Recently, I was preparing to attend my very first combination 506th / 101 st Airborne Division Association reunion in Reno, Nevada and it was suggested that since I was in Nevada that I should consider visiting the grave of a soldier who gave his all in a battle in which I, along with five others, were wounded in on May7, 1970. He, in addition to six other young men lost their lives in this battle.
In the 38 plus years since this battle I thought of these seven everyday and can still see their faces as if it was yesterday.
The soldier’s name was Lloyd Jackson and he was from Austin, Nevada. Lloyd was what is termed a Native American, a Shoshone Indian and his nickname was J.J.
I joined the 1 st of the 506 th, 101st Airborne Division in March of 1970 in the extreme northern part of what was then South Vietnam. I was a veteran of the Big Red One which had just been sent back to the states or at least the Colors were sent and we soldiers were scattered throughout the remaining divisions in country.
During the next few weeks I couldn’t help but notice what a good soldier Jackson was. He did everything by the book and was probably the best warrior I have ever known. He once told me that he would have been in line for a promotion to sergeant had it not been for my arrival. I certainly wasn’t a better soldier than he, I just happened to have more combat experience. When he told me this there wasn’t any jealousy in his voice.
Our platoon, numbering 22, was attacked by a vastly larger force during the early morning hours of May7, 1970. J.J. along with the six others were killed almost immediately. The side of the perimeter they were defending was the easiest side to attack. So what I have always termed as the perfect soldier never really had a chance.
I thought on this going to Austin for several days and decided that J.J. would have done this for me and it was the right thing for me to do.
I, via e-mail, got in touch with the Austin, Nevada Chamber of Commerce and was given the location of the grave and an offer that when I was certain of the date I would be arriving to advise them and they would try to have a fellow veteran meet us at the cemetery. This was in April of 2008.
The 101 st Airborne reunion was set for August 13-17, 2008. I decided that I would go to Reno a day early, rent a car and journey to Austin on August the 13 th. This was all done and a fellow veteran from Austin, Ray Williams was in touch with me and proved to be most helpful in my quest to visit the grave. He invited Lloyd’s remaining family to visit with us at the gravesite if they desired to do so.
On August the 13 th I along with my wife Krystal, a Vietnam veteran comrade of mine, Dick Doyle (we served in three different combat units together) and another friend of mine from California, Dr. Ralph Matkin (Ralph was awarded two Silver Stars while serving as a medic attached to the 101 st in early 1970) set out at 8 o’clock in the morning headed east of Reno on Highway 50 for 175 miles. Interestingly for the last 150 miles of the journey we saw nothing but highway, no service stations, no rest stops, nothing.
We arrived at the cemetery after a three hour journey and were greeted by Lloyd’s sister, Carlene Burton and her daughter plus Mr. Williams and a friend of J.J.’s from high school, Justice of the Peace Joe Dory.
Much to my surprise, J.J.’s family never knew how he died; they only knew that he died from wounds sustained in combat. I had the opportunity to tell them what a great soldier he had been and how he had died defending our perimeter and helping save the lives of the remaining 15 members of the platoon.
After this visit with the family we visited the gravesite and placed 101 st Airborne Division pins on the simple white cross atop J.J.’s grave. The family didn’t realize that Lloyd had used the nickname J.J. in Vietnam until just before our visit and couldn’t figure where he had got the nickname until we passed by Lloyd’s fathers grave. Just after his name were the letters J.J. Lloyd had taken his father’s nickname in a place where we all had gone by nicknames.
Once we had paid our respects at the cemetery Mr. Williams gave us a tour of Austin and allowed us to view the V.F.W. post which was named for Lloyd. It turns out that Lloyd was the only soldier from the area that lost his life Vietnam.
We, then dined with the family and Mr. Williams at Mr. Williams’ Café in the heart of Austin. Here we learned the history of the tribe and how they made their livings today. After lunch in Austin our group thanked the family and Mr. Ray Williams for an eventful visit and headed west to Reno. On the way back I reflected on what a treat it would have been if Lloyd had lived and could have actually joined us at the reunion since it was so close to his home..
My point in writing this article is if you are a combat veteran and lost friends in combat and have never visited the graves or the families please try to do so while there is still time. It will make the families feel good and certainly make you a better person for have done it.
Currahee! (Stands Alone)