I am The J: Ron Jefferson is all about helping other veterans, and helping non-vets understand them

Ron Jefferson, 79, is well known among local veterans for being the “Last Man Standing,” a moniker he earned by being the only living Vietnam veteran who served five consecutive tours in Vietnam. Those five years include service as a Green Beret.

Ron comes to The J regularly as part of an arrangement that provides LJCC memberships to veterans through the nearby Veterans Affairs clinic. Many of our members first met Ron through a video we produced in which he praises the life-changing aquatics therapy he receives here.

We caught up with Ron recently to ask him about Veterans Day, his work with veterans, and the war in Israel…

Ron Jefferson is easily recognizable in his veteran’s cap and toting his ever-present walking stick. “There’s an aura about this place that says, ‘Welcome,’ you know?” he says of The J. “And people here, they’re genuine.”
LJCC: What does Veterans Day mean to you?

RJ: Well, the month itself kind of brings a lot of tears to your eyes because it gives you a chance to talk to your veterans, have conversations about things. It’s camaraderie at its best.

I go around to different municipalities and find the vets. Some of the vets don’t have access to things we have, like the VA. I bring words of wisdom to them, and it’s also an opportunity for me to thank my soldiers for what they did.

If I run across vets, I try to encourage them to get their benefits and get things that are available to them before they get up to my age. The month serves as a reminder to us old veterans — old mooses and cows or bulls, whatever — to reach out to our young veterans and bring that camaraderie. And not only the veterans, but also their families. There’s always good conversation, always good food, and a chance to give your brothers and sisters a hug. 

That’s what it means to me. 

What would you like the day to mean for people who are not veterans? 

Understanding, understanding, and understanding. Understanding the fact that this is an acclimation process. If your son or daughter leaves home and joins the military, regardless of what branch of the service, there’s a whole transition. 

And then at some point they’re going to come back. That’s an acclimation. You follow me? 

So that means the friends they had here might no longer be their friends. And they have to relax and we have to relax and bring them together. And then of course they can come back with illnesses and wounds. And then they have to be accepted into the private sector, for example. Chances are that’s gonna be a difficult process. 

How was your own transition to civilian life?

I made a lot of mistakes. My transition from the military to the civilian world was hell. Pure hell. I didn’t stand a chance of getting a job because I didn’t even know what a resume was. I’d never had a resume in my life. I’d never had any college. I was a dropout. 

But I was strong enough, and I had drive. I still have that drive. Now I’m hoping to lose the drive as I get older so I can slow down a little bit.

You ended up with a successful career in business and retail management — including a plant store in Texas called Jefferson’s Planetarium.

[Ron starts naming all the plants in our lobby.] My house  is still full of plants. I bathe them, I talk to them in the morning. And I know when they’re mad at me because they’re just like us.

We were cleaning my garage one day when I noticed a piece of paper. It was my resume that I’d lost long ago, and now here it was in my hands. A woman who was helping me clean asked, “What are you reading?” I answered, “I’m reading me.” I was just tickled. It brought back memories that had me smiling for three days. 

We know you’re a fan of the aquatics therapy you get here. What else do you like about The J?

I feel comfortable here. There’s an aura about this place that says, “Welcome,” you know? And people here, they’re genuine. Some of the ladies will stop and say, “Yeah, thank you for your service.”

And when I tell my vets how good a place this is, they come.

With all you’ve seen and done, what goes through your mind when you see conflicts around the world — especially the war in Israel right now?

That I want to be there. That I want to help, you know, and intervene. I always feel for my brothers and sisters in war. I pray for them.

Read more about Ron in this Shelby County Reporter profile…

A sampling of Ron’s Vietnam photo album