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Soldier ‘luckiest person’ after Vietnam

Jim Quirk age 20

Jim Quirk, age 20

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Updated: August 22, 2014 6:13AM



CROWN POINT — When 20-year-old Jim Quirk was drafted into the Army on May 2, 1967, he felt fairly prepared and informed on the realities of war. He had spent some time in junior college and had heard many war stories from his father and five uncles — all Purple Heart recipients during World War II.

What the Harvey, Ill., native was less prepared for was the treatment he and his fellow servicemen received upon coming home. “When I was drafted in ’67 it wasn’t as unpopular as it became later,” he said of the Vietnam War. “I think the general opinion was that we were doing the right thing.”

After basic training at Fort Leonardwood, Mo., and Advanced Individual Training in Fort Polk, La., Quirk headed to Fort Benning, Ga., for non-commissioned officer school. “Everybody considers the NCOs the backbone of the military. At least the NCOs do,” Quirk said, explaining the position was created during Vietnam because of the high fatality rate among commissioned officers.

Privates, specialists and corporals ended up doing the impromptu map reading and tactical planning necessary to run things, and the NCO program was born. Quirk began his first four weeks after NCO School as a buck sergeant for the Americal Division, 11th Light Infantry Brigade, 3rd Infantry Regiment, also known as The Old Guard, the oldest American military unit, dating back to the Revolutionary War.

Then his first lieutenant was wounded and the platoon sergeant became the platoon lieutenant. That platoon lieutenant was killed and Quirk spent the last nine months of his tour alternating between platoon lieutenant and platoon sergeant, never being injured.

“I was in the field almost the entire year and I’m one of the few people that doesn’t at least have a Purple Heart. I didn’t get a scratch. I’m the luckiest person you’ve ever met.”

That luck didn’t extend to the attitudes he and his fellow veterans returned to stateside.

“I know guys who are still disturbed by how they were treated,” Quirk said.

Those experiences have led him to passionate opinions about veterans and how they are treated by the country they served.

“My basic opinion of the whole thing is that if we send people to war, we’re all part of it,” he said. “They treated the boys like crap when we got back.”

Like many Vietnam veterans, Quirk hasn’t kept in contact with anyone he served with directly, explaining that the transience of the war with troops and leadership constantly cycling in and out, didn’t lend itself to lifelong friendships.

“Unless you were with people a long time you didn’t become friends,” he said.

Instead, he has formed connections through many service groups after returning home, most of them veterans groups. He is a charter member of the Knights of Columbus of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Lake Eliza, a member of Hobart VFW Post 5365 and a charter member of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 905 of Porter County.

Fellow Chapter 905 member Butch Dennis of Valparaiso said the VVA and its fraternity have been a godsend to help like-minded men and women like he and Quirk navigate their post-Vietnam lives.

“VVA deals with our issues. That’s what we were looking for and didn’t know it,” Dennis said.

Quirk received a bachelor’s degree in business from Governors State University and worked as the purchasing manager for Swenson Process Equipment in Harvey for 28 years. He received his real estate license in 2002 and particularly likes working with young, first-time homebuyers. “I think it keeps me young,” he said.

Quirk survived prostate and colon cancer in 2004. His doctor linked the prostate cancer directly to Agent Orange exposure. He and his wife of 40 years, Kris, have three children, Lauren, 33, Colleen, 27, and Randall, 25.



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