Bob O'Dowd, one of the recruits at Parris Island in Platoon 308 during 1962, recalled Rivers as follows:
Jettie Rivers, age 29, was an oddity at Parris Island. In 1962, you could count the number of black Marine drill instructors at Parris Island on one hand. A wiry, athletic man from the deep South, he would prove that he didn’t have an ounce of prejudice in his body, even though black men in the South in those days couldn’t eat at a restaurant with whites or even ride in the front of a bus with whites.
Racial prejudice was the norm in the South in the 1960s. To this day, it’s hard to believe that Jettie Rivers was not affected by the abuse he experienced growing up in Alabama and Tennessee.
Jettie Rivers was an extremely fair, disciplined man in an environment where others often stepped across the line. He never laid a hand on any recruit, never cursed, never got into your face nor did he tolerate abuse by others. In 1962, this was exceptional behavior for a Marine Corps drill instructor....
Platoon 308, S Company, 3rd Battalion, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island graduated with 75 Marines in May 1962. We are much older now but none of us can forget Parris Island and Jettie Rivers, Jr.In May 1967 Rivers, now the Company First Sergeant of Company D, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment with the 3rd Marine Division, was fighting for our Nation in Vietnam.
On the night of May 14-15, 1967, Rivers' unit was conducting a search and destroy mission against communist forces. As the enemy forces brought heavier fires to bear against Company D and casualties mounted among both leadership and men, First Sergeant Jettie Rivers, Jr. showed incredible courage and character in keeping his Marines in the fight while ignoring his own wounds. His courage was recognized with the presentation of the Navy Cross.
From Military Times' Hall of Valor:
The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Second Lieutenant [then First Sergeant] Jettie Rivers, Jr. (MCSN: 0-1300239), United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism as Company First Sergeant while serving with Company D, First Battalion, Ninth Marines, THIRD Marine Division (Reinforced), Fleet Marine Force, in the Republic of Vietnam on 14 and 15 May 1967. While engaged in search-and-destroy operations against units of the North Vietnamese Army, Company D became engaged with an estimated reinforced enemy company and Second Lieutenant Rivers, a member of the company command group, was wounded. Realizing that the enemy had forced a gap between the command group and one platoon and the two rear platoons, he immediately informed the company commander. At dusk the enemy fire and mortar barrages intensified, and as casualties mounted, the two separate elements set up a hasty perimeter of defense. Second Lieutenant Rivers expertly directed his men's fire, placed personnel in strategic positions, and personally participated in repelling the enemy assault. Observing a number of enemy soldiers maneuvering toward the perimeter, he mustered a small force of Marines and personally led them to meet the enemy, killing several of the enemy soldiers. When evacuation of the wounded was completed, Second Lieutenant Rivers requested permission to take the point in an attempt to link up the smaller element with the other two platoons. A short distance from the perimeter, the group encountered withering machine-gun fire which instantly killed the platoon sergeant and seriously wounded the platoon leader. Second Lieutenant Rivers immediately took command of the situation, aiding the wounded and personally pinning down the enemy machine gun while the casualties were removed. Now under complete darkness and subject to continuous enemy crossfire and sporadic mortar barrages, Second Lieutenant Rivers assisted in joining the two units. Discovering that all of the platoon leaders had become casualties, he assisted the company commander in setting up an effective perimeter and personally supervised the medical evacuation preparations. Presently a deadly mortar barrage precipitated an all-out enemy assault on the company. Second Lieutenant Rivers was everywhere-encouraging the men, directing fire, assisting the wounded, and distributing ammunition to critical positions. Wounded himself, he continued this pace until late in the afternoon when relief arrived. By his initiative, devotion to duty, and aggressive leadership, he served to inspire all who observed him and was instrumental in saving the lives of many Marines. His great personal valor reflected great credit upon himself, the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
Less than two months later, Jettie Rivers, Jr. gave his life to the United States in battle on July 6, 1967. He was 34 years old, and left behind his wife and two young sons.
First Sergeant Rivers received his promotion to and commission as a Second Lieutenant posthumously. It is a special and rare honor for an enlisted man to be so honored, and is a fitting addition to his Navy Cross. Jettie Rivers, Jr. rests in peace at Arlington National Cemetery among our Nation's most honored dead. His name appears on Panel 23E, Line 22 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.
1st Battalion, 9th Marines was reactivated in 2005. The battalion serves as a reinforcement to the 8th Marine Regiment and is part of the 2nd Marine Divsion and II Marine Expeditionary Force. Their home post is Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina