Morganton native Jimmy Rhyne, 59, spent several years serving his country in the U.S. Army.
Rhyne graduated from Freedom High School in 1977 and joined the Army to “get out of Morganton.”
“I was 17, and it was just time to go,” Rhyne said.
Rhyne enlisted immediately after high school and served with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, achieving the rank of sergeant. He traveled the world as the Army deployed him to France, Germany, Korea, Lebanon and various places in the Middle East.
“I got a service medal for serving over in the Middle East,” Rhyne said.
He did classified work for military intelligence, which he said he is not allowed to discuss in detail.
“Basically, I processed the photographs that came in from satellites,” Rhyne said.
He said he would be called out on temporary assignments from time to time, such as serving as a military police escort. He also served as a lifeguard at Fort Bragg for two summers.
“My daily uniform was a bathing suit and a whistle,” Rhyne said.
He shared his experience with a particularly gruesome deployment, which he also considers to be one of the proudest moments in his military career.
“In 1978, I was picked as part of a special team with the 82nd Airborne to go clean up the mess in the Jonestown massacre, when all of the people drank the Kool-Aid,” Rhyne said. “That was totally awful. We had to wear full gas masks and NDC (haz-mat) uniforms, and it was 200 degrees in the shade. The Guyanese Army was coming in, because they didn’t want us in there, so we had to get our people out real quick. It was four days of hauling bodies out on C-130s, going back to Dover, Delaware.”
After sustaining an injury in a conflict in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1982, Rhyne medically retired from the Army and came back to North Carolina to work in retail.
“I went into retail beverage,” Rhyne said. “I was the special events coordinator in Winston-Salem for Pepsi-Cola for about 15 years. I pretty much stayed in the beverage industry after that, (due to) the freedom to not be tied down to an office all day.”
Rhyne currently works part time for a retail company called Crossmark and devotes the rest of his time to his love of history by volunteering at the History Musuem of Burke County. He compiles the weekly “50 Years Ago” column for The News Herald by combing through back-issues of the newspaper stored at the museum.
He looks back fondly on his military career.
“I loved jumping out of airplanes,” Rhyne said. “And I had a chance to see things that, ordinarily, I’d probably never get to see. I was proud to serve, and I’m proud to be a veteran.”
Staff writer Tammie Gercken can be reached at email@example.com.