Words by Terrell Manasco | Images by Blakeney Cox
This article was originally published in the August/September 2016 issue of 78 Magazine.
Jack Lamon doesn’t like to talk about what happened to him in December 1967.
Relaxing in an armchair at his home in Jasper, wearing a white pullover shirt emblazoned with the Walker Vikings logo, he’d rather talk about his forty-five years as a volunteer medic, trainer, and chaplain with the team.
Born in Jasper on August 15, 1940, Jack Lamon attended Central (now Maddox) Middle School and Walker High School, managing the Viking football team until he graduated in 1958.
After joining the Navy in 1959, he trained as an X-ray and OR tech, and a field medical technician. He later served aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ranger CVA-61, and then trained at Camp Pendleton (near Oceanside, California) with the Fleet Marine Force. On December 14, 1967, Senior Corpsman Jack Lamon was critically wounded in Viet Nam when a sniper’s bullet nicked his helmet and the shrapnel punctured his jugular.
Even today, the memory of that day is still raw. “It’s tough. I spent nine months in the hospital,” Lamon says. Suddenly the room is quiet. His eyes glisten wet and his voice is quieter.
Then in April 1968, the doctors brought bad news. “They told us…I’d never be able to walk again,” he says, voice breaking, pausing. “I fooled them,” he chuckles. “I think God definitely had a part in it. I had already gone into the ministry in the service, and planned to graduate and go on to the seminary but…I didn’t complete that.”
Mr. Lamon was discharged with one hundred percent physical disability in 1970. He received the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star With Combat V, and the Viet Nam Service Medal. But his service wasn’t over yet.
Inspired by his brother James, a volunteer coach at Walker under then-coach Larry Blakeney (and later David Campbell), Lamon began volunteering his own time in 1971. “I figured since I was out of the service and I worked in medicine the past ten years, I knew more about the first aid part than the coaches did,” he says.
Four decades after he left Viet Nam, Jack Lamon is still on the front lines treating the wounded, but there are no sniper bullets or shrapnel to remove. “I help Bob [Athletic Trainer Bob White] diagnose and treat injuries, and give first aid. We work closely with Dr. Vague,” he says. “We’re able to get on the injuries and save two days by treating them Friday nights and Saturdays.”
Over the years, some players remain vivid in Lamon’s mind. “Tommy Cole, Bucky Smith, Chad Key, Linnie Patrick,” he muses, occasionally pausing to recall a name. “Philip Gilmore, who played guard. He was small, but he would hit you before you could bat an eye. ”
One name provokes a grin. “We had an old boy named Wade. He was a kicker. We were playing down at Holt and we needed some help, if you know what I mean,” he laughs. “They were hitting him every time he’d punt the ball. I said, ‘Next time they hit you, grab your ankle or knee and fall down, and wait until we get there.’ So next time they hit him, he grabbed his knee and fell down. Dr. Gene Birdsong, who was working with us then, came running out there hollering, ‘What’s wrong with him?’ I said, ‘We got it, Doc!’ Once we got on the sideline, I told Dr. Birdsong that we told the kid to fall out, and he just laughed.”
In 1998, Walker High School honored Jack Lamon by naming its training facility in his honor. In 2002 he was inducted into the Walker High School Athletic Hall of Fame for outstanding achievements from 1954-1958, and for his volunteer work from 1971-2002.
“Jack’s service to Walker High School is really unusual,” says former coach Danny Gambrell. “He didn’t get paid for it. He’d go to the games early, carry all the medical equipment, sometimes in his own vehicle, and have everything on the sidelines ready. This was early on, before you had trainers. He’s the granddaddy, the one who got it all started. He’s been a very valuable part of it for so many years.”
In December 2015, Mr. Lamon suffered a stroke, leaving him sidelined for now. “I was filling in for Bob,” he says. “He was having surgery when I had my stroke, so we’ve both been out.”
Despite the setback, Gambrell says the senior corpsman who was once told he would never walk again isn’t done. “I guarantee you, he’ll try to find a way to be on the sideline come football season.” 78