By Jennifer Martin - email
"I was born and raised in south Mississippi and had only been once more than a 100 miles away in my life and when I got drafted and went into service, it was really a traumatic experience for a change. And when you arrived in Vietnam it was like you were in a different world," said Jerry Boutwell.
Boutwell, would be assigned to a recon unit in the Army's 501st Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
"Our basic job was to go out and find the enemy and report findings and then bigger units would be sent in to take care of it. Of course a lot of times that didn't work we wound up duking it out with them ourselves," Boutwell said.
"Vietnam was, especially for an infantryman, it was a vicious place. The environment, the insects. You had snakes. The mosquitos were just unbelievable at times. Not only from the environment. You had the constant fear, not knowing whether you're going to live from daylight to dark. At any given moment you could die," Boutwell added.
"We hunted them, they hunted us. You lost all feeling, you got to the point you learned how to suppress your feelings. You had to get to that point to survive," Boutwell said.
He remembers one night, when he was almost killed twice.
"We got ambushed right at dusk. We got hit from three different sides. The order was given to go out of the back. I stood up and just emptied my M16 in the direction of the incoming fire and just with that second or so before I turned to run. This guy pops up out of this irrigation ditch and point blank fires his AK47 and I'm standing there looking at this muzzle flash of this AK47 and thinking in that fraction of a second that I was dead. And the next thing I knew, I turned and was running back toward where the rest of the guys was. A limb or something just snatched my rucksack out of my hand and just as I stopped to turn and grab it back up a M79 grenade went off in a tree right above my head," Boutwell recalled.
It wasn't his only brush with death.
"As I looked down, there was grenade lying between my feet. The spoon was off and it was like, uh oh and there again it was in that fraction of a second 'I'm dead.' Because you know it was fixing to blow up and just blow you away. Before I realized what I was doing, I reached down, grabbed it and just threw it as far as I could throw it. But it was a dud. It never went off," Boutwell said.
After 53 weeks in-country, he returned to the states. His first stop on the way home was California.
"Of course in California, they would just about spit on you. People would call you names while you were walking through the airport and stuff like that," Boutwell added.
"The emotional part of it was really the most difficult thing to deal with. It was like you would... you would just drift off into your own little world, kind of withdraw into a shell. Go out drinking, stuff like that. Just try to ease it, get away from it. But there really was no way to get away from it," Boutwell said.
"Kind of got myself straightened out a little bit. Kind of realized, 'hey I got to go on with my life.' Several years later, got into church. And that's where I found the help that I needed. That was through church and coming to know the Lord," Boutwell said.
He been married 27 years to his wife Debra and he's written a book on his experiences in Vietnam.
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