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Veteran Spotlight: Marine Staff Sgt. Dennis Pregent

By Wayne SoaresSpecial to iBerkshires
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Dennis Pregent did two tours in Vietnam with the Marines.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Dennis Pregent served his country in the Marine Corps from 1965 to 1971, separating as a staff sergeant. 
He grew up in North Adams and quit high school at 17 years of age in the middle of his senior year and enlisted in the Marines. He did his basic training at Parris Island and remembered the intensity of boot camp.
"There was a great deal of physical training and drilling," he said. "The rifle range — critically important in the life of a Marine. We had weapons training and lots of learning military service and Marine history."
Pregent arrived in Vietnam is August 1967. 
"The oppressing heat and horrible smell ... smelled like a sewer," he recalled. "I remember seeing Marines heading home. They looked so haggard and thin, looked like they had been through the ringer." 
A corporal at the time, he was made a squad leader with 12 Marines. He described his first patrol. 
"I was anxious. Never had been a squad leader and now I was in charge of 12 guys' lives ... said to a Marine who had previous patrol experience, 'you get us out and back and show me the ropes,'" Pregent said. "Most of our patrols and ambushes took place at night. ...
"Had to take an emergency leave back home right before the Tet Offensive. My squad got hit bad, had a lot of casualties and one death. The Marine was kind of a clumsy kid, good kid — but you can't be clumsy in jungle combat. He needed watching after. It always bothered me because I felt if I had
been there he wouldn't have gotten killed." 
What were the holidays like? "Biggest holiday we celebrated was the Marine Corps birthday. We celebrated at a club with other Marines and warm beer."
Entertainment? "Went to a Bob Hope show at Freedom Hill in Da Nang. Had to be around 10,000 guys, some guys were on top of telephone poles. I crawled under the stage to get a better view. Hope brought along Raquel Welch and the Gold Diggers. She almost cause a riot when she invited guys up on stage to dance with her and the MPs had to hold guys back. We hadn't seen American women in months." 
When asked about the impact Hope made he offered this. "He was so positive and his jokes were terrific. He was such a ray of light for us," he remembered.
Pregent would do two tours of duty in Vietnam. In his second one, he volunteered to be a door gunner on a helicopter and would go onto fly anamazing 105 missions in less than a month.
He recalled his first mission. "Had to pick up 15 civilians that were injured in mortar attacks. Picked up a 2-year-old girl whose leg was shredded. The medics had it wrapped in gauze but there was nothing there. Really got to me as I had a little 2-year-old back home," he said. 

He volunteered as a gunner on a helicopter during his second tour.
He would be awarded the prestigious Navy Marine Corps Medal as well as five Air Medals. Thoughts on service? 
"Being a Marine changed my life," Pregent said. "Taught me duty, respect, accountability. I have such a respect for the flag now, I'm proud of my service but very distressed that we lost 60,000 lives. Families that were devastated by losing a son, daughter, mother or father ... I always think, 'what would those men and women be doing with their lives?"
He is the author of "Berkshire Patriots: Stories of Sacrifice," which looks at Berkshire residents who served from the French and Indian War to the War in Afghanistan. 
Staff Sgt. Dennis Pregent, thank you for your service to our great country and welcome home.
Wayne Soares is the host of the popular, new veterans cooking show, "The Mess Hall" and entertains our troops around the globe. He is also the host and producer of the Vietnam veterans documentary "Silent Dignity – The Chapter That Never Ends." He can be reached at

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