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Ann Waymire and travel party

Ann Waymire (center in chair) visited the "Wall That Heals" on Sept. 17 with 16 family members and friends from West Virginia and Ohio

Photographer: George E. Mauzy Jr.

Ann Waymire

Ann Waymire views her late son Jackie L. Waymire's memorabilia for the first time at the Mobile Education Center on Sept. 17, 2017

Photographer: George E. Mauzy Jr.

Ann Waymire

Army Sgt. Jackie L. Waymire's picture, medals and green beret are among the items in the Mobile Education Center that accompanies the "Wall That Heals"

Photographer: George E. Mauzy Jr.

Featured Stories

‘Wall That Heals’ helps Gold Star mother share son’s war heroics

Army Sgt. Jackie L. Waymire honored for making the ultimate sacrifice

Heroes do exist. That is the message that 90-year-old Gold Star Mother Ann Waymire wants you to know, and she has dedicated the past 50 years of her life to making sure that her heroic son Jackie L. Waymire’s ultimate sacrifice is not forgotten.

Army Sgt. Jackie L. Waymire’s name is one of the 58,318 fallen soldiers’ names on the “Wall That Heals,” which visited the Ohio University Athens Campus Sept. 14-17.

The wall was on display 24 hours a day at OHIO’s Bicentennial Park during its time in Athens. Since 1996, it has served as an outreach effort of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring and preserving the legacy of service and educating all generations about the impact of the Vietnam War.

On Sunday, Sept. 17, Huntington, West Virginia, resident Ann Waymire and 16 of her family members and friends visited the wall to pay their respects to her only son, Jackie Waymire, who was shot and killed during the Vietnam War on his 22nd birthday, Jan. 9, 1967.

Scott Haas, a close family friend who drove Ann Waymire to Athens with his family, said she is one of the best people in this world and he considers her his adopted mother.

“Ann has gone on to be a mother and grandmother figure to hundreds of people in the Huntington area,” Haas said. “She is so unbelievably kind and gentle and we don’t know why God chose that path for her son, but she has risen above it. We are here to support her.”

Haas called the trip to Athens with Ann Waymire one of the top 10 moments of his life because it was a chance for him to experience the history and closure of her son’s death.

“On the way here, Ann said that at her age, she believes that this is one of the last things she can do for Jackie,” Haas said. “To tell his story. She was very adamant that the world needs more heroes today, and she said that the more we can learn about what these guys sacrificed for our freedom, the better off our country will be.”

According to Ann Waymire, her son died protecting the other men in the 5th Special Forces Group, Airborne Company B, by pressing forward against the Viet Cong soldiers who were about to ambush his unit. Although he was fatally wounded, none of the soldiers in his unit died that day because of his bravery.

Ann Waymire said her son’s lieutenant told her the story of how her son was killed over the phone.

“Jackie’s lieutenant called us the night of his funeral to tell us what happened,” she said. “He said if Jackie hadn’t taken charge, they all would have been killed.”

That, however, was not the first time that Jackie Waymire had shown his bravery during the war. In an incident that is captured in author Reynel Martinez’s 1996 book titled, “Six Silent Men,” he risked his life by carrying his 101st Airborne Staff Sgt. Donovan Pruett to an awaiting helicopter after he was shot in the head by a sniper during a mission. Although Pruett died in the helicopter, Jackie Waymire was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for his actions.

After his death, Jackie Waymire was awarded a Purple Heart, a Distinguished Service Cross and two additional medals from the Vietnamese Army for his outstanding service and courage.

Visitors to the “Wall That Heals” were able to see pictures of Jackie Waymire, replicas of three of his medals and one of his green berets in the Mobile Education Center that accompanied the wall, thanks to his mother.

Ann Waymire said she told her husband, Paul, who died in February 2017 at 93 years old, that since they were getting older they needed to keep Jackie’s memory alive by donating some of his things to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

When she went to see the “Wall That Heals” in Milton, West Virginia, three years ago, Ann Waymire said she could visualize Jackie’s items traveling with the wall after she saw a case there with a soldier’s picture and some items from other fallen soldiers.

