Jerry M. Slaughter's military tour in Vietnam ended prematurely when he underwent major surgery, but he still has many memories — some good and some bad — of his time in service to his country.
A retired U.S. Army veteran who served nearly 11 months in Vietnam, Slaughter, 72, has lived with his wife of 24 years, Betty, in Oak Hill for the past 18 years.
Slaughter, who spent his earlier years in Florida, graduated from the U.S. Army Training Center, 5th Army, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. In his AIT (advanced individual training), he served five more months after receiving his orders for Vietnam, he recalls.
While serving his tour in Vietnam, Slaughter had to have facial reconstructive surgery at the 106th General Army Hospital in Yokohama, Japan. He said the surgery itself was "horrible," and he said he saw numerous soldiers with bad injuries at the evac hospital during his two-week recovery.
With the surgery, during which a tumor had to be removed and plastic surgery performed, Slaughter said, "I thought automatically I was going back to Vietnam (he had earlier gotten emergency leave to attend his father's funeral). They told me, 'Your time's up in Vietnam.'"
After recovery, he was sent to Fort Benning, Ga., where he served five months with HHC, 4th Br., 69th Armor, 197 Inf. Bde., 3D USA.
One of Slaughter's prized possessions these days is his basic training graduation book, in which his photograph and images of 250 other soldiers appear during their time at Fort Leonard Wood. He graduated primarily with "a bunch of great guys," he said.
"Believe it or not, over 50 years, I've carried this everywhere I went," Slaughter said while flipping through the pages of his basic training book recently. "Through my ups and downs in life, I managed to still carry this book, and I'm so proud because I could have lost it many places.
"It was so important to me."
Slaughter, a marksman with an M-14 rifle, was promoted to E4 status after three months in Vietnam, he said. He received honorable discharge papers after leaving the Army.
Slaughter also served five years with the National Guard and was called back on two occasions for National Guard duty. His career featured several medals, citations and campaign ribbons which were awarded or authorized, he said. Among those were the Vietnam Services Medal with two Bronze Stars for his time in the combat zone.
"I served in a very deadly combat zone (in the northern part of South Vietnam)," Slaughter recalled. "We were stationed a little bit below the home of the 1st Cavalry (Division).
"I don't think there's any Vietnam veteran, I don't care where they were, (that wouldn't say) it was horrible, and a scary situation."
Slaughter said soldiers in the last days of basic training have a day they call a theater class (where they go to see a simulation of what to expect). "It's a different story when you're really there and you're going through something so traumatic like what you saw that day in the theater, and then you get over there and everything is so real," he said. "It isn't Boy Scouts any more; it's real."
Slaughter and his compatriots alternated pulling "very serious" guard duty, including one scenario in which they watched over a major ammunition dump, and "that's scary."
One guard post was adjacent to the Mekong Delta River, where water purification measures were established for the soldiers.
"We had four guard posts," said Slaughter. "The No. 4 guard post was our worst one; we were shot at every night by the enemy.
"But we were protected very well."
Slaughter said he wasn't involved in close, hand-to-hand combat, but "I was shot at I couldn't tell you how many times. I was very blessed to actually get out of Vietnam like I did and when I did."
He also remembers the "poor living conditions" endured by the Vietnamese people, who built small houses out of items such as C-ration cans, mud and palmetto bushes. "I really think it was something, when you were there and saw those poor, starving children."
Another memory centers on the heat. "We were out in the jungle basically. Our feet actually burned in our combat boots, it got so hot in the summer time."
Also, he remembers small crop duster planes flying through the company area. "We could see them swooping down. They were spraying for mosquitoes, and we were breathing it in."
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At the time he received his draft orders, Slaughter was living with an aunt in Florida because he "wasn't getting along with his father."
He remembers his father giving him a razor and shaving cream to take with him, and Slaughter said his father's words to him — in addition to involving a plea for him to stay safe — included, "Some of us won't be here when you get back."
When he interrupted his deployment to return for his father's funeral, which was delayed for several days so he could get back for it, Slaughter said negative feelings he may have harbored about his father waned.
"The love came out. I actually cried about two or three months ago talking to my wife about it," he said last week.
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Slaughter says he didn't realize how many veterans from Vietnam and other wars were still living in West Virginia until he started going to the VA Hospital in Beckley for doctor's care. He says he's gotten good treatment from the Beckley VA.
Diagnosed at some point with PTSD, he says now, "I'm fine."
"So, I did have a breakdown one time (up here)," Slaughter said. "So I did, what's the big deal? I got over it; I had good doctors."
With treatment, he says he "overcame it very well."
And, Slaughter, who worked as a plasterer after his military service, says his wife has helped make life better for him over the years. "My wife, she's an angel to me. I don't think I could make it without her."
"Right now is the best times my life have ever been," he added. "I'm so happy."
So, what does Veterans Day mean to Slaughter? It's a "very honorable" day, he said.
"Without the United States of America (and the service its veterans have given), this (world) would be just chaos," Slaughter said. "There's nothing like the veterans. They're not all Vietnam veterans.
"I respect any veteran as much as I respect myself for being one. I think they deserve the utmost care."
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