An American Soldier, an American family

By Pete Mecca

Harry and daughter, Jennifer. Contributed photo

An American family and several friends gathered in the spacious living room to honor and celebrate the life of a dedicated American soldier, 82nd Airborne Ranger and US Air Force veteran, Harry Lindsey, of Social Circle.  At least 34 people were in attendance, including one grateful-for-the-invitation journalist.  The interview was conducted in the comfort of a sun room, recently transfigured into a hospice care area.  The chat was brief, just over 20 minutes, but a wealth of knowledge was gained about the man, his life, his family, and dedication to the country he loves.  In truth, the conversation wasn’t an interview at all, rather, two veterans discussing honor, duty, service to their nation, and swapping a few war stories

His attentive caregiver played two roles, one of an angel, the other of a motherly hawk protecting her fledging eyas.  She assisted Harry into his wheelchair after our interview, prepared him for the get-together then entered the living room together.  Local businessman, comrade, and Air Force veteran John DeBroux bent over to ask his fellow reservist, “How is the pain level today, Harry, on a scale of 1 to 10?”  Harry looked up to reply, “A strong 8!”  A strong 8 or not, Harry was all smiles, quick of wit, and soldiered on.

Harry Lindsey and author Pete Mecca. Contributed photo

It didn’t take an experienced journalist to comprehend the novelty of a man like Harry Lindsey.  Before the advent of collegiate snowflakes and divisive political correctness, men and women like Harry were guarding, defending, and preserving the freedoms and rights of even impertinent citizens who will never understand the true cost of what they recklessly protest.

Born and raised in Social Circle, Harry Lindsey joined the Army right out of high school.  He would serve his country for over two decades in the reserves and on active duty.   Most of his service was in Air Force blue, yet Harry was an Army guy first, one of the best, and as he said, “There ain’t no better outfit in the world than the 82nd Airborne.”  And this is his story.

Where were you born and raised?

“I was born in Social Circle.  I’m a local boy, top to bottom.”

Harry L. Lindsey, in the service of his country, far right. Contributed photo

Are you old enough to remember Pearl Harbor?

“No, I was too little.  I was born in 1944, but I do remember the Korean War and the newsman Walter Winchell who gave war news updates.”

Were you in Vietnam?

Harry L. Lindsey, US Army Airborne. Contributed photo

“No, Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic.  I joined up when I was 18 years old and ended up with the 82nd Airborne.”

Why would a young man from Social Circle volunteer to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?

“Well, that’s what I wanted to do.  I wanted to be a paratrooper.”

Harry, I was in the Air Force…we didn’t jump out of airplanes unless we were forced to.   (Laughter)  Tell me about basis training.

“I trained at Ft Benning.”

Okay, what about your first jump…do you remember?

“How could I forget it?  That first jump was beyond anything you can imagine.  I hadn’t even been inside an airplane before.”

The first plane you’d ever been in, you had to jump out of?

“Yep, first plane, first jump.”

I guess you were thankful the chute opened.

“Absolutely.  You know, the first thing that happens after you jump out, your chute opens up, then you start looking for a place to land.  Believe me, there’s not that many spots to land on.  And then you worry about what you’ll hit on the ground.  I look back to that time and think, ‘Harry, you were a lucky boy.’”

How many total jumps?

“Thirty seven.”

After you became an airborne ranger out of…uh…

“Jump school.  I became an airborne ranger after jump school.  In fact I volunteered to be a paratrooper, but I thought, ‘Shoot, why am I doing this?  (Laughter) I’d already been through the hell of advanced infantry training, why did I volunteer for more?  But I toughed it out and I made it okay.”  Distracted, Harry asked, “Who is that rustling around behind my bed?”

His daughter, Jennifer Lindsey Sunderland, spoke up.  “It’s just me Dad, I’m sitting in on the interview.  I just wanted to remind you the family has a history with the 82nd, your dad and other family members.  You shared that with me in the hospital and I thought it was really neat.”

So, you had relatives in the 82nd?

Harry Lindsey, bottom right, teaching the youngsters. Contributed

Absolutely.  My daddy’s uncle and my daddy were in the 82nd Division in France during The Great War, known now as World War One.  They both made it home but daddy never told me anything about World War One.  My daddy’s brother, Brotus, didn’t make it home.  He was killed in France.  It’s a sad story, two Lindsey’s from the Lindsey family in Social Circle gave their full measure for this country.  That speaks volumes.”

Two Lindsey’s?

Yes, Brotus and Owen, Jr.  Both died in France.”

Jennifer spoke up: “I took pictures of their graves.  We went down to Social Circle and it was really fascinating, you had a Lindsey of World War One and another Lindsey of World War Two buried in the same cemetery.”

That is indeed fascinating, plus important Social Circle history.