Although she had already visited the “Wall That Heals” several times since it began traveling in 1996, she was told by Steve Delp, senior advisor of outreach for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, that there would now be a chance to have some of her son’s war items included in the new Mobile Education Center that accompanies the “Wall That Heals.”

Ann Waymire said she sends money to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund every month and financially supported the “Wall That Heals” before it was built.

The new Mobile Education Center houses glass information cases that display photos of service members whose names are listed on the wall, as well as letters and memorabilia left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. It also includes a map of Vietnam and a chronological overview of the conflict in Vietnam among other educational items.

Ann Waymire said Delp told her that by donating her son’s items to the traveling monument instead of the permanent wall in Washington, D.C., more people would be able see them because it travels around the nation. She said she has a glass pistol case at her house that is filled with her son’s memorabilia, including his original medals, a green beret and the American flag she received from the Army after he was killed in battle.

“This wasn’t an easy thing to go through Jackie’s things and get it ready to give away, but I wanted to keep his memory alive,” Ann Waymire said. “When I called Steve to ask him if he had received my package of Jackie’s things, he told me yes and told me he cried when he opened the package.”  

Ann Waymire said her son was a model child who was always respectful to everyone and never gave her or her husband an ounce of trouble while growing up.

“When he was a 17-year-old junior in high school, he asked me and his father to sign papers so that he could join the military, but we wouldn’t sign them because he had another year of high school left,” Ann Waymire said. “We told him he would be 18 in January and then he could enlist without us. And that’s what he did.”

Ann Waymire said her son later received his high school diploma while in the military.

“We were surprised he wanted to join the military so bad, because he was never a kid that played with Army men,” Waymire laughed. “He played cowboys and Indians, but never Army.”  

Ann Waymire said she remembers the day Jackie died because it was his birthday, and while at work, she became deathly ill around 11 a.m. After her boss drove her home, she remembers vomiting and having an upset stomach until 9 p.m. when the sickness left her as suddenly as it appeared. She said she didn’t go to work the next day because she hadn’t washed up since she had been sick the previous day.

“I don’t know why I got so sick that day and if it was related to Jackie dying that day, but you wonder,” Ann Waymire said.

That day she recalls hearing a car pull into her gravel driveway. She said she thought it was James, the boy who lived next door who was at home on leave from the Navy. She said she opened the door and walked away so that James could come in the house, but then she heard a knock. When she looked and saw a man standing there from Marshall University’s ROTC Program, she said she knew instantly it was the bad news she had feared.

The man informed her that her son had died the previous day in the war.

Ann Waymire said she was told that Jackie was the only soldier in his unit that died that day. She was told that one of the officers was shot in the head, but he lived.

Ann said Jackie Waymire was laid to rest on Thursday, Jan. 19, 10 days after his death.  

Ronnie D. Ferrell, a military veteran from Barboursville, West Virginia, who worked diligently to get nine West Virginia bridges named after heroic military veterans from the area before he died in 2009, worked with the Waymires to get a bridge named after Jackie Waymire. On May 9, 2008, the bridge across the Guyandotte River on 3rd Avenue in Huntington was rededicated as the Sgt. Jackie L. Waymire Memorial Bridge.

Dick Holmes, a consultant for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, said he was honored to give Ann Waymire and her family and friends a tour of the “Wall That Heals” and the Mobile Education Center. He told the family that Ann Waymire was the first Gold Star mother that he had ever met since he held his job.

“This is what the experience is all about right here,” Holmes said. “You see the family and friends with the Gold Star mother. She is here to pay her respects with family. This is what makes this job special. That is why I come out of retirement every five weeks and stand here for 12 hours.” 

Despite it being 50 years since her son’s death, Ann Waymire said she’s still not over her son’s tragic death.

“I don’t think you ever really get over it, but you learn to live with things as they are,” she tearfully said. “We all have to.”

Joyce Sexton, a niece of Ann Waymire who was three years older than Jackie, was among the travel party from Huntington, West Virginia. She said she fondly remembers her first cousin as a quiet kid who was always loving.

“Someone once said, ‘Behind every great son is a great mother,’” Sexton said. “That explains Jackie and Ann.”

To find out more about the “Wall That Heals,” visit http://www.vvmf.org/twth.