Recently, Jerry Allen of Kingsport was presented his well-deserved Quilt of Valor at a luncheon. A native of Knoxville, Jerry attended East Tennessee State University and then the University of Tennessee where both offered outstanding ROTC programs.
“I had an uncle who became an aide-de-camp to General George Patton so I became very interested in history and how our military had conducted operations around the world,” Jerry explained. “I vividly remember photos of our service members carrying helmets and guns in the snow. It made a lasting impression on me.”
Commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army after graduation from the University of Tennessee, Jerry soon found himself in the Republic of South Korea. Being well-known for his marksmanship, Jerry was assigned to the 8th Army Marksmanship Unit as the officer in charge of battle positions along the DMZ. “The weather was so cold in Korea, we had to wear insulated Arctic pants to shoot in,” Jerry continued.
After his service in South Korea, Jerry returned to the States, furthered his military career, and was promoted to captain just before he did his first tour of duty in Vietnam. The Vietnam War was not a popular one but Jerry did what his country asked him to do. Jerry saw action in some of the most hostile areas of Vietnam with “The Big Red One,” which is the Army’s 1st Infantry Division. While in Vietnam, Jerry took part in search and destroy ops in The Elephant’s Ear and Parrot’s Beak sectors. With helicopter blades beating the air into submission and at an elevation of about six feet, Jerry’s unit approached the LZ or landing zones and “hit the ground running.”
“We did a pretty good job of putting the Viet Cong out of commission,” he continued. They even captured enough bicycles so that all 800 men in the battalion had a bicycle to use. While in the Rung Sat Zone also known as the “Forest of Assassins,” the job of the Big Red One was to keep the area free of munitions which were made back in the forest and swamps. “We’d light up the sky when those sampans started hauling munitions out of that area,” Jerry added.
Once that tour of duty was over, Jerry returned to the States as an ROTC instructor at Worchester Polytechnic Institute in Worchester, Massachusetts. There he taught basic military tactics and applied the knowledge that he’d gained as a Company Commander in Vietnam. While here Jerry was also assigned to the Notification of Next of Kin Team. Jerry, another officer, one enlisted service member, and a pastor or priest made the trip to the home of soldiers that had paid the ultimate sacrifice.
“It was the most difficult job that I had in the military,” Jerry shared.
Jerry returned for his second and last tour of duty in Vietnam in 1969. He saw intense fighting once again in the search and destroy ops in which he participated. With his firebase almost being overrun twice, he began to think about a different career path once he returned to the States.
Receiving the Quilt of Valor was a complete surprise for Jerry. He thought he was going to his daughter Amy’s birthday party but then the quilt was presented and its history explained and he knew this was no ordinary celebration.
“This Quilt of Valor means a lot to me,” Jerry explained. “I didn’t feel like I deserved it because I began to think about the people in our battalion that had been killed. It was a humbling experience.”
The motto of the Big Red One is “No mission too difficult. No sacrifice too great. Duty first!” With Jerry Allen, who can now enjoy his Quilt of Valor on a snowy afternoon, perhaps he can be at ease under the stars and stripes which he so faithfully defended for us all.