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Jerry Lee Halpenny
Courtesy Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


Jerry Lee Halpenny

"Great achievement is usually born of great sacrifice, and is never the result of selfishness."

Napoleon Hill

Jerry Lee Halpenny was born on June 11, 1945, in Harrison County, West Virginia, to his parents Charles Edward Halpenny and Lenora May Templeton. Jerry was the youngest of three boys. His oldest brother was John Calvin Halpenny (1939-2014), who would go on to work in the coal mines for Consol Energy as a coal miner at Robinson Run Mine for 34 years. His other brother was James Marshall Halpenny (1942-2018), who also served in the U.S. Army and would go on to work as a coal miner at Robinson Run for 36 years just like his older brother.

Jerry attended Shinnston High School, where he graduated in the class of 1963. Shinnston was a coal mining town, so there is a good chance that Jerry might have worked in the coal mines once he graduated from high school. On June 26, 1965, he married Linda Sue McGinnis Halpenny (Sandy) in Marion County.

In the months after the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, President Johnson rapidly increased the U.S. military presence in the defense of South Vietnam, with 184,000 troops to be stationed there by the end of 1965. In July of that same year, President Johnson said "America had no choice, because North Vietnam and Communist China sought to conquer the South, to defeat American power, and to extend the Asiatic dominion of communism. An Asia so threatened by Communist domination would certainly imperil the security of the United States itself." ("Resistance and Revolution: The Anti-War Movement at the University of Michigan, 1965-1972," Michigan in the World, accessed 31 March 2020,

During that pivotal year, the U.S. military drafted 230,991 more young men. During the next four years, the Selective Service inducted an average of around 300,000 young men annually-including a significant percentage of the 58,156 American troops who would die in the conflict. In 1968, Jerry Lee Halpenny was one of those young men drafted into the U.S. Army as 11B, Light Weapons Infantry. Later that year in November, Richard Nixon would become president and promised to bring "law and order" to Vietnam, as well as end the draft.

Private First Class Jerry Lee Halpenny started his tour in Vietnam on September 1, 1968, and was assigned to Charlie Company, 5th Battalion, 46th Infantry, 198th Infantry Brigade, Americal Division, U.S. Army Vietnam. His unit was assigned to Landing Zone (LZ) Gator, which was located in South Vietnam in the Quang Ngai province in the South Central Coastal region along the East Sea. LZ Gator was a forward firebase for the 5th Battalion, 46th Infantry, 198th Infantry Brigade, and was home to 700 or 800 American soldiers, mostly grunts.

In the following passage, a member of Alpha Company remembers LZ Gator as

. . . a tar helipad, a mess hall, a medical station, mortar and artillery emplacements, two volleyball courts, numerous barracks and offices and supply depots and machine shops and entertainment clubs. Gator was our castle. Not safe, exactly, but far preferable to the bush. No land mines here. No paddies bubbling with machine-gun fire. Maybe once a month, for three or four days at a time, Alpha Company would return to Gator for stand-down, where we took our comforts behind a perimeter of bunkers and concertina wire. There were hot showers and hot meals, ice chests packed with beer, glossy pinup girls, big, black Sony tape decks booming "We gotta get out of this place" at decibels for the deaf.

Thirty or 40 acres of almost-America. With a little weed and a lot of beer, we would spend the days of stand-down in flat-out celebration, purely alive, taking pleasure in our own biology, kidneys and livers and lungs and legs, all in their proper alignments. We could breathe here. We could feel our fists uncurl, the pressures approaching normal. The real war, it seemed, was in another solar system. By day, we'd fill sandbags or pull bunker guard. In the evenings, there were outdoor movies and sometimes live floor shows-pretty Korean girls breaking our hearts in their spangled miniskirts and high leather boots-then afterward we'd troop back to the Alpha barracks for some letter writing or boozing or just a good night's sleep. (Tim O'Brien, "The Vietnam in Me," The New York Times Magazine, 2 October 1994, republished 1996, accessed 31 March 2020,

