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One man’s journey from war to worship

With so much bad going on in the world today, it is easy to forget the blessings that do fall every day. But every once in a while there’s a story that surfaces that is a true testimony of God’s great works, one that reminds people how blessed they really are.
In this case, it is the story of Sgt. Roy H. Ferguson of the United States Marine Corps.
Ferguson was born Nov. 14, 1945, near the Eastern Star area of the Tri-Cities.
At age 12, Ferguson was left to raise himself when his father died and his mother moved to Michigan to finish school the next year.
It was not long after that Ferguson was forced to drop out of school himself to work full time.
He began working on the farms at the Kinslow Mill until age 16 when he went to work for the Backer Brothers Landscaping in Kingsport.
It was during his time in Kingsport that Ferguson seemed to get in the most mischief. He loved to fight, and his skirmishes led him down the wrong path.
But just before his 17th birthday, Ferguson made a decision that would change his life — he followed an army recruiter into the Post Office.
Ferguson was wearing a pair of jeans with the knees worn out, an old T-shirt with holes in it, mismatched socks and a shoe he had to tape because the soul had long since fallen off.
Ferguson told the recruiter he wanted to join the Marine Corps.
The recruiter looked at the ragged teenager and said, “Boy, this ain’t the Boy Scouts,” Ferguson recalled. Besides, what made Ferguson think he could make it as a Marine, the recruiter questioned.
“That’s what I’m going to do,” Ferguson told him.
It wasn’t easy. Ferguson had to be 18 to sign himself into the Marine Corps. Still not even 17, he needed a parent or guardian — neither of which he had — to sign him up. Ferguson would need a court official or a judge to enlist him.
Luckily he knew a Sessions Court judge in Kingsport from his landscaping job.
Ferguson knew if Judge Walter Moody didn’t help him get into the Marines, he would either be sending him to the penitentiary or hearing about his funeral.
Fortunately, Ferguson convinced Moody to sign him up for the Marine Corps.
The Marine Corps. shipped Ferguson to Parris Island, S.C., in 1962, and on Nov. 16, two days after turning 17, Ferguson was sworn in as a Marine.
During his time at Parris Island, Ferguson developed Stephen Johnson syndrome, a gerontology blood disease that most people do not survive.
“They tried to put me out of the Marines and I wouldn’t go,” Ferguson said.
Instead, he continued to train and became part of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. Ferguson and his fellow comrades were sent to Okinawa, Japan.
In 1964, Ferguson’s battalion moved into the Tonkin Gulf in Vietnam.
The group was one the first to go into Vietnam to set up security defense perimeters. They finished up their tour and went back to Camp Pendleton in California.
The break was short lived.
They were shipped back to Vietnam to secure Chu La not long after returning to the United States.
During this tour, the battalion lost so many men they had to be sent back to Okinawa to regroup. What was left of the group was assimilated into two other battalions. Ferguson went to the Marine Expeditionary Force and was flown back to Vietnam for a third time.
“From the 18th day of November to the 23rd day of December, there was very few days I wasn’t under fire and losing men,” Ferguson said of his third tour.
Ferguson was even nicked a couple of times, but it was nothing like what he would experience on Dec. 23, 1965.
Ferguson and his men were on a “Hammer and Wedge” operation where they served as the wedge to hold back the force that was pushed toward them by other Marines.
“From 6 o’clock that morning to around 2 o’clock that afternoon, it was nothing but a raging battle,” he recalled.
Ferguson and his men were brought under intense artillery fire. Seeing one of his men wounded, Ferguson unhesitantly left his protected position and moved into the incoming barrage to aid his fallen comrade.
Disregarding his personal safety, Ferguson shielded the man with his own body and as a result suffered severe arm, leg and head wounds.
Ferguson’s courageous efforts at great risk to his own life undoubtedly saved the life of his fellow Marine.
It was acts such as that one on that day for which Ferguson earned the Bronze Star Medal with the Combat V device, as well as the Purple Heart with cluster for the seven times he was wounded.
Ferguson also earned the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, and many more awards and accolades for his years of service.
He retired from the United States Marine Corps in 1970.
In the years after the conflict, Ferguson suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“It’s the most unnatural thing to take the life of another,” he said. “And when doing so, you never stop reliving it.”
He spent nights talking on the phone with fellow retired Marines, because they couldn’t sleep either.
“The only time a Marine sleeps after all that mess is when the sun comes up and you can sleep for two or three hours,” he said.
Ferguson turned to alcohol and says he stayed drunk for a little over four years so he didn’t have to feel anymore or remember anymore.
Then, on the first Monday in April 1971, Ferguson became a Christian after he somehow wound up attending Bible study at a church in California.
While there, Ferguson said his main focus was the Joe Frazier fight that would be on television later that night.
At the conclusion of the Bible study, members went around the table offering prayers.
It was then when an older African American woman Ferguson simply knew as “Ms. Annie” placed her hands on Ferguson and said, “Jesus, I love Roy and I want you to save him.”
Ms. Annie was the first black lady Ferguson had ever hugged — and he’s been hugging them ever since.
Ferguson hadn’t cried since he was 14 years old. There at the Bible Study, he put his face on the table and sobbed.
“That night the Lord put a fixing on me,” he said.
From there, Ferguson said God called him to preach.
“It scared the living daylights out of me,” Ferguson said of his newfound relationship with God.
“In Vietnam, I used to tell God, ‘you need to go somewhere else today because you’re not going to like what we’re doing.’”
Today, Ferguson serves as a minister at Chestnut Grove Church in Jonesborough.
He credits God with getting him through a whole lot in his life — from battling his war memories to prostate cancer and several other illnesses.