SIDNEY — Christmas came a little bit early for Jerry Emert, of Sidney, this year. Emert, who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, recently received three medals acknowledging his service to the United States.
“I left in January 1960 for Vietnam,” said Emert. “I was part of the first aviation unit to hit the country. I was a gunner on an Ace 21 helicopter, which is a troop carrier. We’d fly South Vietnamese troops in and drop them in. When their mission was complete, we’d go back in and pick them up.”
Emert served one tour in Vietnam.
“A year of service was the norm over there,” said Emert. “They wanted me to stay, but I said ‘No thanks.’”
While his unit was leaving the country aboard Pan Am jets, their airplane was shot at.
“They didn’t hit us thankfully,” said Emert.
Emert said he was in the Shelby County Veterans Service Office one day to make an appointment with the Dayton VA.
“I asked Ed (Ball) if it was possible I was supposed to get a medal for serving in Vietnam,” said Emert. “He got on the computer and said I had earned more than that. So he submitted a request for me to get them.
“It was a nice Christmas present for sure,” he said. “No one can take my medals from me.”
Emert received the Armed Forces Expeditionary Service Medal; the 50th anniversary medal honoring Vietnam veterans; and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.
Emert enlisted in the Army when he was 17 1/2 years old on the advice of his SHS football coach.
“I went to the post office to the military recruiter and signed up,” said Emert. “I was a lineman in the military, but there was no need for me to climb a pole in Vietnam.”
His responsibilities, he said, were to keep the communication open to the airport.
“That was our main concern. We had to keep the airways open from the home base to the airport,” he said.
Admitting hehasn’t led the most exemplary life, Emert said he is a recovering alcoholic who hasn’t had a drink in more than 10 weeks.
“In April I got my last DUI,” said Emert. “When the judge asked me if I’d like to say anything, I said ‘thank you to the police officer who pulled me over.’ He saved me and other people.”
Instead of drinking, Emert goes to the Waffle House twice a day, where he gets into the “Jerry-zone” by drinking lots and lots of coffee.
He said his drinking problem started during his time in the Army when he and other soldiers were “drinking to try to forget” what was going on in Vietnam.
“When we were in country, we went to Saigon and that’s (drinking) what we did to forget the day,” said Emert.
“I’ve gone 10 weeks with no alcohol,” said Emert. “I deal with it on a daily basis. Today I know that I’m not going to have a drink.”
Five years, he said, is the longest period of his life that he has gone without alcohol.
A native of Sidney, Emert left Sidney in 1968 and moved to Chicago to work in the steel mills. He moved to Florida and lived there for 20 years.
“When my mother was dying of cancer, I came back to Chicago and spend the last six months with her,” said Emert. “I was going going back to Florida on the bus when it stopped in Sidney. I got off because I hadn’t been here in a while. I’ve been here since 1992.”
Emert said he would like to go back to Vietnam just to visit, especially the city of Saigon.
“I went with the Vets to D.C. to see the Wall,” said Emert. “It was a different feeling for me to have seen the wall there. The wall is permanent. I had seen the Visiting Wall when it was at Custenborder Field.”
When he visited the Wall, he found the names of the pilots that his unit lost in Vietnam.
“I am very honored to receive these medals,” said Emert. “I’d like to thank Ed Ball because he got the ball rolling for me to receive them.”