Jim Sursely wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s been mentoring and helping wounded veterans, such as himself, for the past 50 years. He still helps veterans although now he’s semi-retired in the Orlando, FL area.

He grew up in Rochester, MN and graduated from high school in May of 1966. By his own admission, he had no intention of joining the military at the time. He planned on going to college and “maybe playing a little bit of junior college football.” But things changed. 

Vietnam was really heating up at that time, so he joined the Army in December of 1966 and went to Ft. Polk, Louisiana for basic training and AIT. He was then sent to Ft. Sill, OK for a second AIT. Growing up he was car enthusiast, “I was a guy who had a ‘57 Chevy and could take it apart and put it back together on the weekend and thought I’d be mechanic in the Army.”

He was trained as a wheeled vehicle mechanic at Ft. Polk and then transitioned to tracked vehicle mechanic at Ft. Sill where the artillerymen were trained. Many of the bigger guns such as the self-propelled 175mm and 8-inch guns were mounted on tracks, and so were tanks and armored personnel carriers. 

Getting to work on all of those vehicles, and to drive most of them as well, was a very good experience for him. He said that the Army had given him everything he asked for in that regard.

His first duty assignment was with the 24th Infantry Division in Augsburg, Germany; he spent the next nine months there with a Battalion Maintenance unit. Although he enjoyed his time there and said it was staffed by great people, something was missing. Sursely said that he didn’t really feel like he was in the military, “I felt like a civilian who just wore green clothes to work.” 

Not feeling quite properly utilized, he volunteered for duty in Vietnam in early 1968. He got a 30-day leave and went back home before reporting in March of 1968. The Tet Offensive was still ongoing, (although winding down) and being assigned in the I Corps area, he was bound to see action. His unit in Vietnam was F Troop, 17th Armored Cavalry, part of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade that was part of the Americal Division. It was located in the Quế Sơn Valley, 17 kilometers southwest of Da Nang. His unit was fighting not only Viet Cong but also the NVA who was coming across the DMZ.