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 percent, 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, but his commanding officer knew what shape he was in and wouldn't allow it. 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 percent 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.
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.
Here is his story:
According to the Geneva Convention, knowingly firing on an accurately identified unarmed combat medic is a war crime.
Although the United States has endeavored to accept the Geneva Convention along with the rules of engagement, our adversaries have placed a bull's eye on our combat medics.
Targeting a combat medic kills him and the soldiers he could save; thus, the merciless logic of our enemies. American combat medics are well-trained and dedicated, but one unit's motto, "Fear Not," speaks volumes about their courage.
"Peshuta-Akichita" (Medical Soldiers) requires an exceptional breed of warrior. To tend the wounded, a combat medic positions his own body between the injured soldier and enemy fire. Another medical brigade's motto: ‘‘Not for Self But Others'' personifies combat medics and Conyers resident Jerry Anderson. Anderson said, "I enlisted in the Army in 1965 when I was 17 years old with the notion of being a John Wayne. I quickly found out I wasn't."
During basic at Fort Benning, Anderson took a battery of tests and was chosen to train as a medic.
"My father was a medic in World War II, so I guess I was predestined," he said.
After basic, Anderson was sent to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, for eight weeks of medical training, then spent four weeks in San Francisco at Letterman General Hospital for Ward Training.
He recalled, "I slept in the room across from where my dad slept during his training. His initials are still above his bunk."
Anderson's main duty was the care and welfare of paraplegic officers from Vietnam.
"I volunteered for Vietnam," Anderson said. "But I ended up in Hawaii at Schofield Barracks for 17 months with the 11th Light Infantry Brigade. We trained for jungle warfare in the Koolau Mountains on the island of Oahu."
In December 1967, the 11th Light Infantry Brigade boarded a World War II-era troop ship, the USS General Wiegle, for a two-week cruise to Quang Ngai Province, Vietnam.
Anderson said, "We set up an aid station at Duc Pho. We had two Dust Offs (Medevac choppers) and triaged casualties within a 30-mile radius."
January 1968: The communists launched their infamous Tet Offensive.
Anderson recalled, "The first morning we took in 130 civilian casualties. You can't train for seeing women and kids blown apart. It's traumatic, it's nauseating, and you wonder, ‘How in the world will I cope with stuff like this?'"
Medical veterans of the Korean War taught Anderson how to cope. He recalled, "They told me, ‘The body on the table is a machine, and your job is to keep that machine alive. Do what you were trained to do; then, move on to the next one.' It was like Grady Hospital, a 24/7 operation, never shutting down, never letting up. The casualties were constant."
Their goal was the "Golden Hour," 60 critical minutes to get a soldier or civilian into the aid station. Anderson said, "Within the Golden Hour, the survival rate was 95 percent."
Anderson flew on Dust Off flights into the thick of combat to retrieve the wounded or dead.
"We always got fired at," he said. "The enemy would wait for our Dust Off and try to shoot it down, their logic to kill the medic, thus the wounded die."
Anderson also worked as an RTO (Radio Transmit Operator), calling in choppers and/or getting a clear picture of the type of wounded aboard a Dust Off.
He said, "One of the few funny things I recall is that our RTOs were all Southerners, our Dust Off pilots from North Carolina, and the VC and NVA couldn't understand our English. Actually, our 1st sergeant from New York couldn't understand us, either."
"It was tough on everybody," he continued. "The doctors, the chopper pilots, the medics; we'd never seen bodies blown all to hell, but in 'Nam it happened day in and day out."
Anderson walked through mine fields to recover dead and wounded. "I know that's crazy,'' he said, "but somebody had to do it."
Medics save lives, but in Vietnam sometimes it was necessary to take a life to save a life.
"The communists would coerce women and kids onto a road to stop a convoy, then ambush the trucks and personnel. In our case, they wanted the medical supplies. We couldn't stop or we would die.
"It was war, a dirty war, and I had to run over a woman once. I can still see her, but we did what we had to do. Yes, sir, it was a dirty little war."
Non-stop death, non-stop bloodshed, non-stop war; Anderson started drinking heavily to manage the unmanageable: three medics killed in one day, 126 casualties during Tet, mangled bodies.
Asked his worst day, Anderson replied, "Every day." Memories of the women and children still torment him.
"My commanding officer wouldn't let me reenlist," he said. "He knew I was in no shape to continue."
Anderson drowned repeated nightmares in alcohol for 25 years. Admitted to the VA Hospital in 1992, diagnosed unemployable with 100 Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, this "Guardian Angel of the Battlefield" hasn't touched a drop of alcohol since.
Retired early from a career in home improvement, Anderson helps veterans with claims and volunteers at the Department of Labor to assist his "Band of Brothers."
A member of numerous veterans organizations, including the Georgia Vietnam Veterans Alliance, he still honors the pledge he took as a young soldier: "Not for Self but Others."
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or aveteransstory.us.