No parade, no band, but Hargett finally gets the Purple Heart

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF
khelms@starhq.com

   When Jerry Mack Hargett flew into Oakland, Calif., from Vietnam in January 1968, there was no parade.
   "They told us to get out of the uniforms and put on civilian clothes because there were protesters at the airport. I said, 'Well, I guess the band's not going to be there.'"
   He can laugh it off now. But the hunk of shrapnel he took in the arm only five weeks after being in Vietnam was no laughing matter.
   Hargett, now 56, was a member of the 1st Squadron, 11th Army Cavalry, Black Horse Regiment. Last Monday he was presented the Purple Heart by Carter County Executive Dale Fair and Veterans Service Officer Randy Lingerfelt.
   According to Lingerfelt, Hargett was given the award for wounds received as a result of hostile action. "He was wounded on Feb. 24, 1967. It has taken us until now to get his Purple Heart to him. It was an honor for Mr. Fair, as the county mayor, to present Mr. Hargett with the Purple Heart for his service to our country."
   Hargett, 1335 Dry Creek Road, was 19 years old when he arrived in Vietnam in January 1967. He was wounded in a firefight with Viet Cong while in Phnom Penh.
   "It was right around dusk. We were walking on a trail through the jungle when we were ambushed," Hargett said.
   "I got a big piece of shrapnel in my arm and then they evacuated me to the 36th Evacuation Hospital," he said. "They kept me for a week or 10 days -- I can't remember now -- and then I went back to the unit."
   That was over 35 years ago, but to Hargett, "it doesn't seem like that long ago."
   Recently, he was going back through his military records and found that he was never issued the Purple Heart. It wasn't that he wanted the recognition. It was more a matter of "it helping things along when it comes to health enrollment at the VA," he said.
   Also, he thought he already had the award.
   "I did have a piece of paper stating the following awards were announced: 'Purple Heart for wounds received in action.' And my name was on that list.
   "So I always thought I had it, until recently when I went back through my records, I noticed on my DD 214 they had everything but the Purple Heart on there. I got to checking and they had never really issued or presented it to me."
   He checked with the Veterans Administration in Johnson City and with Lingerfelt in Elizabethton. "We got it rolling, and the next thing I knew, he [Lingerfelt] called and said it was there."
   Hargett was presented the plaque on Monday, however, he said, it will probably be six weeks before the actual medal arrives.
   Hargett said he was very appreciative of the help he received from Lingerfelt and from Jerry Campbell, president of Chapter 824, Vietnam Veterans of America.
   "There is a deal with Vietnam veterans," Lingerfelt said. "They were not welcome home. As a welcome-home gesture, Jerry Campbell paid for his membership for one year."
   Campbell, said Friday, "I just felt like it was a nice thing to do for him, to welcome him home after all this time."