JEFFERSON — Sam Caruthers was drafted into the U.S. Army July 6, 1965. By October he was in Vietnam, and by the end of November, he was recuperating in a hospital from 14 gunshot wounds.
“Legs and sides, luckily no vital spots,” said Caruthers Monday morning as he waited outside the Jefferson Historical Society for the annual Veterans Day ceremony.
Caruthers, who served in the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, B (LV XRAY) Company, was wounded at the Battle of Ia Drang Valley, the first major battle between regulars of the U.S. Army and regulars of the People’s Army of Vietnam.
The Jefferson resident credits the work of medics and the training he received during the brief but intense boot camp experience for his survival. Many other American soldiers of that battle were not as fortunate. Of the 700 men in his battalion, 237 were lost. Of the 28 in his platoon, only 14 of them survived.
On Monday, Caruthers and several other Vietnam veterans from the area shared their experiences, both verbally and through artifacts, at the historical society. For the fifth year, the society hosted an exhibit of photographs, garments, medals and the basic necessities that the soldiers and sailors of America’s past five wars brought home with them.
Norma Waters, president of the historical society, said this year’s display includes a selection of medals awarded to the late Staff Sgt. Alexander Lewanlowski, who did not live in the area. His niece, Felicia Motras of Eagleville donated the medals, uniform and personal effects he carried with him during his World War II service.
Waters said the trend seems to be that relatives of the deceased World War II veterans want to donate the items rather than hang onto them as family heirlooms.
“They know we will use it and display it, rather than have it stay in some closet,” Waters said.
George Bah, a retired accountant and U.S. Navy veteran, pensively looked at the photographs and newspapers from World War II. He said he has many pictures from his service on the Vietnam Delta, but would be reluctant to share them in an exhibit like the historical society’s. Nearly 50 years after they were snapped, the photos still evoke strong emotions because many of the subjects died serving their country. He copes with the lingering emotions by volunteering with the Veterans Service Commission in Ashtabula.
Stanley Mericka served in Korea from 1951 to 1953, but is more interested in talking about the service of his grandson, Steven Hall, a second lieutenant who served in Iraq. Mericka loaned to the exhibit an American flag that flew in Iraq as well as photos and a ball cap signed by high-ranking military officials.
Waters said this year’s exhibit also includes photos of Nagasaki taken just two weeks after the atomic bomb fell on it. Numerous local newspapers that reported war news also are displayed. The headlines tell of both joyous homecomings and the news no parent of a serviceman wants to receive.
The exhibit will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today at the historical society, which is adjacent to Henderson Memorial Library on East Jefferson Street. Today is the last day for the exhibit, which is free.