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Veterans’ Voices
Honoring our men and women in uniform


Special to the Tribune-Herald


reedom is so precious — and it’s easy
to lose,” said Jerry D. Erdman, 72, of
Waco. He knows what he’s talking
about. Erdman has been to some 20
countries and has seen first-hand the struggles of
people caught under the grip of tyrannical dictators.
He felt it was his duty to join the U.S. Navy. In
fact, his parents and grandparents expected it. His
grandparents told of their own hardships of breaking
free and coming to America.
“We were encouraged by our parents and
grandparents, who told us how blessed we are to live
in this country,” he said.

Erdman’s home life prepared him well for the
Navy. He grew up on a farm, bailing hay, driving
tractors and doing chores. By age 6, he was driving
a tractor; sometimes he and his sister got up as early
as 2 or 3 a.m. They raised all their own food and had
beef, chicken, pork and the like. Their main crop was
“You grow up fast on a farm,” he said.
Erdman attended the local Catholic schools in his
early elementary years, and then a boarding school
(he wasn’t a boarder) in nearby Amarillo. His last two
years of high school were spent in his hometown of
Canyon, Texas.
During these last two years, he enrolled in the Navy
and served in the active reserves. By the time he went
on active duty, he had already completed his training.
Assigned to the USS Cavalier, his position as shipfitter
included many duties: welding, metalwork, plumbing
and more. He also took his turn on guard duty, driving
a landing craft and even manning the ship’s guns, if
needed. And he attended firefighting school, which
would become helpful later on.
Their first WESTPAC cruise sailed from its
homeport in San Diego with 1,000 Marines aboard, all
their equipment and vehicles, and 500 crew members,
including Erdman.
Erdman loved being out on the sea. “It’s very
peaceful and serene,” he said. They spent 45 days
sailing to their destination of Chu Lia, a hot spot in
Vietnam. There the Marines unloaded, climbing down
the side of the ship to landing crafts waiting below.
The ship’s crew was assigned to drive the landing
craft boat and assist in the operation. That included
Erdman. Sometimes they were fired upon, but that
wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was picking up
the cargo, as it included body bags. This fact was part
of the reason the ship had three clergymen - Catholic,
Jewish and Protestant. When they held services before
a trip out, everyone came, no matter their religion.
“It might be your last prayer,” he said.
After Chu Lai, they would head to Da Nang, an
area that was under major development in the latter

Photo by Mary Drennon

Waco resident Jerry D. Erdman, 72, served in the U.S. Navy as a shipfitter.
part of the ’60s. Everyone was there: Marines, Army,
Navy, Air Force and even the Seabees. They were
building an airport and roads.
The USS Cavalier became a floating hotel in Da Nang.
Military members there had a chance to sleep on board,
and enjoy a hot meal, shower and a bed, something they
hadn’t had for a while. It also housed 10 or 15 Viet Cong
prisoners, which some of the sailors envied. The prisoners
slept in officer’s quarters and had native cooks that made
their meals. They also could come up and move around.
“I know many of them didn’t want to leave,” said
The Cavalier returned to San Diego and made a second
WESTPAC trip. Erdman’s final discharge was November
1970; he left as a petty officer.
Erdman returned to Amarillo and became a firefighter
with the Amarillo Fire Department. He did this for 11
years before he moved to Waco and went to work for a
private insurance company; he retired after 20 years in
In 1970, he married Rita Byars and they’ve been
together for 49 years. They have two children and four

574 Youngblood Road, Waco, Texas, 76706 • 254.662.5571 •

Erdman loved his time in the military, but there was a
problem: Agent Orange. The ship made all its own water
and failed to filter out Agent Orange. Many of the ships
also had asbestos. Today, Erdman is part of an Agent
Orange study with the VA.
Despite this, it’s likely Erdman wouldn’t have done
anything different.
“It was basically a duty and an honor to serve our
country,” he said. “I’ve been to over 20 countries and
many of them were really third-world or even fourthworld countries. They have no freedom. The government
owns everything. They could be just as happy and
prosperous as us.”
Erdman said he loved every minute he was in the
military. “I was so proud to serve my country. I wish
everybody loved this country like most military people
do,” he said.
“Veterans’ Voices,” featuring stories about Central
Texas veterans, publishes every Sunday. To suggest
a story about a Central Texas veteran, please email“Veterans’ Voices” is
proudly sponsored by Johnson Roofing.

At Johnson Roofing, we believe in America and proudly stand behind the men and women of our armed forces.