Jennifer: “Yeah, it is.  Dad was on a roll in the hospital so I got out my I-phone and started recording.  It was neat how he ended up in the same branch and unit as his father and uncle.”

Harry, tell me about your jump into Santo Domingo.

“That was with the 82nd, first ones to land.  The Dominicans overthrew their government in 1965, so we went down there and overthrew the Dominicans.”

You jumped in?

“Absolutely.  We parachuted into Santo Domingo, close to the airfield, a whole brigade.  A lot of gunfire and sniper fire.  I was the Colonel’s body guard and driver.”

Did the snipers try to pick off the Colonel?

“Yes, and me, too!”

How many times?

“I lost count.”

How long did it take to restore order?

“Over a year.  The fighting petered out but the shooting didn’t stop.  I look back on that and remember what the Colonel said to me, he said, ‘Lindsey, the only thing a soldier can do here is die, to be sent home in a box.  That’s the best he can hope for.’ Now, that’s cold. True story.  I thought about that, ‘Jesus, don’t let me die this way, not down here.’”

Did you stay with the 82nd?

Harry L. Lindsey, US Air Force Reserves. Contributed photo

“No, I came back, got out, and joined the reserves.”

You were lucky not to be called up for Nam.

“Absolutely.  I thought about that, another one of those, ‘Jesus, don’t let me die this way, not over there.’”

I was informed that there was a lot of water hindering your jump into Santo Domingo.

“Absolutely.  We landed in water, water all over the place, I ended up with bacterial meningitis and was hospitalized in Santo Domingo for about 6 months.”

How much total time in the military?

“Twenty six years.  I retired as a Master Sergeant.  You know, I look at that and think of what an honor it has been to be a Master Sergeant. Civilians don’t understand that.  When you look at a young 18 year old boy, and he’s doing everything he can to stay alive.  That doesn’t sound like much, but it means a lot to a soldier.”

Should young men serve?”

Harry L. Lindsey, US Air Force Reserves. Contributed photo

“Absolutely.  A young boy becomes a man…and quick!”

What did your service mean to you?

“The best thing that ever happened to me was to become an airborne paratrooper.  People can say what they want, but as God is my witness, airborne leads the way.  I look at that, and what an honor to wear the 82nd patch on my sleeve.   That will stay with me until the day I die, an 82nd airborne combat veteran, bar none.”

The 82nd did a good job in Nam, too.

“They got the crap kicked out of them.”

Well, the 82nd did their share of crap-kicking, too.  (Harry laughed for a long time).

“You know, I look back at it now and you go through a lot of things, and you lose buddies…they mean the world to you.  Once a brother, always a brother.”

Your final thoughts?

“A young man is better off going into the military.  Deep in my heart I live with it every day.  What an honor it was to serve my country in the 82nd airborne division.  We stand second to none.  When I say that, you think, ‘what in the world is that boy talking about’, but he has been to a place others haven’t been, and it makes a difference.”

Do you think….

“Excuse me.  Let me say this, I just want to say for the boys left behind, we haven’t forgotten you, we never will forget you, you will be in our hearts until the day we die.  People say, ‘that’s just an old cliché’……no it’s not.  There’s something that lives deep inside your heart, it never leaves.   Does that sound too awkward?”

No, sir, it doesn’t.  We were lucky, we made it home to live out our lives, to marry, to have kids…..

“Absolutely.  I mean, look at my daughter over there.”

I already have.  You make pretty babies.

(Harry laughed)  “We had two kids, and that was enough for my wife.”

I see on your bio that you were with Georgia Power.

“Absolutely, for 37 years.  I loved being on power lines, had a few close calls, but yes, God was always by my side.  And let me say this, America is still a great country, it’s like the 82nd Airborne, she stands second to none.”

Harry and his wife, Jackie, celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary in April.  Members of the Georgia Air National Guard were in attendance for Harry’s celebration of life and they paid tribute to Master Sergeant Lindsey with the utmost of respect.  Yet, as evident from the interview, even after serving in Air Force blue for 16 years and 3 years in the Army Reserves, Harry’s service time with the 82nd Airborne is engraved in his heart and soul.  Airborne, Airborne all the way.

Update

Harry Lee Lindsey, 73, of Social Circle, passed away on May 18, 2017. Funeral Services will be held 3.p. on Monday, May 22, 2017 at Smyrna Presbyterian Church, 2920 GA-212, Conyers, GA on May 22, 2017 at 3:00 PM, with Rev. George Rogers officiating. Prior to the service, family will receive friends from 1:30 – 3:00 PM, in the Narthex of the church. Burial to follow service at Lawnwood Memorial Park in Covington, GA. Click or tap on this link for his obituary, courtesy of Caldwell and Cowan Funeral Home.

Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at aveteransstory@gmail.com or aveteransstory.us.

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