ELKINS – Memorial Day holds a special place in the heart of every veteran. But for those who served side by side with those who made the ultimate sacrifice, the admiration for the traditional May Day runs much deeper.
“This Monday is indeed a special holiday,” said Vietnam veteran Jake Roberts. “Memorial Day is for those killed in action. It’s special, it means someone we knew made the ultimate sacrifice.
Roberts, who for a three-year part (from 1966 to 1968), fought in the Vietnam War. He said he lost several buddies in the war and he will never forget who they are and the price they paid.
“I had quite a few friends who died in Vietnam and their names are on the wall in DC,” he said. “Randolph County had 23 deaths in Vietnam over a six or seven year period until we finally pulled the plug in 1973. I can count them all and tell you their names. They are not forgotten and we will honor these guys who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Including his 16½ years with the National Guard, Roberts was in the military for a total of 20½ years. During his time in Vietnam, he was in the special forces where he mainly worked with weapons and demos.
“Uncle Sam decides where you go and what you’re going to do” said Roberts. “I happened to be a good shooter and I always liked that M-60 machine gun, he was a dandy. So I always wanted to be in the weapons section. messing around with demolition and it turned out that I liked big noises and blowing things up.
Roberts said he bounced back both while in Vietnam and when he first joined the military in 1964.
“It was spread out at first, we did a year in Vietnam and I came back to Fort Bragg and then when I went the second time, I was with the 11th Light Infantry Brigade as a sergeant of peloton”, said Roberts. “I started out as 11 Bravo, which is the basic infantry when I was in basic training. And I remember my old man telling me not to show off when I got to the field of Well, I finished second in the battalion behind another guy from Elkins who was a friend of mine, Mike Zirbs. Mike shot perfectly twice and he got the best gun in the battalion award.
Roberts said he and Zirbs have been friends since he was Roberts’ catcher in Babe Ruth League baseball. They both started out as conscripts and were sent to Fort Carson, Colorado.
“I hated this place (Fort Carson) because it was so cold, and I hate the cold,” said Roberts. “So when they asked for volunteers for Jump School, I put my hand up. So when I finished the base, I went to Fort Bennington, Georgia, to the parachute school and went there. stayed for three weeks While I was at Fort Bennington one of the drill instructors told me he didn’t think my skinny butt was worth shit when I got there but he said that he knew i was going to be pretty good when he found out i was from west virginia he then asked me if i had ever thought of special forces and i said yes because my cousin did So naturally, I ended up going to Fort Bragg (North Carolina) and went through that.
He said of the 127 personnel who started at Fort Bragg, only 14 made it, including three from West Virginia.
Roberts is one of the original members of the local Vietnam Veterans chapter. He was president of Chapter 812 until this year, when he swapped places with another veteran. He is now vice president of the organization, which hosts a food basket every Thanksgiving to help feed those less fortunate.
In previous years, Roberts said the organization had given away as many as 273 baskets in one of its last basket distributions.
“In 1987, a friend of mine, Richard Doyle, wanted to start a local chapter of VVA”, he called back. “So we went out and recruited enough members to launch it. So it’s been around for 35 years and I’ve been a member since the beginning.
Roberts said nothing feels better than helping people who might go without a Thanksgiving dinner, not for Chapter 812.
“We fundraise all year round so we can help people at Thanksgiving,” he said. “My son helped me for a year and after seeing the difference we could make for a few people, he told me now he knows why I did it.”
Roberts said he is grateful for all that God has given him over the years and hopes everyone can take some time out on Monday and honor those who have been lost serving their country.
“God has been terribly good to me” said Roberts. “I’ve had a good life for an old man who is coming to 77. All in all it was a good race and I thank God I’m still here. I could have been killed many times and been injured three times, but I’m still here and I guess God had other plans for me.
The American Legion Post 29, of which Roberts has been a member since 1988, will hold its annual Memorial Day observance at the All-Veterans Memorial in Elkins on Monday at 11 a.m. The event will feature guest speakers, the laying of wreaths and other tributes.