Being the Best He Could Be
Jimmy Bedgood knew in his mind that he would never celebrate his sixty-fifth birthday last weekend. He knew that he was going to die. And, if he did, he was going to die for his country so his brother wouldn't be killed in the jungles of Vietnam. This is the story of an outgoing, young country boy who always tried to be the best he could be in the finest tradition of the United States Army.
The first Monday in May 1968 was a cool mid-spring day in Dublin. Astronaut Neil Armstrong, still 14 months away from being the first man to set foot on the moon, was nearly killed while flying a lunar landing trainer. Bobby Goldsboro's Honey was spending its 5th week at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Dublin teenagers were listening to the Box Tops, Gary Puckett and the Beatles. The duo of Simon and Garfunkel held down the top two slots on the LP album charts. The Braves lost to the Pirates, 2-1. Newsweek's cover story featured students protesting the war in Vietnam. Most households in Laurens County were tuned to Gunsmoke, Andy Griffith, and The Monkees. Audrey Hepburn was terrified in Wait Until Dark on the giant screen of the Martin Theater. Edward Alligood and James Malone led the Dexter Hornets in defeating the baseball team from Twiggs County. The City of Dublin actually lowered natural gas rates upon a motion by Councilman Junior Scarboro.
Meanwhile in Vietnam, the Viet Cong were launching guerilla attacks throughout the Vietnamese capital of Saigon. One hundred and six young American men died on that single day. United States Army Staff Sergeant Jimmy Bedgood, Service Number 14875003, was one of them. More than fifty thousand American service personnel in all died before the fighting stopped. You can find his name on Panel 55E, line 39 along the bottom of the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C.
Jimmy Bedgood, son of Fermon Bedgood and Louise Purvis, was born on May 20, 1946 in Wrightsville, Georgia. Jimmy, a highly intelligent young man, skipped some courses in school. In speaking of her highly industrious son, Mrs. Purvis said, "I didn't have to support him financially. The spiffy, organized, and picky teenager worked hard and bought everything he needed for school." Jimmy played football at East Laurens High School, graduating from there in 1964. Al Manning remembered Jimmy as a young man who wanted to do the best he could do at everything he did. "For a relatively small teenager, he could hit you very hard," Manning also recalled.
Clinton Lord often double-dated with Jimmy and a girl friend from Dublin. Lord asked the girl's father about letting her date Jimmy. When Clinton issued an unequivocal endorsement of the guy everyone liked and admired, the reluctant parent readily approved the date.
"After graduation, Jimmy Bedgood went to work at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville to work with teenagers with alcohol and drug problems," said his mother, Louise Purvis. "His employers were impressed with his grades and his ability to work with people his own age," his mother added. Bedgood entered the Army in December 1964. After training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, he was transferred to Fort Hood, Texas, where he remained until his first tour of duty in Vietnam. Soon Bedgood was assigned to the "Big Red One, " the First Division of the United States Army.
On June 14, 1967, while leading a five-man long range recon patrol, Sgt. Bedgood sensed the presence of the enemy and halted his squad just before crossing a stream. Instantly the sergeant saw a ten-manViet Cong patrol approaching his position. After arranging his men for a fire fight, Bedgood called in helicopters to pin down the enemy while he and his men made it to a landing zone and safety. As Bedgood and his men approached the landing zone, they encountered another enemy patrol and engaged and wiped out the force with no American casualties. For his heroic actions, Sgt. Bedgood was awarded the Bronze Star.
In February 1968, just as the Tet Offensive was beginning, Sgt. Bedgood received his fourth bronze star for heroism. At least one of the awards carried a "V device" for unique valor. Also pinned to his chest were not one, but two, Purple Hearts for injuries received in the line of battle.
Jimmy Bedgood came home during a 30-day leave in late March 1968 after his second tour in Vietnam. Clinton Lord last saw Jimmy when he pulled his car into the White Castle Drive-In on North Jefferson Street. Jimmy told Clinton he was shipping out to Vietnam. Lord questioned his motive for going to Vietnam for the third time. Bedgood responded, "It is the promotions, I am going to make this my career." Bedgood told others that one of the reasons he was returning to combat was to try to insure that his brother, Robert Reynolds, wouldn't have to go. Lord remembered his friend saying, "Being in the army is great and it brings direction to my life." Bedgood naturally relished the higher pay that combat soldiers received.
When Jimmy came home for the last time, he brought with him one of his best dress uniforms. He replaced the regulation brass buttons with shiny silver ones. He sewed on shoulder patches of the 1st Infantry Division and the 1st Armored Division. Jimmy placed the suit in his mother's wardrobe where it remained until recently when the uniform was turned over to Commissioner Buddy Adams, Laurens County's curator of military memorabilia. "Jimmy wanted to be buried in that uniform, but I didn't know it." Bedgood told his family that he wouldn't be coming back. They hoped he was wrong. Bedgood's younger sister, Lorene West, loved her big brother. "He called me monkey," Lorene fondly remembered.
Gia Dinh, outside Saigon, Vietnam, May 6, 1968: When Bedgood returned to Vietnam, he was assigned to Co. C of the 52nd Infantry Regiment, a company of combat veterans working as security guards and assigned to the 716th Military Police Battalion. An agreement between the United States and South Vietnam prohibited the stationing of combat forces within Saigon. Only a small contingent of lightly-armed military policemen were allowed to remain within the city.
A Viet Cong squad attacked a bachelor's officers quarters on Plantation Road. An MP patrol responding to the attack was pinned down. Sgt. Bedgood was called to lead a reaction team to rescue them. Bedgood's team covered the trapped Americans until they escaped the ambush. During the attack, a rocket propelled grenade struck Bedgood's jeep, killing him instantly and wounded the other occupants. Nine soldiers of "C" Company lost their lives in defense of the Vietnamese capital. The company's valiant actions led to its award of a Presidential Unit Citation.
Staff Sergeant Bedgood was buried with full military honors in Andersonville National Cemetery. If you have never been there, you owe it to yourself to make the trip - especially on Memorial Day when the entire cemetery is covered with American flags placed on every grave. It will blow your mind. It will make you proud. It made me cry. I think it will make you cry too.
On this Memorial Day, let us all remember Jimmy Bedgood, the little boy playing in his overalls, the smart, hard-working teenager who always did the best he could do at everything he did, and the brave American hero, who gave his life so that all of us would continue to live in a free world.