As a financial advisor, Wallace Zealy considers himself to be in the “risk management” business. And that’s not much different than the business he was in as a soldier nearly 50 years ago.
“In combat, you worry about those three feet around you,” he said. “My clients are always three feet around me.”
The advisor for Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. was majoring in economics at Augusta College in 1968 when his reserve unit, the 319th Transportation Company, was called up for active duty service in Vietnam.
The North Augusta native found himself manning the machine guns on Jeeps and 5-ton trucks on numerous convoys to supply base camps with everything from ammunition to jet fuel.
His unit was ambushed seven times while he was in country, but none were as severe as the attack it encountered from a heavily fortified North Vietnamese battalion in the Binh Long Province on Jan. 11, 1969.
Zealy’s truck, driven by his friend Buddy Antonopoulos, ended up going over a 15-foot embankment into a swamp after swerving to avoid fire from an armored personnel carrier. Zealy was able to get out from under the overturned truck, but his friend was trapped in the cab under the muck.
“I saw a foot come out from under the door and I just started pulling,” Zealy recalled. “When I got him out he was black as night except for his teeth and his eyes.”
With bullets and rockets flying, Zealy helped Antonopoulos get on the running boards of the next passing truck and out of danger. The heroic act earned the private first class a Bronze Star Medal with “V” Device for valor.
“It’s kind of embarrassing because Buddy would have done the same for me,” Zealy said of his friend, who recently retired as the head golf pro at the Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Fla.
Zealy said the real hero that day was Harold A. Fritz, a lieutenant in the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment who helped repel the ambush with his greatly outnumbered forces farther down the road. When reinforcements arrived, the wounded officer was down to a pistol and a bayonet.
Fritz’s actions undoubtedly prevented the ambush from inflicting more casualties on the convoy. Zealy met the 73-year-old Medal of Honor recipient for the first time in January.
“I was able to thank him for saving my life,” Zealy said. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for his actions.”