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Sergeant First Class | Infantry


It felt like every nerve in Ervin’s body was shooting pain from his limbs when he recovered from the concussive blast that hit him.  His side felt like someone had beat him with flail, leaving him stinging and sore, and he felt his extremities to be sure they were all still there.  He was relieved to find all his parts attached, but quickly realized he was hit in multiple places.  His trousers darkened when he applied pressure and was shocked when he then noticed waxen splinters of bone protruding from his broken and bloodied hand.


Shrouded in a blanket of fog, the 17th Infantry began one of its most ferocious assaults in its history as a regiment on August 31, 1951 when a grenade had peppered Ervin down his side, hitting his neck, arm, thigh and worst of all, his hand.  He was actually disappointed to have been hit on his first day in action since arriving in Korea in late June.  In fact, he had been in the Army since 1947 and within hours of the bullets flying he was already out of the action.


He intended to be a professional soldier, especially after his four-year assignment that began in July 1948 with the distinguished 3d Infantry Regiment "Old Guard" at Fort Myer, Virginia.  He spent the first half of his duty with A Company and the remainder with D Company, both as part of the Presidential Honor Guard.  Though the duties of the Old Guard were strictly ceremonial, it is a highly disciplined unit with great pride.  Certainly values like these inspired Ervin to make a career out of the Army and become seasoned sergeant with hash marks climbing up to his elbow.

About a year after war broke out in Korea, Private First Class Pilger was overseas in June assigned to HQ Company, 17th Infantry, which had just gone into reserve in the vicinity of Todun-ni with the rest of the 7th Division.  Throughout July, the division did routine training to give old timers a chance to relax and for the new comers like Ervin to adjust to life in Korea.  They returned to their former positions near Chup'a-ri on August 6.   They dug in and prepared for what was to come in the next few months.  Beginning with the assault on August 31, the 17th Infantry ended up suffering the heaviest losses within the Division, accounting for 70% of the casualties over a ten-day period.  Regardless, it was a shining moment in the regiment’s history.


Following his service in Korea, SFC Pilger was stationed in Germany as part as the USAEUR.  This uniform exhibits a gorgeous German made ribbon bar with a bullion and felt Combat Infantry Badge.  He must have had this made up after the photo shown below where he is wearing standard pin on ribbons.  Ervin stayed in Germany until 1957, returning home in September as a Platoon Sergeant.  He worked as an instructor at the U.S. Army Training Command at Fort Jackson, South Carolina for two years before returning to the Far East for a second time.  He joined A Co., 7th Cav., 1st Cav Div on April 4, 1959 as a desk sergeant.  Whether it was by request or recommendation, SFC Pilger did not stay seated for long and by July was a patrol supervisor with HQ Co.  The DMZ in Korea was not at all quiet despite the end of hostilities six years prior.  There are multiple occasions of brisk firefights and casualties from action on the DMZ.  Pilger left Korea in the spring of 1960 to return stateside with the 11th Battle Group, 3d Brigade at Fort Ord California.  After two years he transferred to the 2d Bn., 35th Inf, 25th Div in Hawaii for two years and then to the 3d Training Brigade at Fort Gordon, Georgia for another two year stint.


SFC Pilger received orders for Vietnam on May 4, 1967 and by the end of the month was in country with 2d Bn, 7th Cav - his old unit from his time in Korea on the DMZ.  He was assigned first to D Co. and later C Co.  

"Every fourth week, our company would go on patrol for a week. This meant that we had to carry food rations, ammunition and limited supplies on one's person during that week. We would resupply our water from local sources (rivers, villages, ponds, etc.). Rarely, when water was not available and if it was feasible, we would get 250 gallon water bladders brought out to us by helicopter."


"The patrols consisted of search and destroy missions or simply of moving the company through villages, the countryside, jungles, forests or plains in search of Viet Cong strongholds, supplies or caches. We were exposed to snipers, mortar and rifle ambushes or attacks and booby traps, which often caused the most damage. We never really knew whether a village was friendly or not and had to be constantly on guard.  We often would patrol in the jungle. Sometimes we would just trample on narrow trails through thick underbrush not knowing where we were really going. The jungles and forests were humid and lush and often were thick with bamboo. On one patrol I saw bamboo as tall and thick as any deciduous tree one would ever expect to see. It appeared to me to be in an area that had scarcely (or perhaps had not) been touched by man" (1).


While in Vietnam, he was wounded another two times.  He also received an Air Medal and the Army Commendation Medal.  He retired as a Sergeant First Class in 1968.



(1) Salazar, Rolando A. "ROLANDO'S PICTURES OF VIETNAM." Rolando's Pictures of Vietnam (Co. D, 2/7th Cavalry at Phan Thiet). N.p., 2009. Web. 21 June 2015.


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