Not long after that, Sims found himself in Vietnam, and that scene at the spring played over and over in his mind the entire year he was there.
Sims faced a lot of danger and discomfort that year. There were monsoons, snakes, napalm, lack of food and, of course, the enemy. For Sims though, the worst was thirst. There was never enough water to drink. He was always thinking about that spring and the abundance of clear, clean water it spewed forth.
“I told myself that if I lived that I was going back to that spring, and that’s one of the first things I did when I got home,” Sims said. “I went and got me a drink of water. We would go months without a bath. One time I went eight months. Now my wife wonders why I take three baths a day.”
On his flight from Alabama to California to catch another flight to Vietnam, he struck up a conversation with a soldier from North Carolina by the name of Roy Miller Sims. The two learned they were cousins. In fact it was Roy who recently decided it was time for Wayne to be honored for his service in Vietnam, so he took it upon himself to send off for the paperwork that would do just that.
Roy was on hand last week at Weaver Congregational Holiness Church when family, friends and church members surprised Wayne with a certificate mentioning his awards and a flag that had flown over the White House.
“I thought I was going to a revival,” Wayne said. “When I walked in, everybody was there and I got the surprise of my life.”
Sims received the Combat Action Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal and a medal for his rifle shooting expertise.
His son Jason said his father never talked about Vietnam when he was growing up.
“He always keep it inside,” said Jason. “He never told us anything.”
Nowadays, Sims finds it therapeutic to talk about it.
“I have two hearing aids in my ears because they got busted out when I was there,” said Sims. “They gave us cigarettes and hot beer, and we would put the cigarettes in our ears for ear plugs. We didn’t have anything else.”
Sims is being treated at the Veterans Hospital in Birmingham for post traumatic stress disorder.
“The aroma of death still wakes me up in the middle of the night,” he said. “It’s hard to shake. When you smell death, it never leaves you. It just seems to always stay with you. That’s why today I don’t want to shoot a deer or anything. I don’t like death. I like for people to live and have abundant life. Death is not a pretty sight.”
Sims said when he arrived in Vietnam with the 3rd Marine Platoon, he was handed a M60 machine gun.
“As a 17 or 18 year old boy, that was a death sentence, especially right there where we were located,” Sims said. “We could see the DMZ, or what we called Dead Man’s Zone. I jumped out of helicopters right in the middle of what they called the bush, which was really the jungle.”
One day a captain walked into his tent and asked if anyone knew how to read as map. The kind of map reading he was talking about involved scouting an area before the rest of the platoon arrived.
Sims volunteered and this new job brought even more danger to the young Marine’s life.
“If we saw Charlie, we would call in air strikes,” Sims said. “That’s when we couldn’t help ourselves. We were being mortared, and the Air Force, Marines, Army, or whoever was closest, would have to come out and give us air support. The air strikes were so close we prayed there would be no deaths of our own. When you’re being mortared, there’s no defense. You can’t even see the enemy. All you can do is get in your hole and pray. I ran a lot. That’s why I can relate to Forrest Gump. Sometimes I still feel like I’m running.”
That’s how Sims lost his two front teeth -- on one particular day he hit the foxhole too hard.
Three days after Sims volunteered to be a map reader he was separated from his platoon.
“They were all killed,” he said. “The whole platoon. I’m still in awe that I was separated just because of my volunteering. God helped me out. There’s no doubt about that.”
Sims said the difficult part about coming home was the lack of respect he others who served their country endured.
“We were booed,” he said. “We were treated pretty bad. It almost made me cry. But I’ve always felt a sense of pride for my service to my country, and I don’t meant that to be arrogant pride, I mean I just wanted to do my part. I’m honored to be born here. Our hearts were there for the right reason.”
Sims was a 17-year-old high school drop out when he became a Marine. He didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life at that time. He eventually earned his GED in the Marine Corp and for many years now he and his son, Jason, have run a successful business, Wayne Sims Construction.
That friend, Johnny Johnson, who accompanied Sims to the spring that day never came home.
“He joined the Army and I joined the Marine Corp,” Sims said. “We were working together at the commissary at Fort McClellan and just decided one day to join up. We were childhood friends. I went to Washington, D. C., a few years ago and went to see his name on the Vietnam Memorial.”