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franklin county times

PROGRESS 2024: Veteran Spotlight – Jerry Fancher

“I don’t think I would be where I am today if it had not been for the military. It taught me leadership, discipline, respect, motivation, integrity.” That’s how Jerry Paul Fancher sums up his four years in United States Marines.

Fancher, 59, of Red Bay enlisted in the military from 1983-1987. He said military service was something he had always admired. He had just graduated from Belmont High School in Mississippi, and he knew he wasn’t ready for college. Military service seemed like an excellent choice.

“My dad thought it was a good thing for me,” Fancher said. “Mom was like most moms – didn’t want you to go – but I was pretty set on going.”

Basic training was at Parris Island, S.C., in November 1983. “The good thing was, it didn’t matter what society you came from, what your race was, we all got treated equal. It bonded you in a brotherhood, as a unit and as a team.” After basic, Fancher went to advanced infantry training. “You got to actually do your job and train a little more,” he said. “It was more like a school – but still a lot of running, competence courses, combat courses, rifle ranges, learning how to shoot different weapons.” With Fancher’s performance, he earned a meritorious promotion, entering into his post-training service as a lance corporal.

Following training, Fancher spent one year on a naval base in Jacksonville, Florida, assigned to security patrol. After that he served as a war-guided missile operator for an infantry unit. A member of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, Fancher was stationed at Camp Geiger in Jacksonville, N.C. – but that’s not where he spent his time. His battalion would go on six-month floats on Navy vessels and train all over Europe.

“You’re always training, in the event that something were to happen. You stand ready at all times,” said Fancher. His days included PT as well as classroom study in topics like enemy tactics and equipment, shooting skills, navigation and more.

“It was a lot of learning and growing up in the military, and I think it would be helpful to so many people,” Fancher said. “It teaches you to respect yourself and respect others.”

Fancher was also stationed in Okinawa for six months, and part of his training included helicopter missions. “You would walk off or rappel off and then go through simulated missions,” Fancher explained. Another training mission took place in Costa Rica. Fancher’s unit also made it to the silver screen; they can be seen in the background of scenes in “Heartbreak Ridge” with Clint Eastwood.

Following the completion of his service in 1987, Fancher returned to the area where he had grown up. He said in a way, it was hard to be in military training all those years and not be called on to actively defend his country. His unit had been part of the U.S.’ efforts in Beirut, Lebanon, just before Fancher joined up.

“People are always telling me ‘thank you for your service.’ I usually say it was as good for me as it was for them,” Fancher said. He said for his part, he would rather see people respect the flag and appreciate “how good a country we’ve got, compared to a lot of other countries. You can go to any school you want to. If you want to be a mechanic, a nurse, a doctor, if you want to go to church – you have all those privileges … Our opportunities are unlimited here in the United States.

“We’re proud of what we did, and we’re proud of our country,” he added. “We all want to see the country do better. That’s why we enlisted … It hurts us a little bit deeper when we see it mishandled. We get fired up about it.”

Following his military service, Fancher married his wife Charlene – they had known each other in high school – and he worked at Cooper Tire and Rubber Company in Tupelo, Miss. Today he owns Fancher’s Taxidermy and Deer Processing.