Jerry L. Cross
Specialist E-4
U. S. Army
Dates of Service: 07/23/1969 - 07/22/1971
Rifleman , 5th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division.
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Jerry was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, one of three sons of Lee Owen Cross and Norma Jean Cross. The family moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where Jerry grew up in a 1950s middle-class neighborhood. "The basic Ward-and-June-Cleaver type household and neighborhood," he remembers. "The home that we lived in was a new subdivision that had no trees. That's very vivid to me, especially in an area that was so hot." Many other children lived in the neighborhood. "Every house had at least one child, it seemed like," he recalls. His father was a salesman with Kraft Foods, but also worked in air conditioning and other jobs. Jerry played sports throughout his boyhood, and was a member of his high school baseball team. His father passed away in 1965. He graduated from Washington High School in 1967 and went to work in the grocery business. That same year he married, giving him a draft deferment for about two years. (He and his wife would have one son.) "Then in July of 1969 I got the manila envelope: `Greetings from Uncle Sam'," he remembers. After completing basic training and advanced individual training at Fort Lewis in Washington, he left for Vietnam on December 15, 1969 and arrived the next day at Bien Hoa Air Base. There his orders sent him to Company A, 1st Battalion (Mechanized), 5th Infantry, a unit with armored personnel carriers (APCs). The 1/5 was part of 25th Infantry Division, based in Chu Chi, in the IV Corps area of operations near Saigon. Jerry, who carried an M60 machine gun, thought that riding inside the protective steel of APCs would be safe; instead troops rode atop the vehicles. "If you were inside and hit a land mine your chances of survival were greatly diminished. So you sat on top which enabled you to become a target for snipers," he says. In May, the battalion, along with other units, opened another chapter of the war. "President Nixon sent us into Cambodia, and my gosh we took a beating over there," he remarks. Within three months his battalion lost 114 soldiers, with 1,259 wounded and four missing. He was wounded in the back of a leg in an ambush, but did not leave the battlefield. He was wounded again on June 4 in another ambush when a bullet grazed his forehead. It was his second Purple Heart. Meanwhile he received a "Dear John" letter that was "quite a shock. You're twelve thousand miles from home and you get a letter that says, `I don't want to be with you anymore. See you later,'" he recalls. As his tour continued, Jerry was reluctant to make friends with "new guys" because they became casualties so quickly. "You got tired of seeing them getting hurt or killed," he explains. Jerry settled into the routine of an infantry company--serving in the field for 30 days, then returning to Chu Chi for a three-day "stand down", a brief period of relaxation. He believes the news was censored, from observing television newsmen in the field. Once, he stood nearby as his sergeant explained to a network news team how brutal the fighting had been. "As the camera crew drove away we saw them throwing the film out of the camera. So it was obviously something that they weren't going to show the American public," he states. Jerry planned to visit Australia for his rest and recuperation week, but had to settle family issues in Phoenix, so he returned to his hometown for five days. Jerry spent the last few months of his Vietnam service as a truck driver, transporting ammunition to the field. He saw the Bob Hope USO show; in fact he helped sweep the area for mines before the entertainers arrived. "He made several stops while he was over there in some of the hardest combat zones. So my hat's always been off to him," Jerry recalls of the entertainer. In late November of 1970 Jerry completed his tour of duty and flew home. When he arrived in Vietnam he had weighed 180 pounds. When he came home he weighed 150 pounds. He served the rest of his service at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, and was discharged as an E4 on July 22, 1971. Jerry returned to his pre-army job in Phoenix, driving a forklift in a grocery warehouse. Two years later, seeking a cooler climate, he moved to Texas. "I really fell in love with East Texas," he said. He worked for Luby's Cafeteria in San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston, he finally settled near Conroe, a suburb of Houston, in 1982. On September 1, 1984 he married Brenda Langham, who had two daughters by a previous marriage. He now has one grandchild from his first marriage and five by Brenda's daughters. He went to work for the U.S. Postal Service in the mid-1980s and retired in 2011. Jerry says his sleep some nights are still interrupted by dreams of the war. Like many Vietnam veterans, he experienced unwelcome remarks and sneers from anti-war Americans. "I had people who I thought were friends ask me questions that they really shouldn't have asked," he says. "They would inquire if you had killed certain people or if you had done this. And really the veteran doesn't want to hear those kinds of questions. The only thing a veteran wants is just a welcome home salute, and that's pretty much all he wants." Jerry and Brenda now reside in Spring, Texas.