Jimmie Plumley was the first Gilmer County man killed in Vietnam
Linda Plumley Ward remembers the day in 1966 when her mother had a premonition about her son Jimmie, who was serving in Vietnam.
“There was a picture of him in his uniform hanging on the wall, and a light — I’m sure it was the sun — just came in on his picture, and I remember my mother sitting there looking at it, and it concerned her because his picture just sorta lit up,” Linda said. “They were already concerned because so much was happening over there. We’d get bits and pieces of news. You knew how it was back then, you didn’t get much like you do today.”
Days later, they got the dreaded news. Jimmie Plumley, age 23, the son of Kiser O. Plumley and Mattie Patterson Plumley, had been killed.
“There were several of us sitting in the living room when it happened,” Linda recalls of the illuminated photo. “My mother was one of those people that had an insight to things ... After all was said and done, we did check back and that was the day he was killed.”
It was April 20, 1966, according to the National Archives (archives.gov/aad).
Several of Jimmie’s 15 siblings — there were nine sisters and seven brothers in all (one died after childbirth) — responded to requests from the Times-Courier to talk about their brother, U.S. Army Private First Class Plumley. He served in Korea, came back to Georgia, then reenlisted before shipping out to Vietnam.
Rene Stover, a friend of Jimmie and the family, remembers why he re-upped.
“They were an Army family, and Jimmie served his time and came home,” he began. “Jimmie was a good guy, but he was really getting frustrated, though, because he’d been in the Army, came home and couldn’t find a decent job. He’d work with his dad a little bit and work at a sawmill some … there was a girl that he was dating, and he was real crazy about her. He wanted to marry her, but he wanted a good job so he could support her.”
Rene said he and Jimmie “ran around for about a year together” after his first enlistment.
“We got pretty close,” he recollected. “I was working in Atlanta, but would come up on weekends. We’d get together and ride around through the mountains, singing songs. He was a terrific singer, and his favorite singer was Johnny Horton. Eventually, he joined back up.”
- Rene said he traveled to Washington, D.C., and found his old friend’s name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, and when the Traveling Wall came to Ellijay a few years ago he found his name again.
“It was really saddening to me.” he said. “I thought the world of him. He was one of my best friends.”
‘A little daredevil’
Younger sister Ruth Plumley Parker remembered her brother was “tough, kind of a rebel.”
“He was always good for us younger ones, he would take us places,” she said. “When he was in Columbus (at Fort Benning), he’d come home on leave and bring a Jeep. He would always take us all riding, up around Town Creek, and do all sorts of stuff with us, go skating — that’s what you did then.”
Ruth said she had been married around two months when Jimmie was killed.
“It was a sad time,” she recalled. “A lot of people came to the house and brought food; some of them came from way off. The church at Turniptown was packed for his funeral, there were people outside and everywhere. He’s buried there at Turniptown.”
Older sister Bobbie Plumley Chestnut said Jimmie was “a little daredevil, mischievous like most little boys are.”
“But he loved life, and he was full of vim and vigor,” she continued. “He was a sensitive little boy, and kind to all of us. He lived with us around three months before he went back into the Army for a second tour. He had a fiance and was excited about getting married.
“We lived in Clayton County then … and when he finally was able to save up enough money to buy a vehicle, he went back to the mountains of Gilmer County before he decided to go back in. He told me when he got back he wanted to get married.”
Barbara Plumley Mayfield said her brother was “a sensitive but strong-willed kid” who loved his family, especially his younger siblings. She noted the family’s military heritage goes back to the Revolutionary War, and Jimmie joined as soon as he was old enough — as did his brothers.
“Jimmie loved to play pranks on his siblings, such as sicing the rooster on them while he climbed a tree to safety, or always winning the coin toss with ‘Heads I win, tails you lose,’” she remembers. “Mother called him precocious because he would do things like toss little stones from hiding at visitors, such as his grandmother.”
And he always thought of others, Barbara said.
“Jimmie would come home late at night from a chicken-catching job, bringing hot dogs and hamburgers from the pool room for his mom and dad,” she said.
Brenda Plumley Coulter, a younger sister Jimmie nicknamed “Smidge” when she was 2 or 3 years old, tried to follow him around and help with his chores.
“He looked down and said, ‘You’re not big as a smidgen,’ and it stuck — among my siblings I am still Smidge,” she noted.
Younger sis Linda Plumley Ward wrote Jimmie letters while he was enlisted, and “he always responded.”
