2016-11-17 / Features

Vietnam Veteran Thankful For The Delayed Thanks

By Jeremy Gray AL.COM

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) – Freddie Jones was sitting at the downtown Birmingham library last week when a woman walked over after overhearing his stories of 10 years of service in Vietnam.

“Thank you for what you did,’’ she said as she shook his hand.

“That means a lot. Those types of visits put tears in my eyes,’’ Jones said.

Now 77, Jones said when he returned home to Birmingham 40 years ago the welcome was nowhere near as friendly.

“We were received in a very shameful manner,’’ Jones said. “We was persecuted even before we got home for being baby killers, you name it.’’

Jones says he arrived in Vietnam in 1965, an Air Force veteran serving as a civilian contractor performing a variety of jobs, including helping evacuate the country in the final days of the war. Jones said he himself left the country on April 30, 1975, the last day of the U.S. presence in Vietnam.

Jones had not been in Vietnam 30 days when his base was attacked with rockets and mortars by the Viet Cong. Up until that attack, Jones, a former USAF track runner, said he never touched cigarettes or alcohol.

“After that attack, and up to today, I’ve been drinking and smoking,’’ Jones said. “I also found myself talking to God. I said. `If you’ll get me home safe, I promise I will devote myself to assisting veterans.’’

For the next 10 years, Jones traveled all over South Vietnam, finding himself at times in places being bombed by B-52s.

“You didn’t see them, but you felt the impact when it (the bomb) hit the earth. It would lift you off the ground,’’ Jones said. “You could see the craters from the impacts all over.’’

Jones’ worst memory of the war came in its final days, he said, when he saw the crash of a plane carrying babies fathered by American service members. Seventy eight children died.

“I saw quite a bit but that was something I couldn’t take in because we knew it was loaded with babies,’’ Jones said.

When he got home in 1975, Jones said his younger sister asked their father, “Daddy, are you going allow Freddie to stay here tonight?’’ When the father asked why she wanted to know, Jones said she replied, “He’s trained to kill people.’’

Jones, not wanting to scare his sister, said he did not sleep at the family home that night. “She was paying attention to the protests, propaganda,’’ Jones said.

It was much the same everywhere he went, but there were some who did say thanks, he recalled.

“The (Veterans Day) parade gives us a chance to say thanks back to the few who said thanks to us for our service,’’ Jones said.

Jones said he also hopes the parade reminds Americans of the need for employment, housing and family care many veterans still need.

“They have already proved they are trained and qualified to perform any employment mission presented to them,’’ Jones said of veterans. “We’ve got thousands of veterans seeking employment.’’

Today, Jones’ organization Vietnam Veterans and Associates works to help veterans identify and apply for benefits they may not know they are eligible for. Each Sunday morning, he discusses veteran benefits on a radio program in Birmingham.

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