ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - Each month, WALB and Montlick and Associates recognize the “Heroes Among Us.” We spotlight an active duty man or woman, a veteran or a fallen hero.
In this month’s installment of “Heroes Among Us,” we met Army veteran Larry Jackson, who grew up in Tifton. but now lives in Albany.
He was drafted in the early 1970s and got sent to Vietnam shortly after, when he was just 20 years old.
“I didn’t want to go to Vietnam, but when that letter came, I took off,” Jackson explained. “The only thing I can tell you is what they usually say: ‘war is hell.’”
Jackson was a helicopter mechanic in the Army, but they didn’t have the specific helicopters that he worked on there, so, he volunteered to be a door gunner.
That led to a “harrowing” experience that changed his life forever.
“They asked us to go look for tanks. They needed volunteers to go look for tanks, so we volunteered,” he said of himself and a pilot, Capt. Joseph Harris.
They were asked to replace another helicopter that was running low on fuel.
“We were headed down there to take their place when we were shot down,” Jackson said. “After the crash, I was probably 30 yards from the helicopter. I had to crawl to the helicopter. I couldn’t stand up...Pilot -- I thought was unconscious. I couldn’t get him out. He was trapped in the helicopter.”
Capt. Harris died in the crash. Another helicopter came to get them, but Jackson said he wasn’t ready to go.
“They lowered the basket for him to get out, and I told them, no I wouldn’t leave until they got Captain Harris out,” he explained.
Thanks to Jackson, Capt. Harris’s body made it back home.
Those actions led the U.S. to present Jackson with a Silver Star, the third highest military decoration for valor in combat in the U.S.
“Most soldiers will tell you they don’t deserve that medal,” Jackson explained. “I felt the same way. I was doing a job. I was told a job needed to be done, and we did our job. You don’t leave a fellow soldier behind.”
It wasn’t until years later that Jackson found out Capt. Harris was from Florida, not too far from his own hometown.
“Had he known I was from Tifton and had I known he was from Tallahassee, we might have talked a lot more,” he said.
Jackson did his research to find out where Capt. Harris was buried so he could pay his respects.
Now, every year on April 8, which is the anniversary of that crash, Jackson makes the trip from his home in Albany down to Tallahassee where Capt. Harris was laid to rest.
“A lot of his family has passed away, and there’s really nobody there to keep flowers on the grave,” he said.
Jackson said it’s not an obligation, but it’s something he’s honored to be able to do to keep the memory of a man who gave his life for our country alive, year after year.
“When you do have a chance to pay your respects, you do,” he explained. “You just have to go.”
Jackson also received two purple hearts for being injured in action.
If you know a special military hero you want to nominate, click here.