“Mother would send care packages to him often, and we all liked to join in preparing the special treats he liked,” she said. “When we received letters from Jimmie, we would gather around Daddy as he read them. When he got to come home on leave, he would always bring us candy or something. He would take us on rides, and back in those days that was a big thrill. He was the kind of brother you would want to have. We would get so excited when we knew he was coming home.”
‘Still hard to talk about’
Linda said she was the child who answered the door when Army authorities “came to give us the bad news.”
“I had just gotten up to get ready to go to school, and I was the only one up,” she said. “It was still dark, because I was hesitant to answer the door and I hollered at my dad (and asked), would it be OK if I went to the door? There’s somebody knocking on the door, and he said go ahead — it’s still hard to talk about. When I opened the door, there was man standing there with an Army uniform on, and he had a folder in his arm and said he needed to speak to my mother and father.”
Her mother “burst out crying because I think they knew what had happened,” Linda said in announcing the visitor. “He came in and told them, and my dad would have hit the floor if there hadn’t been a chair there. My momma did, and she began to cry. I was maybe 14 and remember it; I don’t think it ever goes away.”
Bobbie, who was at work when the news hit home, said the family was “devastated.”
“He was writing two of us sisters quite often,” she recalled. “The location where he was at, he did tell me in his last letter, was really getting bad. It was like (combat) was closing in on them, and he didn’t know if he would make it through or not.”
Older brother Charles, whom the family called “Billy,” also served in Vietnam (1967-68) and was stationed with Jimmie before then at Fort Benning, in 1962-63, he recalled.
“We came back and forth to Ellijay quite a bit back then,” he said. “He got out and then went back in sometime in ‘65. Jimmie was with the 25th Infantry Division, I think, up north of Saigon. I was stationed in later years with two of the people that was with him when he got killed. He was on a road-clearing detail. He was a driver at the time, but he had to get out and go down each side of the road and clear mines so the rest of the convoy could come through.
“A Claymore mine went off — somehow they tripped it — and I think it killed three or five guys.”
Charles was in Berlin, Germany, when he got the bad news.
“I had orders to go to Vietnam, but the Red Cross sent me a letter and gave me leave right away to assign me back to the states instead of Vietnam,” he said. “I went to Fort Sill, Okla., before going to Vietnam. I only did one tour, because at that time if you had a family member that was killed, you only did one tour.
“My brother and I were pretty close. The whole family was, back in those days when we were young.”
Brenda said it “broke my heart” when Jimmie volunteered to go to Vietnam.
“He was older and always looking out for us younger ones,” she remembered. “But I was always proud and in awe of his bravery. I prayed every day for him, that he would return to us, and wrote to him often. It was a painful morning when we got the knock on our door as we were all getting ready for school, and were told our brother, our parents’ son, would not be returning home.”
Brenda said a “special” teacher, Dora Parks, helped her through the difficult times after Jimmie’s death.
“She brought recordings Jimmie made when he was in her classroom as a young boy, and we all sat quietly and listened,” she said. “Miss Parks spoke to my class about his sacrifice in serving his country. I was so proud, and maybe a little healing happened in my heart, knowing others understood and appreciated his sacrifice … the things that were said about our Vietnam vets was hurtful and sometimes made me fiercely angry. It’s good to know the bravery and sacrifice these young men made is being recognized and appreciated.
“I still miss my brother, and the vital part he was in our family.”
‘So proud of him and all my brothers
“Jimmy, brother. I cannot mention his name without also saying Eugene, Charles, Jerry, Danny, Tony and Joseph (who passed away at birth) — all my brothers were my heroes growing up. All of them served our country in the Army, Air Force or Marines.
“I can’t say which was the most handsome, since they all looked alike. Jimmie had a James Dean look with his cigarettes rolled up in his T-shirt sleeve. Those of you who remember him know that he was somewhat of a rebel, always having a smile on his face and ready for a good time.
“But I knew him as a sweet soul who loved to watch The Three Stooges and the Road Runner on TV; who would gladly climb to the top of the house when our mother and daddy were gone and make soap bubbles with his hands for all us kids to pop.
“Jimmy was called to defend our country at a young age, and didn’t get to finish his life. He was killed in Vietnam, leaving a great emptiness in our family forever. I’m so proud of him, and all my brothers who have defended our country.”
— ‘Sister No. 8’ Cathy Plumley Chadwick