- Associated Press - Sunday, June 7, 2015

BATESVILLE, Ark. (AP) - Garry Jeffries returned home to the states a proud, decorated soldier, but a hero’s welcome was far from what he received.

The Batesville native wasn’t long out of high school when he joined the U.S. Army in 1965, but a year later, upon completion of boot camp at Fort Knox, Kentucky, the 19-year-old found himself in South Vietnam, The Batesville Daily Guard (http://guardonline.com/?p=185173 ) reported.

“When I first got to Vietnam they assigned me to the USARV (U.S. Army Vietnam) Special Troops headquarters just outside Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City),” Jeffries said, recounting those days.

“At that time there wasn’t much going on in that area, an occasional rocket or satchel charge or grenades, so I got to go into Saigon fairly often and had the opportunity to make friends with a lot of Vietnamese people,” Jeffries said.

“I was seeing and doing things that a kid from Batesville just didn’t get to do and I was meeting people from all over the world.”

All that changed, he said, on his first furlough back home stateside.

“When I landed in San Francisco I had on my uniform, had my stripes on my sleeve and a few medals on my chest and I was a proud soldier.”

“The protesters started cursing me, spitting on me, throwing things at me and made me feel like I was the worst person in the world. When I finally got to Batesville I felt like an outcast, except for family and close friends. Little did I know that was the start of four years of hell.”

The loss of boyhood friends and classmates laid heavy on Jeffries mind.

“I had two good friends from Batesville, Gregory Gray and Richard Hix,” he said. “We all went to Vietnam. I came home alive and they didn’t.

“I always felt guilty when I talked to their mothers and I have never gotten over it. I feel guilty to this day and will to the day I die and the hippies in California didn’t make it any better,” he said.

“Not too long after I got back to Saigon, the VC (Viet Cong) were building up for the Tet Offensive and the situation was changing pretty fast,” Jeffries said. “The locals were less friendly and a little more aggressive.

“By that time I was assigned courier duty and I was traveling all over South Vietnam delivering and picking up information. One of my routine pickup points was General (William) Westmorland’s office.”

Courier duty, as described by Jeffries, was an OK job most of the time, as in the case of going to a secure air base where he might spend the night before flying out on a helicopter the next morning.

“If I was going to be dropped into the jungle at some fire base, I would turn down invitations to spend the night and head back to the chopper,” he said.

During the Vietnam War era Jeffries said the Army had an extension policy. If a GI would extend his stay in Vietnam for six more months of duty, the Army would fly him anywhere in the world for 30 days R&R; (rest and relaxation) for free.

“So, me being as smart as I was, when I got stuck in an area where I was getting shot at a lot, or having to shoot a lot, I would extend my tour six more months, get transferred, take a 30-day leave and come back for another six months of hell - sometimes in a better and sometimes in a worse place,” he said.

With his longevity of service to his country, and about to get out of the Army, Jeffries said he was approached by the Department of Defense, offering him exceptionally good pay if he would stay in Vietnam and work for them.

“The day I left Vietnam to be discharged from the Army they (DOD) took me to the Tan Son Nhut airport in an Armored Personnel Carrier. I was waiting for my flight and just being thankful to God that I made it and I was going home (for R&R;).”

“About that time a rocket hit the end of the terminal and blew the whole end of it off. The guy sitting next to me was in the Air Force and had friends there. He told me to watch his bags and he would get us on a flight now,” Jeffries said. “He came back in a few minutes and told me to get my bags and we got on a C-141, a big and fast plane.

“When I stepped on that plane, the first thing I noticed, it was full of dead bodies and we were the only live passengers besides the crew,” Jeffries said.

“At that point I thought of two things, I would have rather taken my chances with the VC and their rockets and that I couldn’t believe I had just signed a contract with DOD to come back to this mess.”

Regarding his time with the Department of Defense, Jeffries won’t discuss his duties other than to say, “I came home for a few days and went back to Vietnam doing worse stuff and in some bad locations, but I was a civilian.

“I was 19 years old when I went to Vietnam, and about 90 when I came home.”

___

Information from: Batesville Guard, http://www.guardonline.com/

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