WEBSTER COUNTY, KY (11/7/12) - For most 21 year olds, their biggest worry is where they’re going on a date this weekend or studying for college finals. When Providence resident James “Jimmy” Sigler was 21, it was a different story.
“I was drafted on January 21, 1964,” Sigler said. “I was twenty one years old.”
Sigler, a native of Shady Grove, Kentucky, was shipped to Fort Knox for basic training and then to Fort Riley, Kansas for Advanced Infantry Training with the 1st Infantry 16th Infantry Rangers. He was designated a machine gunner and issued a M60.
“It wasn’t that heavy, maybe 25 pounds,” he recalled. “But you’d get tired (packing it) all day!”
The 1st Infantry, the oldest unit in the United States military and often called The Big Red One, joined the Vietnam war in July of 1965. In five years the division had 6,146 killed in action and 16,019 wounded. Twenty of its number were taken as POWs.
“There’s some things I just don’t want to talk about,” Sigler said. “But what we did I don’t regret at all.”
Sigler arrived in Vietnam that July and went right into combat.
“We came to this river after we’d been in the jungle for three weeks without a bath,” Sigler said. “Word came down that we were going into our base camp to have steaks that night. About fifteen minutes later word came back down that we weren’t going in, another unit that had come to Vietnam later was going in. When they came through us, we talked to them pretty bad. They crossed the river and ran into a big ambush. A lot of them got killed. Some of them guys I had gone through basic with.”
Sigler, now a Baptist minister, said that during his time in the military he was not a Christian, so then he did things that he wouldn’t do now. Like one day he and a soldier he’d gone through basic with went on leave to a bar in Saigon.
“This old Vietnamese man came up behind us and offered to tell our fortune,” Sigler said. He told the man he wasn’t interested, but his friend agreed. “He told Jerry you’re from California, which he was; you’re a barber, which he was; and that you’re in love with a girl you plan to marry when you get home. But you’re not going home.”
Sigler said they laughed at the fortune teller, but a week later, with nineteen days left in Vietnam, his friend was killed.
During the World Series of 1965, when the Dodgers were playing the Twins, Sigler had smuggled a radio into the jungle. That was against regulations, but it quite possibly saved his life.
“The radio volume got real low, so the four or five of us listening to it got down on our hands and knees to listen,” Sigler said. “The moment my knees touched the ground a Veit Cong pulled the cord on a claymore mine. All that shrapnel went right over my head. If we hadn’t went down we’d have been tore up bad.”
“I did one tour,” he said. “They asked me to reup, but I told them in some bad language what they could do with it.”
Sigler’s tour of Vietnam lasted seven months. He said that when they arrived back in the United States, the welcome in California was not good. But when he got back here, it was a different story.
When his plane landed in Evansville, IN, he boarded a Greyhound for Providence. When the bus arrived at the bus station, his father, a farmer who was dirty from working in the field all day, tried to go on board, but the driver stopped him
“He said ‘my boy’s come home from Vietnam’ and the driver told him to come on,” Sigler recalled.
That, he said, was what he always remembered about returning from the war.
“I’d like to say to all the Veterans, God Bless you,” Sigler said. “I’ve always said, if you enjoy your freedom, thank God and then thank a veteran.”
He added that he counts World War Two and Korean Veterans as his heroes.
“I’d also like to say welcome home to all the Vietnam veterans,” Sigler said. “And the boys fighting for our freedom today, we should pray that they’ll get home safe and sound.”
J-E News Editor
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