Lee County's Jimmy Tidwell, 63, is proud of his 25 years in law enforcement. Tidwell is also proud of his two years in the Army, his service in Vietnam and the Purple Heart he was awarded while on a reconnaissance mission in Vietnam in 2001.
Tidwell spent two days last week in Madison, Wis., at a special reunion for the Army 4th Battalion, 3rd Infantry, the 11th Brigade and the 23rd Infantry Division.
"It was a special time of education, remembrance, healing and comradeship," Tidwell said. "Real memories — good and bad — came flooding back during this emotional time with a group of men I'd shared tents and foxholes with in Vietnam. Our last time together was so different and a lifetime away from the reality of today's world."
Tidwell said his perception and the nation's perception of Vietnam have changed significantly since he returned home 43 years ago.
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"I have now come a long way towards filling in the gaps that I had moved to the back of my mind," he said. "On many occasions over the years, I questioned myself, as to how I remembered those times. Had I remembered them correctly? But now I'm at ease. My recollections were correct after all. These things really did happen to me, and I was perhaps part of something, that for some small period of time, changed the world."
Tidwell said the veterans spent time thinking of their fellow soldiers who didn't make it home and those who have died since the war.
Tidwell said Vietnam veterans are now able to think of themselves as part of an effort to preserve freedom for family, friends and fellow Americans.
"Our experiences in Vietnam took an emotional and psychological toll that was furthered by mistreatment and an unwelcome homecoming," he said.
"There were no parades, awards or even a simple 'thank you' from the American people — only anti-war protesters. Not surprisingly, many veterans felt their service to their country went unrecognized and unappreciated."
Tidwell spent his time in Vietnam walking the mountains and jungles as part of a six-man team operating along the Laotian border.
"Most of the missions were performed beyond the range of the American artillery," he said. "Air strikes and gun ships were not available during the monsoon season and could not see into the jungle canopy for support. All of the missions were helicopter insertions. The missions would typically be three to seven days without any supply."
Tidwell has a vivid memory of his final mission on Feb. 16, 1971. He and his company of 18 walked into an ambush, injuring Tidwell and seven others.
"I remember it like it was yesterday," he said. "I also remember being shot at as the helicopter flew out of the jungle. God was with me on that day and during my time in Vietnam. I am thankful to this day."
He spent 10 months at Walter Reed Army Medical Center followed by an additional two months at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center at Fort Gordon, Ga.
Today, Tidwell is already looking at going back for a second reunion in 2015.
A Lee County native, Tidwell worked with the state Department of Natural Resources as a game warden and law enforcement officer for 25 years before retiring in 2006. He served as a DNR supervisor in Lee, Darlington, Chesterfield, Marlboro, Kershaw, Fairfield and Chesterfield counties for four years.
He won several awards at the local and state levels, including the Lee County Law Enforcement Officer of the Year and the Lee County Optimist Club's Officer of the Year. He was named DNR officer of the year four times.