He served as a combat medic in Vietnam, picked up pieces of humanity; desperately struggled to save lives during the critical 60 minutes of the ‘Golden Hour’ in which the survival rate increased to 95%, and treaded through mine fields to recover the dead and wounded.
I interviewed Jerry Anderson more than a year ago. He conveyed a narrative of the sacrifice to save and the struggle to remain sane. In Jerry’s own words: “It was tough on everybody, the doctors, the chopper pilots, the young medics…we’d never seen bodies blown all to hell, but in Vietnam it happened day in and day out.”
Day in and day out: non-stop death, non-stop bloodshed, and non-stop war. Jerry started drinking heavily just to cope. Asked his worst day in Vietnam, Jerry replied, “Every day.” Three medics killed in a single day, 126 casualties during the infamous 1968 Tet Offensive, mangled bodies, day in and day out.
Even though he was burned out mentally and physically after his first one-year tour, Jerry attempted to reenlist. “My commanding officer would not let me,” Jerry stated. “He knew I was in no shape to continue.”
Jerry spent the next 25 years suppressing his nightmares with alcohol. In 1992 he was admitted to the VA. His diagnosis reflected the agony and despondency of Vietnam veterans: unemployable with 100% PTSD. This ‘Guardian Angel of the Battlefield’ never touched another drop of alcohol.
Laid back and soft spoken, Jerry retired early from home improvements and dedicated his life to helping veterans with VA claims and volunteering at the Department of Labor to assist his Band of Brothers. It seems like only yesterday when Jerry informed me of his continuing struggle with cancer. When I asked the prognosis, Jerry shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Well, not real good; but whatever comes I’m ready for.”
Jerry Anderson passed from this life on October 10, 2014. As a young medic he took a pledge: ‘Not for Self but Others.’ Jerry completed his pledge.
On Remembrance Day 1987, A. Lawrence Vaincourt published his now much-admired poem “A Soldier Died Today”. I respectfully offer Mr. Vaincourt’s work as a tribute to my friend and brother, Jerry Anderson.
“He was getting old and punchy, and his hair was falling fast;
he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past.
Of a war that he once fought in, and deeds that he had done;
in his exploits with his buddies, they were heroes, every one.
And ‘tho sometimes to his neighbors, his tales became a joke;
all his buddies listened quietly, for they knew where of he spoke.
But we’ll hear his tales no longer, for this soldier has passed away;
and the world’s a little poorer, for a soldier died today.
He won’t be mourned by many, just his children and his wife;
for he lived an ordinary, very quiet sort of life.
He held a job and raised a family, going quietly on his way;
and the world won’t note his passing, ‘tho a soldier died today.
When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state;
while thousands note their passing, and proclaim that they were great.
Papers tell of their life stories, from the time that they were young;
but the passing of a soldier, goes unnoticed and unsung.
Is the greatest contribution, to the welfare of our land;
someone who breaks his promise, and deceives his fellow man?
Or the ordinary fellow, who in times of war and strife;
goes off to serve his country, and offers up his life?
The politician’s stipend, and the style in which he lives;
are often disproportionate, to the service that he gives.
While the ordinary soldier, who offered up his all;
is paid off with a medal, and perhaps a pension, small.
It is not the politicians, with their compromise and ploys;
who won for us the freedom, that our country now enjoys.
Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand;
would you really want some cop-out, with his ever-waffling stand?
Or would you want a soldier, his home, his country, his kin;
just a common soldier, who would fight until the end.
He was just a common soldier, and his ranks are growing thin;
but his presence should remind us, we may need his likes again.
For when countries are in conflict, we find the soldier’s part;
is to clean up all the troubles, that the politicians start.
If we cannot do him honor, while he’s here to hear the praise;
then at least let’s give him homage, at the ending of his days.
Perhaps just a simple headline, in the paper that might say:
OUR COUNTRY IS IN MOURNING, A SOLDIER DIED TODAY.”
Rest in peace, my brother.
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or aveteransstory.us.