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Brothers in arms: Family leaves legacy of service


Staff Writer

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You could say Tim Ford was just carrying on an old family tradition when he entered the Vietnam War to fight for our country just as his five older brothers did before him. But for the 70-year-old veteran, being drafted was more of an answered prayer.

“I knew I had to do it,” Tim said. “I’m glad they drafted me because that would have been a tough decision, me being the only boy in the family not to help or go into the service. They drafted me and that helped me out a lot. I was married when I went in, and when I left Vietnam, I had a girl that was about a week old. That made it tougher.”

Tim is the youngest of six brothers who left East Tennessee to head off to war.

Jack was in World War II and Korea, Bill and Ray both fought in Germany, Creed was stationed in Greenland, Gene was stationed in Arizona and Tim fought in Vietnam.

Tim said while serving in the 23rd infantry in Vietnam, he learned he had to change his mindset in order to survive.

“I remember when I went to Vietnam, I couldn’t understand why those people were wanting to kill me,” Tim said. “After I saw a couple of my buddies get killed, it all came around to it’s them or me and I’m going to make it be them because I’m going home. You change a lot. 

“You go from being a 19-year-old kid to being an old man in a hurry.” 

Though he and his brothers all made it back home, Tim said he knew it wasn’t easy for his mother to see all of her sons off to war.

“I always heard her say when I was little that she hoped she never lived to see another boy go to war,” Tim said. “All my brothers, they stayed in three or four years, but Jack, he stayed in about 11 or 12 years.” 

Tim said his oldest brother, Jack, struggled the most returning home from Korea and World War II.

“He landed in Normandy,” Tim said. “He was in the Battle of the Bulge. He saw a lot of action. He got out (of the service) and couldn’t cope and went back in. I don’t know how many times he was out before he ended up in the Korean War.”

Tim also recalled his brother, Bill, telling him about his time in Germany hunting and arresting Nazi soldiers who tried to run away.

“What they did was hunt the Nazis,” Tim said. “They kind of hid out. My brother told me they let (the U.S. soldiers) stay downtown in civilian uniforms where they could find (the Nazis) and not be obvious that they were in the Army. That’s what they did, arrest Nazi soldiers.”

When Tim himself returned from war, however, he was met with a different mindset than what his brothers experienced.

“We were called names,” Tim said of returning from Vietnam. “There was a generation there … they were not patriotic. You take an oath when you go in to defend the constitution and the president. Those people there, they just didn’t care.” 

For Tim, seeing the positive way in which Vietnam Veterans are now perceived is a change he is more than happy to experience.

“It’s changing a little bit,” Tim said. “I wear a cap all the time that says Vietnam. You’d be surprised how many of the little kids that come up, shakes your hand and thanks you for your service. That makes you feel good.”

Now Tim has taken to a new kind of service to the flag.

After spending much of his life defending our flag in Vietnam, Tim now tries to educate folks on the flag and keeps his own giant Old Glory waving in his front yard.

“People kid me about my flag,” Tim said. “They say they can see it from Jonesborough. I wish you could. Pal’s is the only one in Jonesborough that has a flag bigger than mine.” 

The Vietnam Veteran is also passionate about flag etiquette. He said he once saw the county’s flag hanging upside down and immediately alerted those inside, saying an upside down flag is a sign of distress. The then county mayor, George Jaynes, promptly got someone to replace the flag.

“I watch em,” Tim said of the flags around town. “People need to read about them. The flag is considered to be a living thing. There’s a way you’re supposed to (raise it), when it’s supposed to be lowered, the way it’s supposed to be flown. There aren’t many people who do that anymore. They just forget about it.”

Tim, who has been married for 52 years and has had three kids, said he recognizes the sacrifice the men and women in our armed forces make by fighting for our country. He also said it’s his hope that we all recognize just what is sacrificed for our freedom.

“I just like to remind everybody we’ve got people over there that are getting killed all the time,” Tim said. “I don’t know how it is over there. Anytime you’re around where they’re trying to kill you, it’s tough. I’m not the same person I was when I went in. But my wife’s been a lot of support. She’s been good to put up with me.”