Cpl. Jerry Johs: “You Can’t Blame Anyone – You Gotta Let It Go and Live Your Life”
Anyone fortunate enough to speak with Vietnam veteran and double leg amputee Cpl. Jerry Johs, is struck by his optimistic attitude and the level of positive energy that radiates from him. “I’m not bitter about what happened to me as a young man,” says Jerry. “I did what I was trained to do. You get hurt, you can’t blame anyone – you move on, you gotta let it go and live life. You don’t forget it, but you don’t let it eat you.”
From the time he was in 6th grade, Jerry knew he wanted to be a Marine. His father served in the Marine Corps from 1943-1945, after which he went on to help build the Hungry Horse Dam in the Rocky Mountains of northwest Montana. From there, Jerry’s father moved his family to Oregon to work on the Dalles Dam. “I graduated high school in Oregon in 1968 and went right into the Marine Corps,” Jerry recalls. “June 4th was graduation, and on June 7th, I went into the Corps.” He arrived in Da Nang, Vietnam, on February 28, 1969, and was assigned to Lima Company, 3rd Regiment, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division. “I went to land mine warfare and VC booby trap school,” he recalls. “I walked point all the time. I was a tunnel rat – you go down with a flashlight and your pack and you’ve got pounds of C4 sticks and blasting caps and cord. You don’t know how far it goes down, you crawl in there, you see anything, you shoot it.” Four months to the day after arriving in Vietnam, Jerry was out on patrol and recalls that, “there were a lot of weapons and explosives in this bunker we found.”
Caught in an 81mm Mortar booby trap, a blast claimed his entire left leg and his right leg from the knee down. Shrapnel from the explosion left him with nerve damage in his left arm. Jerry’s injuries took place about six weeks after his twin brother, also serving in Vietnam at the time, was shot. “He was sprayed by an AK-47,” Jerry says. “He survived and made it home, but some of the blood he got during his surgeries was tainted. He later came down with hepatitis C and died in ’92 at the age of 42.” After arriving back in the United States in July 1969, Jerry retired from the Marines. He took a year off, then went to work as a bookbinder for 10 years. Jerry first became aware of Semper Fi & America’s Fund when he met a representative of The Fund at a reunion of veterans sponsored by the 1st Marine Division Association, of which Jerry is President. He subsequently received assistance through the LCpl Parsons Welcome Home Fund for Vietnam Veterans, which provided him with home mortgage, specialized van assistance, and garage repair/modification so that he could turn part of his garage into a wheelchair accessible workshop.
“I didn’t even ask for help, they offered to help me,” Jerry says. “I can’t even believe what they did for us. It was fantastic. Initially, of course, the Fund was focused on all post-9/11 veterans, but at the reunion they said we have this program for Vietnam vets now. I think it’s great they know that Vietnam vets need assistance, too. It’s a great program.”
“If you’ve got any influence to be able to help another veteran, you should,” Jerry continues, “that’s how I look at it. If not, these people will be forgotten.” Now at the age of 71, Jerry shows no signs of slowing down. As the former President of the 1st Marine Division Association, he continues to be an active part of the organization — “We have almost 4,000 members.” He is also diligent about his daily gym workouts — “I’ve been doing that since I was 33. It’s a positive influence on everything you do: You work out your stress, your mind and body are connected, it all just feels 100% better.”
“Hey – I’m a double amputee from Vietnam, but I’m not mad at the world, I’m positive about life. I don’t feel like I missed out on anything. The ones I miss, though, are the ones that didn’t come home – they’re the heroes. The rest of us were doing our job.”