By Lesley Snyder
While it’s hard to imagine many laughable moments during his service, Vietnam combat veteran Perry Melvin recalls a slight snafu during his time with the Combined Action Platoon unit (CAP 1-3-5).
“I helped to round up stray cattle and pigs to bring to a South Vietnam Sergeant Major who was to ensure these animals were taken to the rightful owners. The owners had been removed from their village … for safety,” he recalls. “However, the cattle and pigs were sold to a friend of the Sergeant Major, whereupon our unit … [was] charged with cattle rustling by the South Vietnamese government. Fortunately, our Sergeant caught up with the Sergeant Major and convinced him to get the animals back.” After all was said and done, Melvin’s unit of nine Marines and a Corpsman were cleared of the charge.
When Melvin joined the military in 1967, he was working part-time for a bookkeeper in Burlington. As the son of a career enlisted man, the Army brat had just begun to grow roots in Burlington’s New North End after moving around the U.S. and Europe throughout childhood. Without the money or an urgent desire to attend college, the 19-year-old joined the Navy to become a Hospital Corpsman, opting to tend to his higher education later.
In preparation for Vietnam, Melvin learned about medicine and emergency procedures at the Newport Naval Base in Newport, R.I., a duty station he favored. “The old tea merchant mansions along the coastline of Rhode Island fascinated me,” he confides. “I just could not picture myself living in a summer home that could house my folk’s home in the ballroom. History and architecture were secondary loves of mine, so Newport was a good place to be.”
Melvin was wounded in Vietnam and discharged from the Navy after three and a half years, serving with both the 26th Marines and the 3rd Marines as part of CAP 1-3-5. “We were, as they say, ground pounders or grunts,” he explains. The closest he came to being assigned to a ship was when the USS Valley Forge, a converted WWII aircraft carrier, served as the base of operations for the 26th Marines. He obtained the rank of Hospital man third class and received the Purple Heart, Combat Action medals, the Navy Achievement “V,” Navy Unit Citation, and Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. In recalling the most influential people during his military career, he remembers the Sergeant (E-5) in charge of CAP 1-3-5, who was a Force Recon with the 5th Marines during the TET Offensive in 1968. “He taught me a lot about surviving in adverse conditions,” Melvin says. “I have always been self-motivated … as a result of my experience in the military.”
The young veteran returned to academia at age 23, earning a BA in sociology and psychology from the University of Vermont (UVM). “I was strongly motivated to go to college after the service,” he shares. Melvin met his wife Christina at UVM’s Lambda Iota fraternity during Greek Week, and they were married the following year. The newlywed received a master’s degree in social work from Washington University and later a master’s in business administration from Rivier College (now University).
Melvin may have retired from 30 years in the health care field, but he hasn’t withdrawn from an active life. As president of both Chapter #829 (Chittenden County) of the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) and the VVA’s Vermont State Council, he is still very busy, he assures. He is a lifetime member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
When Melvin and his wife wanted to settle in Vermont, where both of their families lived, they decided “Shelburne seemed like a wonderful place to raise a family,” Melvin explains, “which it was.” The longtime residents raised three boys: Matthew, Andrew, and James. Like father, like son, James graduated from UVM this month.