TOP PHOTO: In 1968, Garry Hensley quit high school and soon found himself in the middle of the Vietnam War.

Garry Hensley was highly decorated and shares his story with us on this Independence Day.

By Jim Freeman

LAFOLLETTE, TN (WLAF) – “You get drafted. You go,” said Vietnam Veteran Garry Hensley. Hensley dropped out of La Follette High School in 1968, and three or four weeks later, he was drafted. By the first of the next year, he was in combat in Vietnam.

I was able to catch up with the 73-year old Hensley late on a Sunday morning, June 26 (2022), for the opportunity to honor him with a story on his service to his country and community. “Tracy, you know Tracy Arnold, don’t you, and I went fishing about 7:00 last night and got back in around 4:00 this morning. We pulled our boat up under Miller Bridge like we often do, but it was a bad night for fishing,” said Hensley.

Garry Hensley received his medals in the field while he was in Vietnam.

He let me know right up front that he wasn’t a hero. “Now, there’s a lot that I just cannot talk about,” he pointed out. When asked about his twin brother, Larry who passed away a few years ago, he said that he didn’t get drafted.

Hensley was red eyed after pulling an all-nighter on the lake, but that did not slow him down from taking time to talk.

Hensley recalls his journey from basic training at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to advance infantry training at Fort Dix, New Jersey. After that, he was on two weeks leave and came back home to marry his sweetheart, Peggy Robbins. “Christmas Day. We got married on Christmas Day,” said Hensley. “I lost her last year,” he sadly adds.

A personal photo from Garry Hensley’s time in the Vietnam War.

“I flew for the first time on a plane from Knoxville to Fort Lewis, Washington, and then it was on to Guam and Vietnam,” said Hensley. He remembers that as soon as they landed, everyone was automatically assigned a private first class.

Some of the areas where Hensley and his 25th Infantry Division were in year long combat ranged from the Rubber Plantation to Ho Bo Woods to Black Virgin Mountain. To this day, Hensley carries scars on his body where he was shot twice, and he still takes medicine for his flashbacks, nightmares he continues to have all these 53 years later. “Yeah, I wake up screaming some times. Though, the medicine does help, but there are some things you don’t forget,” he notes.

Hensely was in this tank at Vietnam.

Six months into combat, Hensley caught an AK round in the hip. “It sort of grazed me,” said Hensley. A couple of months later, he suffered from shrapnel wounds to his back. His recovery time was short.

As a result, Hensley was presented with two Purple Hearts for wounds he suffered during the war. “The big man came out into the field of battle and presented the purple hearts to me there,” said Hensley. He was also awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge.

After about nine months of combat, he was able to take some R & R (rest and recuperation). The Army worked it out for Peggy to meet him in Hawaii for his break. “She’d never been out of the county, well, maybe, Knoxville, but this was a first for her to be on a plane at 16 years old,” said Hensley. He said it was quite a reunion.

“We’d stay out in the field of combat for two to three months, and then we’d get a stand down, resupply and go back out,” said Hensley.

Hensley saw plenty of action during his stint in the Vietnam War.

Hensley explained that if you had been in Vietnam for at least eight months, you were allowed to attend the Bob Hope Christmas Show. “We’re all walking to the show, and I hear someone shout “hey, Garry, and, like, there are probably a thousand Garrys here, and I don’t turn around. Then he shouts Garry Hensley, and I’m like someone knows me,” said Hensley. It was Charlie Scott from La Follette. Hensley and Scott eventually ended up leaving Vietnam together.

After that first year in combat, Hensley finished his service stateside at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, at Columbia. “Peggy and I would drive back to La Follette on the weekends, and I’d play softball. We’d drive all night on Sundays just in time to get back on post by Monday morning,” said Hensley.

Campbell County Mayor Jack Roy Alexander hired Hensley on at the courthouse when he first came back home out of the Army, and from there, he attended TCAT and then was hired at the La Follette Fire Department. “I was there for 37 years until I retired,” Hensley explains.

Sunday is wash day for Hensley as he put in a load of clothes while we talked.

In his spare time, he refereed basketball and baseball and also coached. “One of my Junior Pro teams won the state championship in the youngest division. My son, Garry, nephews Brian, Mike Leach and Tommy Willoughby along with Paul Provins played on that team, and I’m leaving out some others that I just can’t recall,” said the former coach. Hensley still has grown men come up to him, many he does not recognize, calling him by name and tell him they remember him calling their games.

Though Hensley is thousands of miles and many decades away from those Vietnam battle fields, the mental and physical scars are right here at home all these years later. Thank you for your service, Garry. (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 07/04/2022-6AM)

11 Replies to “There are heroes among us: Garry Hensley of the U.S. Army”

  1. THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE! Our Veterans, especially Vietnam veterans, never got the recognition they deserved.

  2. I’ve known Garry for many years. Out of the military and back at home, we attended Jacksboro Vocational School together. Lots of good memories from there. Through the years Garry and myself would see each other on life’s journey sometimes reminiscing. I consider Garry is a good friend and I respect and appreciate his service to keep America Free. I joined the US Navy and was very fortunate in that I never had to endure the combat that Garry and others did. Garry grew up in an era that respected the older generation and still has that commitment of moral, honesty, integrity & do what’s right, even if the stars fall. A rare trait in our world today. Thank you Garry for your service.

  3. Thank you for your service young man!! Honesty, integrity, dedication and duty are hard to find this day and age ! Bless you and your family !
    I worked with Garry in Roanoke and met you and your lovely wife. I know where Garry gets his drive and work ethics, his fine parents !! Thank you for your service again !!

  4. Love you Gary Hensley. You were tough on me as a kid when you needed to and a friend, mentor. Thank you for your influence on my life. Not to mention your service. My dad thought so highly of you.

  5. Gary and his family were such a wonderful part of my childhood being around them at liberty Park baseball games. Our family and Gary’s always congregated in the bleachers to watch Roger my brother, Larry, and Gary play baseball. Jim thank you so much for bringing this story! This is What that you apart from other radio stations.

  6. Thank you Garry and all veterans for your service and our freedom that you all fought and still fight for

  7. Such a wonderful story about Garry. Thank you for your service Garry

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