Voices of Our Veterans: Jimmy Watkins
JACKSON, TN (WNBJ)-
Jimmy Watkins joined the army at 17 years old, his aunt and uncle had to sign for him.
“In the twelfth grade, I decided to quit school. When I quit school, I got a visit from a recruiter. And says, ‘if you’re going in better go now’ so I said why not,” said Command Sargent Major Jimmy Watkins.
After basic and infantry training Watkins was ordered to go to Vietnam.
“But everybody around me wasn’t going so I said why should I go if they ain’t going,” said Watkins.
He was court martialed and sent over to Vietnam. There he served as a radio telephone operator.
Watkins said, [To] tell you the truth it was a beautiful country if it wasn’t for the killing and all that.”
After his tour he was sent back to the states and served in a few different roles at different forts. Eventually he was sent back to Vietnam, “Didn’t stay long because they were downgrading Vietnam…and they said, ‘well you’ve got a choice their Sergeant Watkins you can stay, and we’ll resign you somewhere in the states or you can get out.’ so i said ‘well it’s been pretty good so far. I’ve been doing alright; I think I’ll stay,’” Watkins said.
He was sent to another for and them to Germany for a year, “That was a culture shock for me.”
Watkins spent the next few years between Fort Brag in North Carolina and Germany while moving up the ranks of the army.
While he was serving, he was also working on his business degree. He finished it in 1985 before heading to Germany for a third time, "I was coming up on my 19th year and I was feeling it was kind of time for me to get out of the army, and I told myself if I don’t make command sergeant major by 20 [years] I’m retiring,” said Watkins.
He was selected for Command Sergeant Major. Then he ended up at Fort Drum in New York with the Tenth Mountain Division.
They helped clean up hurricane Andrews and then were sent to Samalia.
Watkins said what they did there, “We built a couple of bridges, we repaired roads, we fed a bunch of people.”
Watkins visited many other countries during his twenty-seven and a half years in the Army, France, Spain, Germany, Luxembourg, England, China, and Mexico.
He served most of his time as an Army engineer, but also served as drill instructor, and taught classes as an instructor.
He says throughout his time in the army faced discrimination based on his race, “All the time. All the time…it was one of the reasons I got out," said Watkins.
A situation that happened at Fort Riley was the last straw for Watkins, “There was this racial thing that was going on…got tapes and everything…and I went to the commander with it… ‘of no no, sergeant major you’ve got to be wrong.’ you just listened to it and you’re calling me wrong sir? Are you taking his word and their word over mine?,” Watkins said. He retired immediately after this incident.
Despite the discrimination he faced he says he would do it all over again, "For a young man like i was at the time there was no better place to learn… I had fun in everything.”
After his service he worked a couple years in a civilian job then retired.
Now he serves as the First Vice Commander of American Legion post 12.