According to the 198th Brigade Tactical Operations Center (TOC) log, "[on] October 12, 1968, the 5th Battalion/46th Infantry was relieved by 1st Battalion/6th Infantry Battalion of defense of LZ Paradise and River Boat South. Moved by hook (Chinook Helicopter) to LZ Gator. 130730 hrs conducted CA into IS vicinity 655277 and established blocking position. When Bravo Company reaches North-South of Grid 66, one platoon swings West, searching area towards H/Trp/17 Cav's blocking position." ("Daily Staff Journal or Duty Officer's Log [U.S. Army]," accessed 31 March 2020,

Even though the infantry units were conducting combat patrols which included reconnaissance, search and destroy, and setting up blocking positions, they were also conducting humanitarian aid to the local Vietnamese people. They were active in supporting the voluntary informant program, which allowed protection and possible relocation for those Vietnamese who turned over weapons, ammo, grenades, and information to the U.S. military.

On October 13, 1968, Charlie Company was continuing to occupy their blocking positions and waiting for Bravo Company to reach North-South Grid 66, as one platoon-West-would conduct a detailed search of the area toward blocking position of H/Trp/17 Cav. They were to continue with the above operation and be prepared for possible extraction.

At 1540 hours, Charlie Company and H/Trp/17th Cav received enemy fire from Hill #106. Permission was granted for the 17th Cav to return fire. At 1705 hours, elements from the 17th Cav conducted a VR (visual reconnaissance) and found a camouflaged trench line, a bunker, and AW (automatic weapon) position unoccupied on the northwest of Hill #106.

Later that evening, as the companies were setting up their defensive perimeters, all was good at 2200 hours. One hour later, around 2300 hours, Charlie Company came under heavy enemy machine gun fire. This is where Pfc. Jerry Lee Halpenny would meet his fate. He was the only one that was killed by hostile action that night. Two others were wounded; Pfc. Hunter was shot in the arm and Pfc. Jackson was shot in the leg. The unit called for a dust-off (MEDEVAC), which was completed at 2325 hrs.

Jerry Lee Halpenny's remains were returned to the U.S., where he was buried in the IOOF Cemetery at Enterprise, Harrison County, West Virginia. His family was devastated, but was really proud of the fact that he was able to fight for his country. He brought honor to his family, to his country, and to his home state of West Virginia. His determination and personal courage enabled him to protect this country as he made the ultimate sacrifice. He was posthumously promoted from private first class to corporal.
Military marker at the grave of Cpl. Jerry Lee Halpenny, IOOF Cemetery, Enterprise, West Virginia. Courtesy Bobby Bice

Military marker at the grave of Cpl. Jerry Lee Halpenny, IOOF Cemetery, Enterprise, West Virginia. Courtesy Bobby Bice

Cpl. Halpenny is remembered today as his name is inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., on Panel 41W, Line 58. He is also remembered on the West Virginia Veterans Memorial in Charleston, West Virginia.

Photo of the Corporal Jerry Lee Halpenny/Pfc. Michael Alonzo Wells Bridge courtesy of Bobby Bice

Photo of the Corporal Jerry Lee Halpenny/Pfc. Michael Alonzo Wells Bridge courtesy of Bobby Bice

On February 21, 2003, the West Virginia Legislature introduced House Concurrent Resolution No. 50, wherein they directed the West Virginia Division of Highways to rename the bridge crossing the West Fork River at Enterprise, Harrison County, West Virginia, to the "Corporal Jerry Lee Halpenny and PFC Michael Alonzo Wells Memorial Bridge." It turns out that Michael Wells was killed in Vietnam on June 27, 1969, and grew up only four houses away from Jerry Lee Halpenny. Therefore, the bridge was named in honor of these two great individuals for their unwavering courage and duty. According to the legislative resolution, "These two young men live in the hearts they have left behind, but they have honored all of us by their sacrifice and it cannot go unnoticed."

Cpl. Jerry Lee Halpenny received the following commendations: Purple Heart, Combat Infantryman Badge, National Defense Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal. He was also awarded the Vietnam Gallantry Cross, and his unit received the Army Presidential Citation.

Article prepared by Janessa Valentine, Monrene Ross, and MAJ (Ret) T. Brad McGee, George Washington High School JROTC
March 2020


Jerry Lee Halpenny

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.

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