Above is the picture that was on the front page of the Sept 3, 2000 edition of the Olean Times Herald. The article follows:
The ties of brotherhood
By John T. Eberth
The Times Herald
Bradley Jimerson is the chosen protector of the honor, hopes and dreams of the 132 men he fought and suffered with in Vietnam.
All are veterans of Company B, 501st Infantry, of the 101st Airborne Division. Many didn’t survive.
The bonds Company B formed 32 years ago from the muck of Vietnam and their own sweat and blood still bind them together.
In June, during Company B’s reunion at Fort Campbell, Ky., fellow Company B veteran Dennis Wells entrusted Mr. Jimerson with a Traveling Eagle Staff. Mr. Jimerson will carry the staff for one year. At Company B’s next reunion it will move to another.
“The staff represents these special warriors, living and dead, of Company B,” Mr. Wells said. “This staff will travel with us, until the last man from Company B is dead.”
For thousands of years on this continent, eagle staffs served as testaments to the bravery and sacrifice of Native American warriors. They were the first flags flown over North America.
Company B’s Traveling Eagle Staff is unique because it represents men of many races and traditions, black, brown, red, and white.
Mr. Wells is a Dakota living in Minnesota. Mr. Jimerson is Seneca and lives in Steamburg. Mr. Wells said he chose Mr. Jimerson to carry the staff, not because he’s a fellow Native American, but because of what he’s done for Company B.
Beginning in 1985, Mr. Jimerson began searching for other Company B members. He’s found 80. Every year they gather to embrace their unique brotherhood. They open old wounds to heal each others’ hearts and minds.
Forgetting didn’t work. Both Mr. Wells and Mr. Jimerson tried.
When they turned their minds from the carnage, the memories remained fresh and jagged. Those edges only dulled when they confronted their memories and turned them over and over in their minds, wearing them smooth through use.
“I didn’t even talk about it until 1980. There just wasn’t anybody out there who could understand,” Mr. Wells said. “Unless you get together with that crew of guys you were in combat with, the guys you saved and who saved you, you really have no one to talk to, they just can’t understand.”
The first Company B reunion was held in 1988. A handful of vets attended. June’s reunion was not only packed with Company B’s survivors but the families as well.
“Through all these years, most of these guys had been trying to forget about it. Some have put barbed wire in front of themselves, to protect themselves, and they can’t get past it. They’re trapped,” Mr. Jimerson said. “A lot of us were hurting, just hurting all those years alone. We had no one who could understand.”
That’s why Mr. Jimerson searched for fellow members of Company B. They were the only people who could help him heal and the people he most wanted to help in return.
In and out of the Army, Mr. Jimerson and Mr. Wells dedicated themselves to the well-being of Company B. Both were M-60 machine gunners, charged with protecting the members of their platoons.
The machine gun’s high rate of fire and heavy caliber kept enemies’ heads down.
“A lot of times when our medics ran out to get our wounded guys, it was machine gunners like Brad and I who gave them covering fire. When they went forward, we went forward,” Mr. Wells said.
Mr. Wells said he dedicated the Traveling Eagle Staff to Company B to continue the healing work Mr. Jimerson’s reunions began.
“The eagle staff came to me,” Mr. Wells said. “It was created by a family I had helped. It was created so we’ll never forget the ones that were left behind. I don’t think that a day goes by when we don’t remember the ones that went on.”
The staff is wrapped in blue, the color of the infantry. Yellow and red yarn circle the staff and tie eagle feathers to it. A four-spoked medicine wheel at one end of the staff is wrapped in the same colors with the addition of green for the Airborne’s uniforms.
Each spoke of the wheel represents the four directions of the earth and the different types of man.
“In the center, where it crosses, that’s were everybody comes together, where all our blood is the same,” Mr. Wells said. “The reason I made it a traveling staff is so that each of the boys can take it home with them to their families and communities.
“This way it will travel around the country. With that eagle staff, whoever has it knows there are other veterans out there with the very same stories they carry inside themselves.”
For now Company B’s Traveling Eagle Staff occupies a space of honor in Mr. Jimerson’s Steamburg home. In July, he carried it in a parade during the North American Iroquois Veterans Association Pow Wow.
Mr. Wells is department commander for the Military Order of the Purple Heart in Minnesota. He counsels more than 500 Minnesota veterans who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. All were wounded in combat. Most of Company B received Purple Hearts, some posthumously.
Mr. Wells was wounded twice during his tour in 1968-1969. He was nearby March 13, 1968, when shrapnel sliced through Mr. Jimerson’s left eye and lodged in his brain. The hot shard took Mr. Jimerson’s eye and 20 years of memories. He had to learn how to walk and talk again. Still, Vietnam stayed with him.
In March of 1968, Company B was assigned to Camp Eagle near the city of Hue in central Vietnam. Hue had been taken by the South Vietnamese Army during the Jan. 31, 1968, Tet Offensive. Marines had to assault the city to wrest if from enemy control.
Little more than a month later, Mr. Jimerson and Mr. Wells were patrolling villages that dotted the countryside around Hue.
“Our point man had just gone across a bridge over a stream near the village and the ground just began exploding underneath us. It was an ambush,” Mr. Jimerson said.
His platoon, already crossing the bridge, pushed for the safety of the village, fighting all the way.
“I got down to my last 100 rounds for the machine gun. We made a perimeter and collected the weapons of the wounded and the dead and placed them in a hut. I was given an M-16 and ammo, because I was so low on ammo for the machine gun,” Mr. Jimerson said. “Just then, Roy Jackson, my machine gunner’s assistant, said something to me and as I turned around it was like someone took a picture with a flashbulb. That was the beginning of the mortar exploding. I didn’t hear anything because I’d already been hit. It was like being in a quiet, dark cave.”
If he hadn’t turned his head, the shrapnel would have cut through the center of his brain.
“Someone was looking out for me,” he said. “The shrapnel was red hot, it sealed it’s trail. I didn’t have any bleeding. I think the heat was what was taking things away from me, my memories of the past.”
Ten days later, Mr. Wells was wounded for the second and last time during his tour of duty.
Both plan to continue helping fellow vets.
“At first we said: ‘Where was God when we were dying and in pain?’ But now we’re learning that God was there all the time, he was in us and in everyone who was there with us,” Mr. Jimerson said.
Mr. Jimerson is a member of the North American Iroquois Veterans Association and of Point Man Ministries, an organization dedicated to helping vets. Any troubled vet can call Point Man Ministries 24-hours a day at 1-800-877-VETS. A Point Man Minister like Mr. Jimerson will come to help.
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