Proud to have served his country honorably, Charles Drew served in the Vietnam War as a U.S. Army soldier and later enlisted in the U.S. Navy.
Drew, 69, of Catrons Creek, said he was drafted for one and volunteered for the other.
“In 1965, I was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent over to Vietnam in the central highlands,” said Drew. “It was a scary time for a Kentucky boy going to war — on a ship for 27 days and when we landed a lot of mortaring was going on. I don’t know how my mother made it through those times, because not only was I in Vietnam, but three of my other brothers, Layton, Ray and Bobby, were also serving. She said she did a lot of praying during that time. I actually run into one of my older brothers while we were both in Vietnam.”
During Vietnam, Drew was with the engineering unit, building roads, water towers, shelters and mess halls. He also “pulled a lot of guard duty on the green line” where he said, “a lot of the action was taking place.”
“When I got there most of the soldiers were living in tents,” said Drew. “Even though I was drafted I was proud to serve my country.”
After returning home, Drew worked at several occupations with one of them being the Harlan Daily Enterprise.
“I would take the paper down to Middlesboro and pick the paper back up — then bring them back to Harlan for carriers,” said Drew. “It was during that time, in 1980, that I met a Navy recruiter who talked me into going back into the service. I spent two years in the U.S. Navy, stationed in Texas, where I worked as a hydraulic mechanic working on airplanes.”
After his enlistment with the Navy was finished, Drew then worked for a number of years at the Harlan County Community Action Agency doing construction work.
“I had to retire because of medical problems,” said Drew. “A lot of soldiers came back from Vietnam with problems that didn’t surface right away, but years later from agent orange.”
When asked what Veterans Day means to him, Drew said, “it means a lot to me.”
“I think everybody across the nation ought to stop and take a moment to remember what veterans past and present have done and are doing for their freedom,” said Drew. “A soldier makes a lot of sacrifices being away from their families and putting themselves in harm’s way to ensure everyone can lay their heads down at night and know they are free.
“Some people say veterans don’t deserve special treatment, I say they deserve so much more than they get. We had a tough time when we came back from Vietnam. We were called names and made fun of — and it hurt deep down inside, but you had to just bottle the hurt up and try to move forward knowing you had done what your country had asked you to do.”
Drew noted that “I’m so proud of my little grandson, Colby, who is only 5 years old. Every time he comes to see his old grandpa he puts his little hand up and salutes me. He goes with me to the veterans hospital in Johnson City, Tenn., and he’ll stop and salute all the veterans he meets in the hallways. You don’t know what that means to me and all those he meets — brings tears to all our eyes. It don’t take much to make a veteran’s day.”
Drew and his wife, Betty, have two children and two grandchildren.
Reach Nola Sizemore at 606-573-4510 or at email@example.com