Marcus Hayes: Eagles' DeSean Jackson pays homage to 'Uncle Jimmy' with $50,000 donation

Posted: September 13, 2012

FORT DIX, N.J. - Suddenly, Jimmy Jackson was on his back in the rice paddy, looking up at a blue Vietnam sky.

The 7.56 mm slug from the AK-47 ripped into his right thigh and flipped him, heels over head, onto his back. Jackson knew two things.

One, he wasn't dead.

Two, after he got his second Purple Heart, he was going to live.

He would make it back home to Philadelphia, where a good job and a good life awaited him.

Jimmy Jackson could not know that his pain and disability would mean a big payday for an organization that would not exist for 30 years.

Tuesday, in the name of his foundation, Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson presented a $50,000 check to the Wounded Warrior Project. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the project has assisted soldiers and their families affected by the physical and mental scars of war.

"I appreciate the work you keep doing," DeSean Jackson said to an audience of soldiers at Fort Dix.

"This is amazing," said Owen O'Shea, the program's spokesman. "It will be used on all of our 18 programs."

There were no such programs for Jimmy Jackson.

On his own, he dealt with scar tissue in his buttock and the pain in his right leg and the long-undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder. He fought two bouts of prostate cancer and one of diverticulitis. His thyroid went berserk in the midst of his Graves disease, and he tested positive for Agent Orange.

The Army took care of him . . . to a degree.

For much of his care, he was on his own.

Like legions of veterans before and after him.

Jimmy Jackson is DeSean Jackson's second cousin.

DeSean might be the famous Jackson, but Jimmy, 64, is the family hero.

Growing up in Los Angeles, Jackson seldom saw his second cousin in Philly, but he heard about him, and his service, often.

When the Eagles drafted DeSean, he grew close enough to call him Uncle Jimmy. He has visited Jimmy Jackson's near row home in the quiet neighborhood in East Mount Airy, sat on the couch in front of the large entertainment center, and listened.

"We're very close," DeSean said. "We spent a lot of time together, talking about his military days, when he was in the Vietnam War. Some of the things he's gone through. A lot of times you hear stories, you read stories, but this is real to me. That gave me a weird feeling. That's what made me want to do this.

"Spending time with my cousin, my uncle, seeing what Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome did to him, that really bothered me."

So do childhood bullying and childhood cancer, causes to which Jackson has lent his name and given his money.

Nothing grips Jackson like the fight against pancreatic cancer, which killed his father in 2009. As Bill faded, he asked his cousin Jimmy to watch out for his boy, DeSean.

Jimmy has.

Indirectly, perhaps, DeSean is returning the favor.

He glanced around the Ready Room at Fort Dix, decked out with USO bunting. A dozen soldiers dressed in fatigues, with wounded bodies or minds or both, delighted to see him, to get an autograph, to play pool or cards, to simply meet a big shot who admires them.

Jackson tipped his camouflage Eagles cap:

"Honestly. I couldn't imagine."

Who could?

Sitting in Uncle Jimmy's living room, Jackson heard the story about the first Purple Heart.

Jimmy was on patrol. He entered a stand of brush but was called back. His buddy brushed past him, deeper into the brush.

The concussion from the booby trap knocked Jimmy off his feet. His right buttock burned where the shrapnel entered.

He looked back into the brush, where he had almost gone. He saw his buddy, legless from the knee down.

Jimmy left a third soldier with the wounded man, sprinted back to his unit, led them halfway back to the site . . . and stopped.

Just short of another booby trap.

He had somehow missed it as he ran back to his unit.

"I am lucky," Jimmy Jackson said. "Very, very lucky. Blessed."

Jackson enlisted in the Army in 1967 because he feared losing his job at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. As the country needed more draftees, he noticed, men who were deferred because of their employment by the government systematically were being laid off.

But if he quit the job to enlist, Jackson said, his job would be held for him until he returned.

He quit. He gambled. He won.

Kind of.

The booby trap injury kept him out of combat for 35 days.

The bullet in his thigh gave him two wounds in combat. A third wound and, he said, per Three Strikes rule, he got out of Vietnam for good. The Army didn't want that, he said - they needed every warm, well-trained body - so Jackson knew he at least wouldn't see combat again.

Sure enough, he landed a desk job as a supply Sergeant, which he held until his discharge in 1970.

That made it easier that day, lying in the rice paddy, waiting for his senses to fully return so he could drag himself back to base, back to his life in Philadelphia, where he would nurture the most dangerous weapon in Eagles history.

The past 4 decades have not been easy.

Slighty stooped, Jimmy Jackson often walks with a cane.

He blames the cancer and the diverticulitis and the thyroid problems on the chemical defoliants and the insecticides U.S. forces routinely sprayed on the jungle to improve fighting conditions for G.I.s.

After eating and drinking and breathing toxins and dealing with their effects, for Jimmy Jackson, a program such as Wounded Warriors would have been a godsend.

"There was nothing like that for me," Jackson said. "DeSean . . . I'm so proud of him. DeSean Jackson is a real human being."

Proud, indeed, but Jimmy Jackson could not attend Tuesday's ceremony.

He was at the doctor, receiving a steroid shot for back pain that has been with him for more than 40 years.

Back pain that flared suddenly, in a rice paddy, under a clear, blue sky.


Contact Marcus Hayes at hayesm@phillynews.com.

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