Jack Harris, a Purple Heart recipient who lives in Warsaw, recounted his Vietnam War experience for the first time in 52 years, telling a group of Northumberland High School students how five months in Vietnam changed his life forever.
Harris was a 19-year-old, thrill-seeking college dropout when he joined the army in 1964. He enlisted for infantry and parachute training and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne division.
His first combat experience came soon after when he was sent to the Dominican Republic to help crush a rebellion.
That involved several months searching for and killing rebels, he explained. One day while he was alone on guard duty, a pickup truck with a mounted machine gun came out of nowhere. There were five men and they leveled the gun at him.
“But the weapon jammed and I survived. That was the first time, other than jumping out of airplanes, that I cheated the grim reaper,” he told the students.
Not long after returning home, on Christmas in 1965, Harris and about 25 other soldiers were sent to Vietnam. Most soldiers were transported on ships, but they were sent on a civilian jet. Young and oblivious of what they were heading to, Harris said he felt like they were traveling in style. The soldiers drank all the alcohol on the plane, and when it stopped in Hawaii to refuel, the crew restocked and they drank more.
When Harris got to Saigon, he was confronted with the realities on the ground. The US had lost so many men that he was diverted to the 1st Calvary and sent on search and destroy missions.
“I saw many brave men die and get wounded when I was in Vietnam,” Harris said, his eyes watering and his voice wavering.
“All of the fire fights I was in had an impact on me. I remember them often. Two fights stay in my mind all the time,” he said.
In one, Harris was with his best friend “a big ole’ hulky kinda fella” called Stan the man. “We had survived 10 or 11 fire fights. He’s standing right beside me about 12 inches from my head. He takes a bullet and his face disappears,” Harris said.
“It didn’t pay to have friends over there because they didn’t last very long,” he explained later.
For the full article, pick up the latest Northern Neck News 5/15/19
Jack Harris recounts his experiences in the Vietnam War.