Jerry Wilcoxhen

Jerry Wilcoxen holds a group photo with fellow survivors of the Battle of Khe Sanh, as they gathered at the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington, D.C. 

KEATCHIE, La. - It was a busy 13 months for Jerry Wilcoxen in the Vietnam War. The Marine fought in 22 campaigns, including what he calls "the big one."

He was among about 5,500 Marines who were cut off and surrounded by three North Vietnamese Army divisions. That meant they were outnumbered nearly 4 to 1 and under siege.

Jerry was just out of Woodlawn High School. It was now January of 1968, when he and his fellow Marines were attacked at their garrison. So began The Battle of Khe Sanh.

"The longest 77 days," Jerry says. "Some days you might take 12, 13-hundred incoming rounds. People don't understand what that's like. It's very unnerving.

"You just lay there and take it. That's all you can do and hope it stops at some point before it gets you," Jerry added. "They'd just shell, bomb. Shell, bomb. Everybody around me either got hit or got killed.

"There were times I thought my number was up, but it just didn't work out that way. I had a little something to say about it," he went on to say.

The North Vietnamese would fire, then hide their big guns in caves. But with improving weather, the U.S. brought in their big weapons from above.

"I really think what broke their backs was the B-52 strikes," Jerry says.

He described watching the bombers make drop on long lines of NVA targets.

"A mile across there, one plane would just blow it up. Boom boom boom boom boom," Jerry rattled off.

The U.S.inflicted thousands of casualties on the NVA and Viet Cong, while losing an estimated 1,500 of our own before withdrawing from Khe Sanh.

Jerry wasn’t wounded there. But he was a few months later at another battle. He was hit by shrapnel in three places. Some of it’s still in his left arm.

"They asked me if I wanted a Purple Heart," Jerry recalled. "I said, 'Purple Heart and ten cents would get me a cup of coffee.' And I just kept on going."

Until he was hit by malaria. Oh, Jerry still wanted to fight on though.

"That doctor really saved my life though. I kept asking, 'Doc, when are you going to let me go? I'm ready to go back in.' He said, 'No, you ain't going back. You've seen all you're going to see,'" Jerry said, choking back some emotion.

Jerry was decorated for his bravery in battle. Long after the war, he did put in for that Purple Heart, thinking it would help him with VA benefits. But he was told he was too late.

"They need it worse than I do, I guess," Jerry said with a hearty laugh.

Jerry shrugs off the effects of the war, like PTSD and some ailments from Agent Orange, just like he did not getting that Purple Heart.

After his stint in the Marines, Jerry built an air conditioning service business.


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