According to a 2016 census, 306 residents called White Plains in Greene County their home. On July 16, White Plains lost one of those residents when 71-year-old Vietnam veteran Curry T. Haynes succumbed to cancer and went home to report for his final inspection. A small city in Georgia, a mid-sized city in Idaho, the sprawling megalopolis of New York City, the size or location doesn’t matter because each community has its share of veterans. And in each of those communities unknown but extraordinary warriors walk the streets. Such is the case of Curry T. Haynes, the holder of more Purple Hearts than any soldier in American military history: a total of 10.
Haynes grew up in Newton County, attended Newton County High School and Gordon Military College, then Middle Georgia College. Blessed with many talents, he had a diverse yet interesting career. He dodged trees and telephone wires as a crop duster, organized and operated a jump school, and taught flying in Ludgoff, S.C. In Columbia, S.C., Haynes learned the profession of an EMT working for an ambulance service. He moved back to Covington and started an EMT service in his childhood stomping grounds of Newton County, taught flying and parachuting, and even worked as a counselor for the VA in Decatur.
Having conquered addiction himself, Haynes was a pioneer organizer of Celebrate Recovery Grace at Grace Fellowship and devoted his life to serving God and helping the more unfortunate. His incredible story is one that I missed, because just like you I was not privy to his service in Vietnam. My awareness came from a post by Patriot Guard Rider Pat Buchanan, a personal friend, chaplain and devoted veteran advocate. So I dug deep and found out what was available from several research engines, but the best information was contained in an interview Haynes gave to the Athens Banner Herold via Wayne Ford of Online Athens. It is with his permission that I respectfully reword some of that interview, plus add historical facts from my own discovery.
As a Vietnam veteran and journalist with over 300 interviews under my belt, including dozens of my brothers and sisters from ‘Nam, one thing is etched in stone: the war in Southeast Asia scarred all of us, mentally or physically, some more so than others. We have seen our legacy morph from accusations of “baby killers” to present day “heroes,” when in fact we are neither. The men and women who survived ‘Nam are just that, survivors. Curry T. Haynes was one of those survivors, but as you learn his story, the question will have to be asked: How?
Haynes was a Sky Soldier a warrior in the 173rd Airborne Brigade of the 503rd Infantry, Charlie Company. He arrived “in country” on Aug. 15, 1967, and successfully avoided injury until December of that year. His own words: “My weapon of choice was an old World War I trench shotgun. It was good except the firing pin would break.”
When Haynes was wounded the first time, the shotgun’s firing pin had broken and he was toting an M-16 when his company walked into an enemy ambush. He received two gunshot wounds to his arm, serious enough to be evacuated to Japan for surgery. Patched up and good to go, Haynes returned to Vietnam only to come down with malaria. An old man by ground-pounder standards, Haynes was 21 years old at the time.
Having recovered from malaria, he was “good to go” a second time and reported back to his unit. With one Purple Heart to his credit, if Haynes was wounded two more times he would earn a trip back to CONUS, the Continental United States. The rule was: Three Purple Hearts earned a soldier the much-sought-after ticket home on the Freedom Bird. Most likely the architects of the “three-strikes-and-you’re-out of the war” rule had meant the policy should be applied to three separate engagements. Hayes earned nine more Purple Hearts in one engagement.
Note: The following quotations are courtesy of Online Athens.
May 8, 1968 – “I was assigned a new position with a new guy from California. It rained on us that night, and I was cleaning my weapon. I had my shirt off and the parts were laying on the shirt.
“A B-40 rocket hit two positions down. Then it hit the position next to me, and I knew it would hit my position next, so I ducked down behind some sand bags and shrapnel hit me in the chest and left arm. I kept putting my weapon back together and the North Vietnamese started running down the hill.”
Note: At this stage of the battle, Haynes was hit in his right ankle, a bullet went through his right thigh, and a third round pierced his left thigh.
He continued, “By then I got my weapon put together, and I started firing at them. I was shooting pretty good at first, but the first round that went through my arm cut a nerve. I was bleeding a lot, especially out of my thighs. About that time a North Vietnamese came down with a B-40 rocket. He was inexperienced and in the excitement he forgot to load the rocket launcher. He jumped behind a termite hill and pushed a guy behind it out in the open. I shot both of them.
“While I was shooting them, another North Vietnamese soldier shot me through my left hand and shot the index finger and shot the hand guard off my M-16. I laid on my side and another round came and clipped the finger off. They were trying to move in on me and I was trying to open fire and my hand got all tangled up in the weapon because of jagged bone ends. About that time another round came in and shot the trigger guard and shot these (index and middle) fingers off.”
“I was firing at them and pulled the trigger with the little finger and the next to the little finger and I killed another North Vietnamese. They started throwing grenades. I ducked down behind a sand bag and a grenade landed on my side and I couldn’t get it off. And it did not go off. It was a dud.”
“They threw another grenade and it landed in front of my position. It exploded and went through the sand bag material and hit me in the right eye. I put my head down and when I looked back up they were pulling back. They not only left their dead behind, but they left their wounded.”
End of quotations. Haynes’ description of combat is not the prose of a Hemingway, yet is one of the best depictions of actual combat I’ve ever heard from a soldier who actually endured said combat. His wording is as profound and honest as a survivor’s narrative can be, a vivid account of kill or be killed, the words of a real soldier.
After suffering his horrific wounds, Haynes was treated by a rookie medic who injected him with morphine, then attempted to stop the bleeding. A more experienced medic and friend to Haynes finally arrived, grabbed Haynes’ M-16 and finished off the wounded North Vietnamese soldiers. Don’t pass judgment on Haynes’ friend, you and I weren’t there. Given the circumstances, given the brutality of war, given that the enemy did the same thing to our wounded, well, as Gen. William T. Sherman stated before the Grand Army of the Republic Convention in 1880, “There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell. You can bear this warning voice to generations yet to come. I look upon war with horror.”
Haynes was medivaced to An Khe’s field hospital, treated, and remained in An Khe for two weeks. He was eventually flown to a military hospital in Charleston, S.C. Having lost fingers and survived pierced limbs, the projectiles left his body permanently scarred. Curry T. Haynes was awarded a Purple Heart for each of his wounds, a total of 10 during his tour in Vietnam, the most awarded to a soldier in American military history.
Haynes’ final remarks, “My father (an Oxford College biology professor) came to get me and they presented me with nine Purple Hearts. I went home for two weeks and back to Fort Jackson Army Hospital for seven surgeries over the next 11 months.” And on how he survived the brutal combat, “I don’t believe in luck. I owe it all to Jesus Christ, every bit of it.”
Of the 2.7 million men and women who served in Vietnam, 304,000 were wounded. The death percentage was comparable to other wars; however, amputations and crippling wounds were 300 percent higher than WWII. Of the 304,000 wounded, 5,283 lost limbs, 1,081 were multiple amputees.
If you see a veteran, if you know of a veteran, walk up and simply say, “Thank you for your service.” It’s true, the veteran may have pushed paperwork for his or her 20-year career, but the next veteran may have been awarded 10 Purple Hearts. They served; that’s all that counts.
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran. For story consideration visit his website at aveteransstory.us and click on “contact us.”