Service in ‘Nam came natural to lifetime veteran

This photo of Vietnam Veteran Ken Jimerson was taken aboard the U.S. Navy hospital ship the USS Repose during his recuperation from an eye injury in Vietnam in 1967. | Courtesy photo

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – After his brother was killed in action in Vietnam, Kenneth D. Jimerson felt compelled to go to the mysterious jungle nation and finish the job. Jimerson was born and raised in Payette, Idaho, the county seat of Payette County, along the state’s western border.

He said he wasn’t born in a hospital but at home; a common enough occurrence in rural Idaho in the 1940s. A midwife attended the birth and a doctor circumcised him a few days later. He remembers selling fruit and vegetables from their farm when he was a child but he doesn’t remember his father much.

Ken Jimerson reads inside his hooch at Camp Evans in Vietnam in 1967. | Courtesy photo
Ken Jimerson reads inside his hooch at Camp Evans in Vietnam in 1967. | Courtesy photo

“I was 3 years old when my father died,” he said, adding that he idolized his two older brothers who were his half-brothers.

“The oldest was my dad’s son and the middle one was my mother’s son.”

He said he followed their lead and joined the military as soon as he was old enough.

“I did not graduate high school but I did go,” he said.

Jimerson joined the Army at age 17 in 1960. He trained as an infantryman at Fort Ord, California where he took basic and Advanced Individual Training. Jimerson embraced military life; he enjoyed the tough training. At his first duty station with the 506th Engineer Company in the 10st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, he quickly earned his jump wings and proudly declared himself an “airborne grunt.” While still assigned to Campbell he volunteered to serve with other units that were short of personnel and he deployed with these units to Turkey, where he jumped with Turkish and Iranian paratroopers, and to the Philippines before returning to Campbell.

From Campbell, he went to Germany and . He served in Germany two years and then went to Fort Bragg, North Carolina where his middle brother was stationed, and where he earned a Gene Autry “Flying A” patch. He returned to Campbell once again and fondly recalls keeping in touch with and visiting his brothers whenever possible. When he was 20, he married his 19-year-old girlfriend.

Vietnam veteran Kenneth D. Jimerson today. | U.S. Army Photo by Yvonne Johnson, APG News
Vietnam veteran Kenneth D. Jimerson today. | U.S. Army Photo by Yvonne Johnson, APG News

Jimerson’s middle brother went to ‘Nam from Fort Bragg in 1967. He doesn’t recall exactly when the family received word that his brother was Missing in Action. Jimerson said they found his brother’s body two weeks later. He said only two people survived the firefight that claimed the lives of everyone else in his brother’s platoon – a lieutenant and a specialist- and years later he was able to meet with the lieutenant and learn what happened.

“He said they could see the confrontation from high ground. The Viet Cong just overran them. But then instead of taking them prisoner, they lined them up and executed each one with a bullet to the head. Everyone thought they were MIA until they found the bodies. Then they knew.”

Jimerson said the loss made him angry and eager to take his skills to ‘Nam.

“I wanted to go; I wanted a crack at them,” he said.

In 1969, he got his wish. He deployed to Nam with the 101st and was assigned to the 3rd Brigade at Camp Evans. He said things were “still pretty hot” then and they “hit the ground running.”

“We started off with Soldiers going out at night to track Viet Cong. We had mortar platoons, 50 [caliber machine guns], cannons, everything. I was a squad leader by then and it was my job to keep track of everybody and their equipment. The claymore mines kept us busiest setting and rechecking them because the Viet Cong would sneak in and turn them around.”

Jimerson spent a good portion of his time in ‘Nam on a hospital ship. He was injured while attempting to wake a fellow Soldier.

“I did it all wrong,” he said. “I shook him by the arm when I should have shaken his leg.”

Soldiers woken up suddenly came up fighting in ‘Nam and this one was no different. Jimerson suffered a fractured bone beneath his left eye and was medevaced to the hospital ship USS Repose. He had surgery and a lengthy recovery on the Repose and on the USNS Sanctuary before returning to his unit.

He said his strongest memories of ‘Nam are on the hospital ships.

“I saw some of the worst suffering but then I saw some of the greatest kindnesses. It was a place that showed how bad we can treat each other and how caring we can be at the same time.”

Jimerson left ‘Nam in 1970. He left active duty in 1975 at Fort Greely, Alaska and entered the Army Reserve. He returned to Idaho and eventually went into nursing with the Veterans Administration in Barstow, California.

Jimerson is a lifetime member of the Disable American Veterans; Veterans of Foreign Wars; American Legion and AMVETS. He has been an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church since 2002.

Also a retired Army Reservist, he has lived in Cecil County, Maryland for 13 years after relocating from Barstow. His children are in their 50s and he dotes on his granddaughter who is in her teens.

Every year, Jimerson dusts off his uniform, which still fits, and makes it a point to attend local Veterans Day services.

“It’s just what you do,” he said. “It’s a time to remember the guys that didn’t make it back with you and the ones who did that you just lost track of. And it’s a time to show our support for the young Soldiers still serving. On that day, why would I be doing anything else.”

Story by Yvonne Johnson, APG News

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Like any other war, Vietnam produced an array of veterans. When the conflict ended, some veterans opted to continue service in the military while others returned to civilian life. Some returned with life altering wounds – physical and psychological – while too many others, who never came home at all, remain among the Missing in Action.

On the surface, the veterans of the Vietnam War faced the same challenges as veterans of other wars, except for one glaring difference: they were vilified by American society like no other generation before or since.

Today, nearly 50 years after the war’s end, the veterans of Vietnam are in their 60s and 70s. The passage of time has cooled the tempest of indignation that shrouded their homecoming and an ambiance of repentant thanks thrives in its wake. Many still do what they can to serve this nation.

This article originally appeared in the “APG News” as part of an ongoing, multi-year series hailing the service members and civilians who served the nation during the war in Vietnam. Giving a voice to local Vietnam veterans, it is through their stories that we honor their service and sacrifice, and offer a long-overdue “Welcome Home.”

For more information about the series or the veterans featured, contact “APG News” Editor Amanda Rominiecki at amanda.r.rominiecki.civ@mail.mil.