LEESBURG, Ga. (WALB) - Each month, WALB and Montlick and Associates take time to recognize the military “Heroes Among Us.”
Jimmy L. Gardner grew up in Albany and joined the U.S. Marines after graduating high school in 1974 at age 18.
“(I) got stationed in North Carolina,” Gardner said. “From there, we left and went to Vietnam.”
Gardner said he saw some rough things while he was there, which still have an impact on him to this day.
“We were running up on the beach,” he said. “One of the guys got shot. I helped drag him up to cover. You found mangled bodies and stuff like that.”
Gardner recalled situations many Vietnam veterans won’t talk about to this day.
“See people don’t really know the reason why we had to shoot kids,” he explained. “I don’t know why people send their kids out there, but they had hand grenades around their neck, draped around their neck. And they were blowing some of us up by the kids coming running.”
He stayed in the military three years.
He was injured during a training in Okinawa, Japan, making the transition back into civilian life even more difficult.
While trying to cope, Gardner faced many struggles, including trying to get a job.
“When they hear that you went to Vietnam then, of course, a lot of jobs, they wouldn’t hire you on, and stuff like that, because they were afraid of you having post-traumatic stress, which we did,” he said.
He ended up back in Albany, having a tough time.
“I got a job. The job that I had was washing dishes,” Gardner explained.
A major turning point came when he committed his life to God.
“I started seeing things working easy, and I wasn’t getting upset so quickly,” he said.
He married his wife in 1977.
Soon after, they started a church which they have run ever since.
Now, Gardner uses his past experiences to talk to members of his church about violent crime in Albany.
“I’ll be saying to myself, they don’t really know what they’re doing, because once you take a life, you can’t give it back,” he said. “Then once you take a life, it haunts you for the rest of your life.”
He said he tries not to dwell on what happened while he served our country, but he aims to show appreciation for those making similar sacrifices now.
“I try to help appreciate the ones that went on after me,” he explained. “I don’t want them to fall into the realm that I was in, you know, being depressed.”
If you know a special military hero you want to nominate, click here.