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Local Hero who (almost) gave his all

Jimmy Hendricks earned a fistful of medals during the Vietnam War

by Carol Stevens

GARDNER- ­ When you think of Jimmy Hendrix, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Of course, it’s the famed musician. Hendrix was a milestone among American youth with his guitar playing during the 1960’s.  While Hendrix was capturing the era with his rendition of our nation’s anthem, another Hendricks was at war for our nation.  Huerfano County resident Jimmy Hendricks is a decorated Vietnam War veteran.  Hendricks enlisted into the Army and was sent overseas to fight a war nobody believed in.  Both Hendricks and Hendrix served on battlegrounds, making their marks, but Jimmy Hendricks was fighting for his life.

    Hendricks was a teenaged boy fresh out of high school when he got in trouble with the law.  The judge gave Hendricks a choice: jail or the Army.  In September 1961, Hendricks chose the Army.  As a young man from Houston, Texas, he was flown to Fort Carson for basic training.  The Army was a perfect fit for Hendricks, and he excelled quickly from the start.  In June 1962, he was promoted to Private First Class (E3), September 1963 to Specialist Four (E4), June 1964 to Specialist Five (E5), March 1966 to Sergeant (E5), November 1966 to Staff Sergeant (E6), then June 1978 to Master Sergeant (E8).  On December 3, 1975, Hendricks received six letters of recommendation for the promotion to Master Sergeant.  He completed two tours in Vietnam: 1965-1966 with the 173rd Airborne and 1970-1971 with the 101st Airborne, of which he is a life member.

    Hendricks received 15 medals and over 30 letters of commendation in the 23 years he was with the Army.  He received a Certificate of Achievement, United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, on July 10, 1966, for the period of August 1965 through July 1966.  This was for an exceptional degree of professional competence and devotion to duty in support of the Republic of Vietnam’s struggle against the oppression of world-wide communism. The certificate was signed by W.C. Westmoreland, Commanding General for everyone stationed in Vietnam.

    Hendricks has received the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service with Oak Leaf Cluster, Army Commendation Medal, Purple Heart, Good Conduct Awards 7th Award, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Army Occupation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, NCO Professional Development Ribbon “3”, Overseas Service Ribbon, Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm, Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm Unit Citation, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, and Expert Badge Rifle M-16.  Hendricks received the Army Commendation Medal on August 10, 1970 for exceptional meritorious achievement in support of military operations against communist aggression.  He received the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart on August 14, 1970 for actions taken during an attack from enemy sapper force.

    On April 22, 1970, Hendricks distinguished himself while serving as a platoon sergeant during combat operations in Thua Thien Province in the Republic of Vietnam.  Hendricks’ unit came under attack while set up in a night defensive position. When soldiers were wounded by an enemy satchel charge, Hendricks rushed through intense hostile fire to their position and defended until medical aid and reinforcements arrived.  When personnel at an adjoining position were wounded by grenade fire, Hendricks again braved enemy fire and defended that position until support arrived.  During the conflict, Hendricks was severely wounded by enemy mortar fire.  Despite his wounds, he remained at his position and refused medical aid until the attack was over.  Hendricks was hit six times between grenade and rifle fire, including a frag wound to his mouth.  A bullet shot through his chest, and out his back, narrowly missing his heart.  After a while, Hendricks passed out from his wounds.  Army personnel thought he was dead and placed him in a “tarp” (body bag).  A few hours later, Hendricks woke up and immediately realized that he was placed in a dead pile.  He had put bodies in those “tarps” before, so he knew.  He said that he made sure everyone there knew he was alive under a pile of dead bodies.

    Hendricks has received certificates of training for Ground Surveillance Radar, Military Intelligence School, Chemical Biological Radiological, and 7th Infantry Division Electronic Warfare. He also was on special assignment with the Nuclear Surety Program for six years, which involved authenticating and releasing nuclear weapons.  In 1962, Hendricks was sent to Berlin, Germany at the time the Berlin Wall was being built.

    He says it has been an adventure being in the military.  His best Army memories involved world travel, people he met, places he’s seen and the camaraderie.  His worst memory was being in the pile of dead bodies.

    Hendricks also received the Buffalo Chip Award, while stationed at Fort Carson.  He explained this award was considered a joke.  Hendricks had stopped to pick up a pilot whose plane had run out of gas.  The pilot landed the plane on a two-lane country road, and Hendricks picked up the stranded pilot.  This deed made Hendricks late, hence the award.

    Hendricks retired from the Army in Fort Ord, California, October 5, 1984 and received the Army Achievement Medal.  After the Army, Hendricks stayed in California and drove a truck for five years.  That’s where he met Joe Faris. Hendricks was fresh from a divorce and wanted to get away.  He visited Huerfano County, and Nick Faris showed him properties for sale.  Hendricks purchased property and moved to Huerfano County in 1992.  He became the Ag Manager/ranch hand at Wolf Springs Ranch.  He stayed at the ranch for 13 years before retiring from that position.  He has two children, Thomas and Yvette, who still reside in California, with Hendricks’ six grandchildren.  Hendricks now enjoys a simple life with his wife Judy of 10 years.  His days are spent fishing, playing card games and dominoes.  He collects ball caps, coins, knives and music albums.  He is also an avid Broncos and Rockies fan.

    Hendricks sees both the Vietnam and Iraq Wars as a waste.  He said, “With all the politics involved in the military, it screws things up.  If the military was run by the military, Vietnam would have been over in five years, and Iraq would have never started or would have been over right away.  It’s the political bull crap that gets young men killed.”

    On advice for kids today, Hendricks commented, “It’s a great place to start.  Nobody says you have to stay 23 years.  I see no downside for any boy or girl spending two or three years in the military.  It gets you away from home and your hometown environment.  It gives you a chance to see the world and how the rest of the world lives, and just gives you a great appreciation where you come from, what you have and what other people don’t have.  It’s a win-win situation.” Hendricks wishes the government would bring back the draft.

    “It was all good.” says Hendricks.  “The military is great.  That was my saving grace.  I wasn’t in trouble bad enough to go to jail, but he [the judge] said that I was on the way.  I had  just graduated from high school and had no intentions of staying in the military.  But after basic training at Fort Carson, I went to Germany for three years.  It teaches discipline and regimentation.  My best times, my worst times, it was all good, even the two years in Vietnam.  There were bad times and there were good times. I would do it all over again. I would encourage anybody that can.  You can get a college education on the GI bill after two or three years in the military.  If you want to do it, you can do it.  It just takes a little bit of effort to raise your right hand.”

    Hendricks keeps an album with all the letters, achievements, awards and certification for his medals in it.  He has inscribed the words “Deeds not words” inside this album.  Jimmy Hendricks’ life has been just that… deeds not words.

    Reporter’s note: Although I’ve personally known Jimmy Hendricks for some time now, getting to know him through this story has made his friendship all the more special.  I would like to personally thank Jim for his bravery and service, while stationed over in Vietnam …  fighting a war nobody believed in … I salute you.