22 Veterans commit suicide in the United States every day. It’s a statistic that former Marine and Vietnam combat veteran Jack Ernest shared with 7News.
He has witnessed horrors of war and the struggles of coming home, but he’s used those experiences to turn his life into one of service to his fellow veterans.
“I would do it again, because I love this country,” Ernest said while reflecting on his service.
Marine Corps Sergeant Jack Ernest experienced the unthinkable during his service from 1965-1969.
“As soon as we landed in Da Nang, Vietnam there was rockets going off,” Ernest recalled. “There was shelling going on at night and you could see the fire and the sounds of exploding bombs and then the realization hits. You’re just a young kid.”
A young kid who showed his bravery almost immediately.
“You’re seeing and experiencing the loss of your fellow Marines, your buddies and it’s very hard,” he said holding back tears.
After five months of combat, Jack was called to the command tent in what he describes as “one of the craziest things that happened” in his life. He was told he was being sent to Vietnamese language training in Okinawa, Japan.
After training, Ernest returned to combat where he was responsible for questioning prisoners and gathering information.
“What I can get out of him might save us for another day,” he explained.
Shortly after Ernest was wounded by a mortar in a nighttime ambush, which led to hand to hand combat, while he was trying to save a fellow marine.
“Knocked us both to the ground and I went back over to pick him up and put him and I knew I was hit. I could feel the burning,” he remembered. “And I bent down to pick him up and put him back on my shoulder and once I got him back I laid him down as gently as I could, but he was dead.”
Eventually Ernest returned home.
“We’re coming home to family and friends,but there was people throwing feces at us, urine at us, beer cans, pop bottles,” he said. “Yelling at us calling us rapists, murderers,baby killers.”
While trying to adjust to life at home, he was internally struggling with what he had seen.
“I didn’t even know that I was suffering with PTSD. I didn’t know it,” Ernest said. “I just figured that’s life, suck it up, get married and blend back into society.”
After fighting a war and fighting PTSD, Jack’s attention is now focused on other veterans.
He does his work with one mission in mind. It’s also the goal of the “Vietnam Veterans Support Group”, of which Ernest is a member.
“That there would never be another veteran come back from hostility without being met and encouraged when they got back,” said Ernest.
What happened after he fought in Vietnam may be one of the more inspiring parts of Ernest’s service. It’ a story of forgiveness, advocacy and ministry.
He’s returned to Vietnam more than 40 times to minister to the people there. His first trip was in 1989 and was part of a television special by Morley Safer of CBS’s 60 minutes.
You can hear Ernest speak about this trip, and coming face to face with his former enemy, by watching the web extras attached to this story.
Among his many accomplishments, Ernest is also a Jefferson County Veterans Service Commissioner and founder of “We Believe Ministries, Inc.”