Jolly Departs On His Final Mission

Posted November 9th, 2009 by Iron Mike

A long time ago in The Troubled Young Republic, I arrived for duty with the 101st Pathfinders. Day one went reasonably well, I worked two fairly easy PZs [pick-up zones], and in the years since, I’ve almost come to discount nearly getting blown out of the air when the NVA threw a 2½ ton truck up at my helicopter. But that’s a story for another day. Day two would be a bit more exciting.

The boss, we called him “Dirtball” – decided I was ready to be the pointy end of the spear, – so I was to lead an ARVN battalion onto a hillside about a klick south of the old Khe Sanh airstrip. It would be sixty ships – 20 seconds apart – landing sideways on a 45° slope. Tricky stuff. Of course I wasn’t really leading the event, Dirtball had assigned two combat seasoned Pathfinders to wire-guide me. Thus I met Jolly and Bear.

It seems the nearby NVA were quite annoyed by our arrival, – but I was initially unaware of their reception.  By the time I’d guided in the tenth or eleventh bird, I became aware of a pair of Cobras working the nearby ridgeline.  I looked over my shoulder to see Jolly on the radio, and suddenly realized I’d been focusing on only part of the operation.  Jolly gave me a little waive-off – which in a single gesture said “Don’t sweat LT – we’ve got this part under control, – you finish your part.” It was a great teaching moment – by a great teacher. All the way back they ragged me for being totally unaware that we’d been under near constant Cal. 50 fire from that ridge.

Years later illness – some caused by all the Agent Orange we worked with – would cause Jolly a lot of problems.  These continued after his retirement.  He would continue to fight that battle. This morning God won. Sergeant First Class James Gary Witt, US Army Retired, took off on his final mission as an Airborne Pathfinder. Now in addition to the wings he wears on his chest, he’s been issued a new pair – shoulder-mounted models, and they are fully functional. That smiling angel who watched over me and that ARVN battalion that bright August morning will continue to watch over soldiers – paratroopers in particular, – just from a higher OP.  You see, if you spent five minutes with Jolly, you are his friend for life. And if someone assigns Jolly to watch over you – he thinks it means forever. That’s why he fought so hard to stay alive, – he has lots of troops to look after.

Jolly, thank you for everything. Thank you for being a great patriot, a great soldier , a magnificent Pathfinder, a sterling NCO, and the best friend any man or woman could ask for.  And save a place at the bar for me Jolly, – just on the odd chance that St. Peter overlooks some of the stuff I did when I was younger. I’d really like to buy you another drink, or two!

   /s/ Iron Mike [aka “Scotsman”]
   Old Soldier, – Still Good for Parts!
   [and possibly alive because of Jolly and Bear!]

4 Responses to “Jolly Departs On His Final Mission”

  1. Rational Nation USA

    A touching tribute to a man, a soldier, and a patriot. Your regard and respect for him shines through Iron Mike and makes one wish they would have been so fortunate to have known Jolly.

  2. David Witt

    Thanks for the kind words about my oldest brother, Gary. He left to join the military when I was only 6, but I had the pleasure & honor to grow closer to him when he returned from Vietnam & later, Germany. I miss him already and look forward to seeing him again in paradise. Rest easy my Brother – you’ve earned it! With love, Davey

  3. Debra Witt Elgin

    Thank you so much for these inspirational words about my oldest brother, I was #3 and the only girl. We were the only three for about 5 yrs. and we truly have wonderful memories.
    Gary is truly the most humble and wonderful man that anyone could ever meet. My heart hurts, although I know he is in heaven and no more pain or suffering, if he could be back on earth, he would’nt want to be,Heaven is so Glorius. Gary fought a very hard battle during the last several years, and never complained. My brothers and I call him a “HEROE” ! !
    Thank you for remembering our brother so kindly. God Bless You ! ! !
    Love, Debra

  4. Kate Sharp-Witt

    Jolly as you Airborne Rangers call Daddy was the best of all of us I believe. I fell in love with Ryan Gary’s first born son and very quickly after I also fell in love with the rest of the family espically Gary. He teased me mercilessly, and loved me all the same. He supported me in marrying his son to get in state tuition so that I could finish my college degree. (this was not the only reason of course) He smiled broadly as he as he walked me down the isle in a black dress only because it was the date before the planned “big ceremony”. He loved me through 8 brain surgeries and meningitis and we would take turns taking each other to the doctor depending on who was more capable at the time.He told me so many stories about Vietnam and of the 101st Airborne and we watched hours of the History Channel. The past week and a half were the hardest because I knew the end was near.
    I have lost my “treatment” buddy which was Daddy and his cheerful cries of Baby Girl! which is what he calls both his “Girls” Jess and I. Thankfully I still have my faith, my Dad and Bear to help mend this wounded heart funny thing is I have a husband that looks identical to his father with his huge huge heart and Gary and I had matching scars from our identical ports which cannot be removed. Thanks Iron Mike for your touching tribute to Gary (Jolly) Witt