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Your neighbors next door

Tallgrass Creek couple remembers the war, healing, and love that brought them together

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May 5th, 2017
Tallgrass Creek residents Jacquie and Terry Van Meter review photo albums spanning their military careers.

Tallgrass Creek residents Jacquie and Terry Van Meter review photo albums spanning their military careers.

It was November 1967 when 24-year-old First Lieutenant Terry Van Meter stepped off an Army cargo plane and reported for active duty in Bien Hoa, South Vietnam. The war was raging, and Terry, a distinguished military graduate from Norwich University in Northfield, Vt., had deployed from Ft. Campbell, Ky., where his training as a combat commander was exemplary. 

“I was both excited and apprehensive that day,” remembers Terry. “I’d wanted to be an Army officer since I was 11, and it was showtime.”

When dreams come to a halt

As a rifle company executive officer and commander as well as headquarters company commander, Terry and his units ran combat missions over the next few months. But on August 28, 1968, as he and his 100-man unit were involved in a fierce battle with the North Vietnamese, it all came to a halt. 

“We had surrounded a North Vietnamese unit and were driving forward when I was hit three times,” says Terry. “The first bullet went through my neck; the next through my right lung, crossing the spine and damaging my spleen and kidney; and the third hit my shoulder.”

Gravely wounded and in and out of consciousness, Terry lay flat on his back as bullets flew overhead.  

“I remember offering up a brief prayer for survival and an immediate, peaceful feeling came over me,” says Terry. “I’ll never forget it.” 

Eventually, a medic dragged Terry from the battle, and he was helicoptered to the nearest triage hospital, stabilized, and then airlifted to another hospital in Long Binh, South Vietnam. His surgery there included a throat specialist, general surgeon, and neurosurgeon who all worked together to save his life. 

It was also where he learned the bullet that hit his spine would mean he might never walk again.

Still severely injured, Terry was taken to a hospital in Japan, and after two bouts of pneumonia, he went stateside to Valley Forge Military Hospital in Phoenixville, Pa.

As a patient on the hospital’s neurosurgical ward, Terry began noticing a dark-haired nurse with a fun, spunky personality. Her name was Jacquie, and she noticed him too. 

“I thought he was cute,” says Jacquie Van Meter. “I had to address him formally, though, since he outranked me.” 

Jacquie had joined the Army Nurse Corps a few months earlier after graduating from St. Joseph College, in Maryland. Eventually, at an officers’ club social, the two got together. Over the next five months, they developed deep feelings for each other. 

But their timing was off. Jacquie received orders for a one-year Vietnam assignment, and Terry was sent to a hospital in Massachusetts that dealt only with spinal cord injuries.

“Terry asked what I wanted as a going away gift, and I pointed to the third finger on my left hand,” laughs Jacquie. “He readily agreed.” 

Preserving history

Terry continued to rehabilitate during Jacquie’s absence with a worthy goal in mind—to walk her down the aisle on their wedding day. Using braces and crutches, 6'4" Terry did just that six weeks after Jacquie’s return from Vietnam. 

At that point, Terry was 27, medically retired from the military, and no longer able to do what he considered his life’s mission.

“All I’d ever wanted was to be a military commander, and that was now not an option,” says Terry. “It was a low moment.” 

He began researching other career choices and eventually developed a deep interest in military history. 

“I decided if I could no longer make history, I’d preserve it,” says Terry. 

He enrolled in graduate history courses at Boston University, and after the couple moved to Ft. Riley, Kans., he continued at Kansas State University pursuing a graduate degree in military history. He also took courses offered locally and online by Central Michigan University and soon graduated with a master of science in administration. 

After graduation, Terry’s career took him from being the curator and director of two museums at Ft. Riley, to Washington, D.C., where he served as director of the entire army museum system. Along the way, he was honored in 1987 as the Outstanding Handicapped Federal Employee of The Year, and in 1992, the Outstanding Disabled Veteran of the Year. 

Jacquie continued her active duty commitment until 1972 and served in the Army Reserves until 1984. 

Pursuing interests at Tallgrass Creek

Upon Terry’s retirement from the Center for Military History, the couple moved from Washington, D.C., to Leawood, Kans., to be close to their two children and their families, then to Tallgrass Creek in 2015. Their modern, sunny residence includes Terry’s collection of several hundred miniature soldiers, and the walls hold dozens of framed military honorarium they both received.  

Terry is very involved with the Tallgrass Creek Veterans Club and serves on the grounds committee. Jacquie enjoys the community’s Retired Nurses Reminiscing group and is active on the health and wellness committee.

Though Terry has seldom stood since his wedding day, he remains positive and thankful.

“I won’t say there haven’t been a few low moments, but through the grace of God, not many,” says Terry. “You play the hand you’re dealt and try to do it with dignity, grace, and gratitude. I have no regrets.”  

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