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Vietnam veterans pitch in to help ailing friend
Fellow vet James Gilmer appreciates help, presence of friends
Local Vietnam veterans get together for a photo Wednesday morning at James Gilmer's home while working on the house since Gilmer's illness keeps him from working. From left, they are James Brown, Lyman Coker, Gilmer and Jimmy Thompson.

When James Gilmer grew up in the New Holland Village in the 1950s, every house had a garden in the backyard.

“Well, if a man in the village got sick, people didn’t go to him and say, ‘What can I do for you?’ They’d just go and start doing it. They’d help the man with his garden,” Gilmer said.

This philosophy is ingrained in Gilmer’s thinking. It’s how he lives life.

They say what goes around comes around.

Diagnosed three years ago with pulmonary fibrosis — a disease that scars the lungs — Gilmer’s health has been on the decline ever since. He and wife, Jan, haven’t been able to keep up with chores around the house the way they used to. That’s why Gilmer’s buddies from the Vietnam War have stepped in to lend a hand.

On Wednesday, Vietnam veterans Jimmy Thompson, Lyman Coker and James Brown, all of Gainesville, spent much of the morning cleaning gutters, trimming hedges and clearing limbs from the Gilmers’ home on Mill Street in Gainesville.

“It’s a brotherhood,” Coker said. “We just take care of each other. We’ve got a common thread, and that common thread is we are boots-on-the-ground Vietnam veterans.”

Gilmer served in the Army in Vietnam from 1966-67. He was one of 32 Gainesville residents who left to serve in Vietnam around the same time. Many of those veterans today meet for breakfast every Wednesday at a local Dairy Queen.

Gilmer has surrounded himself with veterans in not only his personal life but in his career.

He worked for nearly two decades with the Georgia Department of Labor, helping veterans find jobs. He’s also been involved with the local Disabled American Veterans, the local Vietnam Veterans of America chapter, and he was commander at the Veterans of Foreign Wars for eight years.

Jan Gilmer said that her husband has “helped so many people over the years, fighting for veterans’ rights.”

“All those years, he’s helped so many other people and fought for our veterans’ rights,” Jan said. “And, as he’s become sick in these past few years, he doesn’t complain, even though his quality of life is just terrible.”

Added Jan: “We just take it one day at a time.”

The Gilmers visited Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville recently and learned that James’ lungs “are about three-fourths gone.”

“Our main goal now,” Jan said, “is just keeping him comfortable.”

Sitting inside his living room in a recliner on Wednesday, getting visits from his friends as they came in for a break, James smiled and said, “I’m a firm believer that if you try to work with people and help them out, things will come back to you.”

Added James: “But that’s not why I’ve always been inclined to help folks. I do it because I just love to help.”

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