WINCHESTER, Ky. (FOX 56) — Veterans Day gives everyone a chance to celebrate America’s heroes, and many are the very friends and neighbors of local communities throughout the Bluegrass. There are few who know the value of Veterans Day better than Winchester’s Jerry Cecil.
“You know it’s probably a little more important than national pizza day or national love your dog day,” Cecil told FOX 56.
His home is a practical museum cataloging decades of honor and service. From hand-painted, wooden trinkets from his time at West Point, and dozens of photographs, to honorable gifts he has received along the way, such as a pair of swords hanging on the wall he received after a speaking engagement.
LATEST KENTUCKY NEWS:
“I retired as an Army colonel. I was infantry airborne ranger and I’ve had three overseas deployments to Vietnam Korea and Panama in my total of 31 years of service,” Cecil said.
Cecil enrolled in the West Point Military Academy immediately after high school. He later graduated in 1966, and soon joined the Army’s so-called “tip of the spear,” becoming an Army Ranger with the 173rd Airborne.
“I went to Airborne school, jumped out of airplanes at Fort Benning, and went to ranger school, and then I volunteered to go to Vietnam as soon as I could,” he said.
Cecil said he was “fired up” about going. At the time he was a 2nd Lieutenant of Infantry with the responsibility of fellow soldiers’ lives in the hands of his leadership.
“Everybody given the right circumstances will do what needs to be done because, you know, the adrenaline rush, the confidence in your training, the confidence in the guy on your left and your right, and when you get in combat, that’s who you rely on. Forget motherhood and apple pie, that’s too far, that’s too abstract at this point,” he said.
The stories he can share could fill a bookshelf. While sorting through photos, Cecil remarked on one capturing him and his unit boarding a military helicopter in Vietnam.
“We were rushing to go to another place we were leaving one firefight to go to a better one,” he said.
Veterans Day is also the anniversary of when Cecil earned a purple heart when he and a fellow soldier were almost killed in a surprise attack.
“We’d run back and got into a clump of bamboo, and a sniper was in a tree above us and dropped a grenade between us and we pushed each other away and I got in the right hip and he got it in the left hip,” Cecil said.
LATEST KENTUCKY NEWS:
To Cecil, the reason he spent decades putting his life on the line comes back to a fundamental philosophy he holds about laying a brick for the country for his generation. A lesson he wants to pass on.
“The whole notion of doing something bigger than yourself, to kind of give back to the country early in your life, pays rewards down the road because you have been riding in the wagon up to the time you were 18 years old and so now its your turn to get out and pull the wagon,” Cecil said.
Cecil said to him Veterans Day is about celebrating the generations of Americans making sacrifices for their country; be it the small ones made at home or making the ultimate sacrifice overseas. It’s a celebration he shares to this day with his brothers-in-arms.
“You create a bond in this crucible of terror or fire that is much stronger than your high school class reunion your Sunday school group, your football team, or whatever because it was forged in a crucible of terror,” he said.
Following his time overseas, Cecil returned as an instructor at Fort Benning and later became a historian. He said he frequently keeps in touch with his fellow soldiers and mentors many others at West Point.