“I did what a soldier does,” said U.S. Army Vietnam War veteran Jerry Vodicka who now resides at the state Department of Veterans Affairs' Southwest Louisiana Veterans Home in Jennings.
Born in Slovakia on June 2, 1937, he was of three children born to Vera, a single mother who worked as a housekeeper to keep food on the table for Jerry and his two sisters.
Slovakia, officially the Slovak Republic, is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is bordered by Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east, Hungary to the south, Austria to the west, and the Czech Republic to the northwest.
When Vodicka was a child, there was a lot of unrest and poverty in his home country. At the age of 21, he joined the U.S. Army in Germany. “The borders were closed,” recalls Vodicka. “It was a communist country. I did what I needed to do.”
He was initially sent to Fort Jackson in South Carolina in order to attend language school. Vodicka would then move quickly through basic training, advanced individual training, infantry school, and was immediately sent to Korea.
“I did what a soldier does,” he said nonchalantly. “My whole unit was nothing but a bunch of foreigners. Many escaped Hungary by joining the military.”
Vodicka did not mind the military lifestyle, but did miss his family. “I did not get to visit my family until they opened the borders.”
“I had one condition when they wanted to send me to Vietnam,” said Vodicka. “I go to Vietnam as American citizen – no questions asked.” He was adamant with the military judge who was reviewing his file. “Judge said yes so I go to Vietnam.”
Vodicka would do two combat tours with the 101st Airborne Division who were a specialized modular light infantry division of the U.S. Army trained for air assault operations.
For his dedicated service, this Soldier earned the following awards and decorations: National Defense Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal with ’60 device, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm, Combat Infantryman Badge, Amy of Occupation Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal (6th award).
Vodicka would also win another high distinction while stationed in Germany. He caught the eye of a young woman named Barbara. The two married, raised three children together as a military family until he retired, and would share over 55 years of marriage.
One of Vodicka’s daughters found the veterans home in Jennings when he needed help getting around, and he’s been a resident for a little over four months now.
“It’s alright,” he said of his new home. “I’m not a very sociable guy. I like being by myself. I do not like to depend on no one. But, I try to be active and I can do that here.”
Vodicka believes everyone should join the military at some point in their lives.
“It would keep them out of trouble, change their lives 90 percent for the better, and change their attitude towards other people,” Vodicka said.