2017-11-09 / Front Page

Fifty years later, Vietnam veteran recalls ‘lonesome’ return home


LAUNDRY AT THE ORPHANAGE Being in the jungle, Jerry Markle said that there were not places to wash laundry easily so the soldiers would pay Vietnamese women to wash, dry and fold their laundry. In Markle’s experience, his laundry was taken to an orphanage. He is pictured with a Vietnamese child. Markle added that although the perception was the soldiers did not treat the Vietnam­ese people well, he found that the people, especially the children, were treated with respect. LAUNDRY AT THE ORPHANAGE Being in the jungle, Jerry Markle said that there were not places to wash laundry easily so the soldiers would pay Vietnamese women to wash, dry and fold their laundry. In Markle’s experience, his laundry was taken to an orphanage. He is pictured with a Vietnamese child. Markle added that although the perception was the soldiers did not treat the Vietnam­ese people well, he found that the people, especially the children, were treated with respect. Jerry Markle’s return from Vietnam in 1968 was like many in his generation – “lonesome.”

Unlike the welcome home today’s veterans often receive, Markle’s reception was marked by the disapproval of the war by many Americans who did not support soldiers when they returned home.

Looking back on that time, Markle said his expe­rience was “rough,” but now thanks to the help of his wife and Roscommon County Veteran Af­fairs, he is getting the help he needs in deal­ing with the events of war.


JUNGLE RAINS Vietnam veteran Jerry Markle (left) and a fel­low Army soldier, stand in and around a struc­ture waiting for the rain to dry so they could move on with their day. Markle said that for a 30- to 40-day period it rained beginning at 11 a.m each day and by 3 p.m. everything would be dry. JUNGLE RAINS Vietnam veteran Jerry Markle (left) and a fel­low Army soldier, stand in and around a struc­ture waiting for the rain to dry so they could move on with their day. Markle said that for a 30- to 40-day period it rained beginning at 11 a.m each day and by 3 p.m. everything would be dry. Markle, now 70, of Prudenville, re­ceived his United States Army draft no­tice two days prior to marrying his now wife of 51 years, Mary. As a 19-year-old just about to start a life with his child­hood sweetheart, being notified that he was to enter into the Army was a hardship.

“It was depressing because I had just got­ten married. We had a great relationship and we still do,” Markle said as Mary has always supported him. The couple had just purchased a home in Lapeer and Markle had been working for General Motors for six months. “It was very depressing. I was being punished for growing up. I couldn’t believe I was being (drafted) in the Army.”


FIVE DECADES LATER Vietnam veteran Jerry Markle, a backer of both his flag and country, re­ceived his draft notice to the United States Army two days before marry­ing his now wife of 51 years, Mary, at the age of 19. He then spent a year of duty in Vietnam as a combat engineer. (Photo by Thomas Reznich) FIVE DECADES LATER Vietnam veteran Jerry Markle, a backer of both his flag and country, re­ceived his draft notice to the United States Army two days before marry­ing his now wife of 51 years, Mary, at the age of 19. He then spent a year of duty in Vietnam as a combat engineer. (Photo by Thomas Reznich) With none of the modern communication technologies of today, the couples only contact was regularly sent letters, which Markle said made him “lonesome for her.” Markle’s service, which began July 14, 1966, took him to Fort Lewis, WA, and Fort Leonard Wood, MO, for training. Then in July, 1967, Mar­kle left Oakland, CA, for a year-long tour of duty in Vietnam.

“It was just devastating for both of us, I had just turned 20,” Markle said of going to Vietnam. Upon his arrival to Vietnam, Markle found himself in the “boondocks” or a jun­gled area that had nothing. As a combat engineer, Markle and his fellow soldiers spent their days building roads, clearing areas, conducting mine sweeps, building bridges and performing reconnais­sance and search and destroy missions.


ECHO RATTLERS Jerry Markle (top row, second from left) is pictured with the Echo Rattlers Fifth Battalion Second Brigade at Fort Lewis, Washtington, which is where he completed his basic training. ECHO RATTLERS Jerry Markle (top row, second from left) is pictured with the Echo Rattlers Fifth Battalion Second Brigade at Fort Lewis, Washtington, which is where he completed his basic training. Markle sums up his experience in Vietnam as remembering “nothing good about the place.” He recalled a particu­lar ambush by the North Vietnamese Regulars (NVR) battalion that pinned down his squad for over two hours. The ambush started when the NVR blew up two American trucks. This attack caused Markle’s squad to fire back for 15 minutes before helicopters with mini guns arrived to help out. Markle was armed with his gun and eight to 10 magazines of which he thinks he shot four or five clips as part of his response.


