Stellar performance: The story of First Lt. Jerry Headley

Veterans Voices

WINCHESTER, Va. (WDVM) — The Silver Star is the nation’s third highest military decoration for valor. It’s tough enough to be awarded with one of them, but an Army officer from Winchester was awarded five Silver Stars for heroic acts on the battlefield during five months of the Vietnam War.

Jerry Headley and platoon

First Lieutenant Jerry Headley was a platoon leader in Bravo Troop, Third Battalion, 4th Cavalry in the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Division. The platoon’s mission was to lead army convoys through the Central Highlands in Vietnam. Combat engineers cleared the road of improvised explosive devices decades before they became known as IEDs during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Headley defusing IED

“The VC and NVA [Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army] would use unexploded Air Force ordnance, mostly bombs, and place them in the roads to interdict supply convoys passing through the area.

In addition to five Silver Stars, he was also awarded three Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts for wounds suffered during his tour of duty. One of the Purple Hearts was awarded after his APC, an armored personnel carrier commonly called a “track,” hit a land mine.

“I was knocked around and bruised up a little bit, but other than that, I was okay,” said Headley as talked about his incredible tour of duty.

Headley’s first Silver Star came when his platoon went to the aid of a convoy ambushed near a rubber plantation. He took over when the troop commander was killed.

“As we pulled into the battle site, the first two platoons, 1st and 2nd, we’re already engaged with elements of the 9th NVA Division.”

To maximize his platoon’s firepower, Headley ordered his tracks to draw up into a herringbone formation with all guns pointing outward. The battle was so vicious, Headley wondered if this was the day he was going to die. He didn’t, and in the next five weeks, was awarded a Silver Star for actions on December 20th, January 15th and 16th and January 26th. He also collected three Bronze Stars and two more Purple Hearts.

But it never occurred to him that someone like me might call him the “Audie Murphy of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia;’ a highly decorated U.S. soldier in World War Two who was killed when his plane crashed south of Winchester in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Audie Murphy

“No. There were certainly other people who received higher awards,” laughed Headley as he surveyed his many decorations that adorn the walls of his living room.

When he looks at the decorations, he is reminded of days when he was a young soldier like Murphy who was awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery during WWII. “I also think of awfully good soldiers I’ve had the opportunity to serve with during my career,” said Headley.

After taking over command of Bravo Troop, Headley was promoted to Captain and retired in 1984 from the Army as a Major who played a key role in mobilizing National Guard units and deciding which ones deployed to Saudi Arabia for the Gulf War in 1990-91 as deputy chief of the Readiness Division.

Headley returned to the Pentagon as a civilian and worked in the same capacity during the Iraq war before finally retiring from government service.

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