Jerry Torres is retired but he’s not ready to go out to pasture yet.
After his 20-year military career ended in 1998, the Vietnam veteran worked in the defense industry until about two months ago. He said he’s looking for new employment now.
“My job is to help people. That’s what I do,” the Elkmont resident said.
Torres joined the Army in 1968 after graduating from Hatch High School in Hatch, New Mexico. He initially wanted the Navy but changed his mind because he thought he’d have a better chance of selecting a specialty. He entered helicopter maintenance.
The 18-year-old went to Vietnam in early 1969 for a 12-month tour which he eventually extended two months. He worked on Huey helicopters for the 174th Aviation Company which had a fleet of 18.
“I had to fix every part of a helicopter,” he said. “I replaced engines, transmissions, rotor blades.”
The aviation unit, which was surrounded by infantry, proved to be a prime target for the North Vietnamese regiments. The enemy would attack at night.
“I lost all my friends in Vietnam,” Torres said. “We lost 62 people out of a 90-man company.
“I thought I was going to die in Vietnam because all my friends were getting killed.”
Fortunately the maintenance crew chief survived. He was a private E-3 when he arrived and an E-5 when he left.
Torres, who went to officer candidate school, came to Redstone in 1978 as a first lieutenant and he became a nuclear weapons officer. His career included two tours in Germany and a three-year tour in Alaska. He was a captain when he retired at Redstone in 1998 and started working for contractors. His industry experience included program analyst, logistics analyst, business development manager and cost analyst.
While in the Army, he earned a bachelor’s in business administration from Athens State University in 1985.
“I used to be a team roper in my prior life,” he said. He knows how to train his eight “world-class” horses.
Torres, 69, resides in Elkmont with his wife of 13 years, Shug. He has a son, Jerry, who is retired from the Navy in Arizona; and two daughters, Joanne Kriegal of Oregon and Trisha of Las Cruces, New Mexico.
“My job always was to help people of all ranks and everything,” he said. “That was my job – was to help people.”
Editor’s note: This is the 238th in a series of articles about Vietnam veterans as the United States commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.