‘FIRST SEARCH & DESTROY’ From his personal collection of photos, veteran Jerry Mar­kle saved this photo which reads “first search & destroy.” Markle said the photo was taken in Pleiku, Vietnam. He added that the clothing he was wearing was the uniform that he wore most of the time when he was in Vietnam. (Courtesy photo) ‘FIRST SEARCH & DESTROY’ From his personal collection of photos, veteran Jerry Mar­kle saved this photo which reads “first search & destroy.” Markle said the photo was taken in Pleiku, Vietnam. He added that the clothing he was wearing was the uniform that he wore most of the time when he was in Vietnam. (Courtesy photo) Markle said he remembers taking up shelter in a two-foot deep bank at the edge of a road that was made by the Army. He stayed there while “steady automatic rounds” continuously were fired in his direction and as two Army planes dropped bombs, another pair of jets dropped white phosphorus in the area and tanks shot .30- and .60-caliber ma­chine guns.

“It was bad,” Markle said of the ambush, as at least six of the 22 Americans in that particular fight died. “I don’t know if I was 30 years old if I would have been prepared to take that on.”

As the Tet Offensive continued, Markle remembers another incident during which the barracks tent next to his was hit. He said what saved his tent from being hit was a small wood pile that helped to block some of the shrapnel. As a result of that blast, Markle now has tinnitus and wears a hearing aid.

After a year of constant incidenc­es, rain and dealing with living in the jungle, Markle was allowed to return to the United States – and a not so warm welcome home. He was told before he returned that many Ameri­cans did not support returning veter­ans and he could be called a “baby killer” and be told that he was not fighting in a war, but a conflict.

“Please don’t call it a conflict be­cause I was in a war,” Markle said. He said the loss of American life, the constant invasions and hardship sol­diers faced was war, not just a con­flict. He said American actress Jane Fonda’s visit and statements about the Vietnam War and the soldiers’ treatment of the Vietnamese people did not help matters.

“We treated them well. We were really good to the people,” Markle said. He added that in his experi­ence, the soldiers treated the people, especially the children, with respect because it was the children who could speak English and communi­cate with the soldiers.

When he returned to Washington State, he was wearing his uniform and although he didn’t personally get called names, he remembers no­body talking to him. As soon as he met up with Mary, he changed into civilian clothing to continue to avoid any unwelcomed treatment.

“It was just dead quiet, I could just feel the tension,” Markle said. He remembers it being another “lonesome” time in his life and not knowing about or getting the support and benefits he was entitled to as a veteran did not help the situation.

“We do get more respect now,” Markle said. With the help of Roscommon County Veterans Af­fairs

Director Heath Nemeth, Markle is now getting the medical and men­tal health support and benefits he re­quires. Markle deals with post trau­matic stress disorder (PTSD) and has endured nightmares and night sweats that he said are “something that only a veteran would know is like.” He also deals with hearing loss, the effects of being exposed to Agent Orange, among other prob­lems.

He said maybe if he had gotten support upon his return home, it is possible he would not have some of the problems he deals with today. Thanks to Nemeth and the Roscom­mon County Veterans Affairs Office, as well as his wife, Mary, Markle said he is doing better. He said that when citizens thank him for his ser­vice, it also helps.

Markle said being ambushed was “just a small part” of what he experi­enced in Vietnam.

“I should have been dead three times,” Markle said. “It was rough.”

He urges citizens to “thank them [veterans] all the time” and to shake their hand, give them support and donate to veterans groups.

“I am more adjusted with help. Am I relaxed all the time? With help, I am better,” Markle said. He added that veterans should seek out their county’s Veteran Affairs office and get the ben­efits they are entitled to. “You served, you have the right to get help from the VA.”

Markle added that people also need to re­spect the American flag and replace any tattered flags that are flying.

“I ask people to please replace the flags with new ones. I will al­ways protect our coun­try and honor our flag,” Markle said.

The Roscommon County Veterans Affairs Office can be reached at 275-6047.

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