Vietnam veteran relies on faith in God for support
By Shelley Jones Post-Tribune correspondent August 10, 2014 10:46PM
Jayjack | Photo provided
Updated: September 12, 2014 6:05AM
SCHERERVILLE — Even on Christmas Eve in the depths of the Vietnamese jungle, Thomas Jayjack’s Catholic faith didn’t fail him.
Jayjack, of Schererville, said he had mentioned to his commander that he wanted to attend Christmas Mass. After hours slogging through the bush they came to a village and his commander summoned him to a hut.
“I walk in the grass hut. There were two pews, and behind the pews was an altar, and behind the altar were two Vietnamese nuns and a Vietnamese priest,” Jayjack said.
He listened to Christmas Eve Mass in French that day.
Like many of his contemporaries, the East Chicago native was drafted at age 19. It was January 1966, and Jayjack, a Roosevelt High School dropout, was working at Inland Steel. He reported for his physical, and on his way to the first room on the right where he was told he would be processed into the Army, was intercepted by a Marine Corps officer and directed into a different room.
“He said, ‘Son, congratulations, you’ve been inducted into the Marine Corps. Would you like a body bag or a rifle?’ ” Jayjack said.
Sent to the north of South Vietnam near the Demilitarized Zone, Jayjack said he received an unexpected visitor one night.
“I’m tired, I’m mad, I’m filthy and somebody’s calling my name, ‘Tommy, Tommy.’ And I’m thinking who’s calling my name?”
It turned out to be Jayjack’s former next-door neighbor, Donny Kish, who had managed to get civilian clearance to be on the front lines.
“My house was a cardboard floor with a poncho over the top and I had to share my C-rations with him for three days.”
Nothing ever became of the film shot by Kish, now a professional photographer in Canada, and Jayjack has an unusual memento of his service: the original tapes Kish mailed him 47 years later.
Nevertheless, he doesn’t need to watch them to relive the war. The nightmares that come with post-traumatic stress disorder haunt him still.
“I’ve been going to Catholic Mass for 47 years every day,” Jayjack said of his coping mechanism of choice. “I’m a big believer in the Blessed Mother.”
Upon discharge from the military Jayjack drifted from job to job for a bit before beginning a 33-year career with the Northern Indiana Public Service Company in June 1970. There, he started as a janitor, read meters, worked in gas operations for 15 years and finished his career reading meters in Hammond. Jayjack has remained a bachelor and when not travelling spends his retirement caring for his two aunts and an uncle, ages 92, 90 and 82, respectively.
He is a lifetime member of the Disabled American Veterans, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Marine Corps League and the American Legion. Jayjack feels the war was futile.
“When there’s 58,000 names on a wall, for what?” he said. “To give the country up. What was it all about then?”
“And they’re still using people today,” he said. “And who dies? It’s not the big shots who go. It’s the young, little guys.”
In the end it is his faith and his awards that keep him going.
“I got five medals,” Jayjack said, “my head, my two arms and my two legs.”