ALS is called a rare disease. But for reasons not yet known, veterans are twice as likely to be diagnosed with ALS compared to the general public.
Last week, we as a nation honored our brave veterans for their sacrifice and service. In our own community, it is our privilege to fight for veterans now living with ALS, alongside partners like the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA).
When Jerry Burd first had difficulty climbing stairs and noticing his running pace had slowed dramatically, he attributed it to age. It wasn’t until his twin brother, Gene, took him to Mayo Clinic in October of 2018, that the Vietnam veteran was diagnosed with ALS.
Through our Lois Insolia ALS Clinic at Northwestern Medicine, we are able to work with Jerry in the coordination of his care with the Hines VA ALS Clinic. As Jerry says, “With the help of these facilities plus family and friends, I know I am getting the best medical treatment and personal support.”
Below, Jerry shares his personal story of military service in honor of Veterans Day:
My first connection with military life began with my draft letter, which arrived about five months after my graduation from Olivet Nazarene College in 1966. I was to report to the Armed Forces station in Chicago the following October. I graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant in August 1967.
My first assignment was Ft. Carson, Colorado, Fifth Infantry Division, for one year. Our brigade was then activated for Vietnam.
My arrival in Vietnam was Hue, the northern section of South Vietnam in early August 1968. I remember getting off the plane and was surprised at the intense heat. We headed north to Quang Tri, and spent a month getting acclimated and started military operations. I was surprised to see how poor the general population was in rural and small towns as we would pass through them.
Eventually, we headed north to the southern edge of the DMZ, demilitarized zone. The hot days were mixed with cold rainy periods. The ground was like a red clay, making everything dirty and grimy. Almost daily we would receive incoming mortar fire, and we had outgoing patrols of our own, which kept everyone busy and alert. It was common at night to receive heavy mortar and small arm fire to our perimeter.
In February 1969, I was transferred to the First Air Cav Division, 1/7 A Company and it was stationed Northwest of Saigon. 1/7 A was the unit used to make the movie, “We Were Soldiers,” which depicted the first major ground battle of the Vietnam War in 1965.
That was a long year for me, but finally, in late July 1969, I was on my way back to good ole USA. What a great feeling making it home. Vietnam was not a popular war, but I felt good to serve my country.
After Vietnam, Jerry adjusted to civilian life. Harnessing his degree in chemistry, Jerry worked at various companies, even teaching high school chemistry and physics for a year, before spending 33 years with Unilever Company as a Quality Control Chemist. Jerry and his wife Ruth Ann now live in Lisle, Illinois and have two daughters.
We thank Jerry and all the other courageous men and women who served, and are still serving, our country. We are the land of the free, because of the brave, thanks to you. If you are a veteran, or know a veteran diagnosed with ALS, please connect with us to explore available options for care and support.
Your support is vital to ensuring every person living with ALS in the Chicagoland area can receive the help they need. If you would like to make a donation, please click here.