Jerry Baldwin’s Service: Pride and Discipline

Jerry Baldwin is known to many throughout Connecticut’s northwest corner as a Rotarian, a banker, a father of five and a grandfather of many, a devoted community volunteer and avid golfer, but his years as a military man 55 years ago remain at his core. “The discipline factor when I finished the military was totally focused on doing well and I have always been proud to have served.”

In 1963, Jerry was a young and affable college freshman, dating Mary Ellen Winters, the kid sister of his best buddy who lived three blocks down the street.  He enjoyed the college life, the sports, weekends with Mary Ellen, but lacking focus and direction, he made the decision to enlist in the military. "I promised my parents I would go back to school and get my degree." He entered the Air Force and did his basic training at Lockland Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas. "After basic training I went to Personnel School in Greenville, Mississippi for a 12-week training session. Depending on your rank in the class at the end of the 12 weeks, you were able to pick your assignment. I knew that was the system so I worked hard and wound up being #1 in my training class and was able to choose my assignment.”

He chose Handcock Field in Syracuse, “a terrific sports town” which also allowed him to visit Mary Ellen who lived just a few hours away on Long Island. On a Wednesday in May of 1965, he was ordered to Vietnam and on a Sunday four days later, he landed at Tan Son Nhut airfield in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City. The war was escalating, leading to a military buildup, Jerry explains. "They needed people to get over to Vietnam quickly to help process people coming in. I was doing all the personnel paperwork for the airmen that would arrive. We would go over by bus, pick them up and be at the airport. There were two sides to the airport: the military side and the civilian side. A good portion of the airmen flying over from San Francisco to Saigon were on commercial chartered flights because there were just so many people coming over. We would pick them up by bus, bring them back to Tan Son Nhut and help them fill out their paperwork to make sure we knew who the next of kin was, who to be notified in a God awful situation where they were missing in action or killed."

Later in his military career, Jerry was sent to Amarillo, Texas for a new role; “I was retrained for casualty assistance.” In this capacity, he visited service members and their families who after serious casualties, needed help accessing military benefits. This included calling on families who had lost a loved one. “I recall visiting a widow with eight children (I can still remember her name) and when one of her little boys saw me, he told me that his dad had a uniform like mine. It took a lot of strength not to break down.”

In 1967, Jerry left the military to return to college. He resumed his academic studies with a renewed focus, drawing on the discipline he had acquired in the army, and the extra motivation to do well under the watchful eyes of Mary Ellen whom he married mid-way through college. “She was getting my reports, too,” he laughs. Jerry graduated in 1970.

Jerry is immensely proud of his time in the service and the deep patriotism it instilled in him. He saves his most solemn respect for today’s servicemen and women who choose to enlist. “I didn’t have a choice; you either enlisted or you were drafted.” He remains involved with the VFW, stays in touch with local vets with whom he attends local ceremonies, and is “honored to have been in the Color Guard for 15 years.” Jerry’s pride is palpable as his deep respect for the dedication and commitment of his fellow service members.

Jerry has lived a life of service and consequence, enhanced by a healthy dose of military discipline.  We are grateful that his enormous pride and love for service has enriched so many lives throughout our community.

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