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The Villages
Sunday, April 14, 2024

Villager remains grateful to buddy who saved his life in harrowing attack in Vietnam

The time was one early evening in July 1967. The place was a sandbag bunker near Qui Nhon, six miles from Vietnam’s demilitarized zone.

While on guard duty, Army Cpl. Bob “Cat” Serina felt a bayonet pressed against his neck. Reflectively, he raised his hand and began struggling with his assailant. The bayonet pierced his thumb.

Bob ‘Cat’ Serina shows off his converted golf cart – a homemade replica of an Army jeep sporting a realistic mannequin and machine gun in the rear.

“I shouted to my buddy, Ronnie Devilen, to shoot – even though I was in between him and my Viet Cong attacker,” recalled Serina. “He didn’t even have seconds to decide. I was going to be dead, man. Ronnie hit his moving target. The enemy went down wounded. I finished him off.”

Serina had been a ship’s stevedore before the Tet Offensive brought more soldiers to the front lines.

“We were near the Ho Chi Minh trail, so the base was constantly under attack,” he said. “I was in 26 firefights.”

Today, 50-plus years later, Serina, a resident of the Villa Valdez in the Village of De La Vista, like other Vietnam veterans, vividly remembers his instant life-or-death moment. He also thinks about the man who saved his life.

“I call him every day to thank him, and to see how he’s doing,” said Serina. “He has untreatable cancer with a short life expectancy. I would do anything for him. Ronnie believes I’m entitled to five Bronze Stars, so he has been preparing the necessary paperwork.”

Bob ‘Cat’ Serina displays some of the models he’s made from scratch in his home workshop.

Serina, and his wife, Leanor, moved to The Villages three years ago from Long Island after careers in construction, landscaping and owning a welding company. Now, those skills and his devotion to his Army comrades are on display as he builds models of ships, aircraft and military vehicles. Using sheet metal and papier-mâché, Serina also reconfigured his golf cart into an Army Jeep that he showcases in Villages’ parades honoring America’s veterans.

The jeep golf cart features a life-size mannequin dressed as a soldier and cradles a lifelike machine gun.

“I tied a thin string to him,” Serina said. “So when I pull the string, his arm waves. The movement and the gun look so realistic that someone once reported me to the sheriff’s office.”

Serina was one of the many veterans who attended The Village’s recent Memorial Day ceremony to honor those who weren’t as lucky as he was.

“I think about my year in Vietnam, the others in my (Army) transportation company, and especially about my best friend,” he said. “It’s me who’s been living on borrowed time.”

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