Vietnam veteran getting the recognition he never received

When military members returned from the Vietnam War, many were met with hostility by fellow Americans. While the past can’t be changed, Freedom Honor Flight is hoping to show these veterans just how their service to our country is appreciated.

One of the veterans onboard Saturday’s Freedom Honor Flight will be a Marine Corps veteran from Tomah. At 17 years old, Jerry Nelson made the decision to follow in his father’s footsteps.

“I dropped out of high school and joined the Marine Corps,” said Jerry Nelson, a retired corporal.

As soon as he turned 18, he was sent to Vietnam, where reality set in.

“We didn’t know exactly how bad it was getting,” Jerry Nelson said.

Just a few months into his deployment, he rushed into a machine gun bunker and saved the lives of two men while recovering the bodies of two others.

“I just done what anybody would do. I got them out of there and destroyed it. Anybody would have done that,” Jerry Nelson said.

He was awarded the Bronze Star for his heroism. A few months later, he was shot in the leg and put in a unit tasked with winning over the Vietnamese people.

“It didn’t work,” Jerry Nelson.

When he returned in March 1969, he was met with protests at the airport.

“I knew who my enemy was over there and I didn’t know who they were here in the states,” Jerry Nelson said.

Nearly 40 years after he retired from the military, a friend encouraged him to apply for the Freedom Honor Flight. But he completely forgot that he had sent in the paperwork.

“We figured well, they still had World War II veterans and they had Korean veterans and they were getting older and they were going to take those before they got to the Vietnam veterans,” said Kathy Nelson, Jerry’s wife.

It’s been two years since he sent in the application.

“One day it came in the mail,” Jerry Nelson said.

He would be going on the round-trip flight to Washington, D.C.

“I told him to make sure he gets plenty of pictures,” Kathy Nelson said.

Jerry is ready to see the monuments recognizing those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

“Even though, all the names, you know, on the wall, I don’t remember none of them. None whatsoever. And that’s a shame, too, because those were good men,” he said.

His wife hopes he finds healing.

“From the camaraderie, he’ll get from the other vets,” Kathy Nelson said. “And also from seeing the monuments and knowing that the American people as a whole, I think, have learned something.”

While it can never change how he was received, they’re both excited to have him create new memories side by side others who weren’t welcomed home.

‘I’m glad that they selected me to go. And I hope I do them right by going,” Jerry Nelson said.