple Heart Medal along with three service medals. His name is on the Vietnam Wall, on Panel 56E, Line 030. I'm honored to share a bloodline with him, and am saddened that he never made it out of what I'm sure was hell on earth. Wayne left behind his proud grandfather and parents, brothers and a sister who loved him endlessly, and dozens of cousins and distant family who will never stop honoring his memory.

Given the state of things now, please remember to thank a soldier REGARDLESS of how you feel about the war itself. Salute the men and women that continue to risk their lives, and don't forget to welcome them home if they're lucky enough to make it back.

R.I.P Sgt. Wayne P. Puma

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