Austin Weekly News recently spoke with Jerry Warren, president of the Austin Veterans Community Organization (AVCO). Warren served in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968, earning a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars. After finishing his service, he moved to Austin and then Galewood, where he raised his family. We talked about his experiences in the military, being one of Galewood’s first Black residents and what AVCO means to him.
On his experiences in the military
My experience was kind of strange. I was raised in the South, where there was a lot of prejudice and stuff going on. So, when I got to the military, I was in the leadership role and in charge of some people who were still trying to run things in the South. That was a change.
On March 3, 1968, I was wounded [in combat]. I was hit with shrapnel. They told me they were going to amputate my arm and I protested.
‘No, no, no, no,’ I said. I came here with two and I was going to leave with two. At first, they weren’t going to give me the x-ray, but I kept insisting. When they gave me the x-ray, they decided that they weren’t going to give me an amputation after all.
Then, I had a choice. I could go home or I could go back. I didn’t want to go home, so I decided to go back to the field. Because I was a sergeant at the time, they allowed me to go back to the field. [By the time] I got to the unit, the rumor got there that they amputated my arm, so when my troopers saw me, they were very surprised.
I went on and served. I left Vietnam. I did the last six months in Fort Hood, Texas. Then, I came to Chicago.
On his experiences in Austin and Galewood
When I first moved to Austin in 1969, I remember you could go anywhere, any place, walk down the street, there was never a problem. You knew people. Now, you’re afraid. And I’ve always wanted to see what I could do to bring it back to the old Austin, where people wouldn’t be afraid to walk to the store, to leave their house.
I love Austin. I feel there are beautiful people there.
I think it was 1974 that I moved to Galewood. When I moved to Galewood, there weren’t many Black people there. But it has changed now. Now, they have a lot of Afro-Americans that live in Galewood.
It felt kind of strange being one of the first Blacks in Galewood. All I did was get up, go to work, stay in the house and mind my own business. I remember, once, I was in my yard, and there was a Caucasian guy who came and said, ‘I would like to talk to the owner of the house.’
And I said, ‘I’m the owner.’ And he said, ‘No, you’re not.’ He didn’t believe me.
I’ve lived in Elmwood Park for the last 15 or 20 years. I still go to Austin just about every day, two or three times a week. We have a breakfast club. I eat at MacArthur’s and some other restaurants in Austin. So even though I’ve moved out, I never stopped frequenting Austin businesses and going to Austin.