Service & Sacrifice

Jim Provost

MARQUETTE — When you talk to Jim Provost about everything he’s been able to accomplish for Marquette County Veterans, you can’t help but wonder how he does it all. But it doesn’t take long to understand why.

Provost himself is a Vietnam veteran. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1965 through 1969 he made the rank of Sergeant before leaving the Corps, he said.

Provost joined the Marines on a 120-day delay program, so he graduated on June 10, 1965 and was in boot camp three days later.

He said he spent most the next year in combat in Vietnam.

“That’s my Vietnam experience and it’s there every day,” Provost said.

He said he and another Marine from Michigan wanted to “do their part.”

“When we first got to Vietnam, we were in the rear with the gear,” Provost said. “And we said, this isn’t why we came here, we came here to do our part.”

So they worked with someone from the field office and got put on temporary assigned duty, or TAD.

“We would go to a combat outfit. We’d spend time with them, and we knew we had to get back so we would stay there for three, four or five weeks, depending,” he said. “And that’s how we got into the conflict. We never used our names, we would go to a certain squad and say “We’ve been assigned to your squad.” So they’d put us in and we’d be part of that squad. And that worked, we did that several times.”

The two participated in Operation Utah and Operation Hastings, he said, which landed them in some pretty harrowing situations.

“I think the experience…I remember the first time we came under fire I peed my pants,” Provost said. “It was not what I expected, you know. And, after a while, when you see your fellow Marines get it, it changes you completely. And then it becomes a survival thing and an anger thing. And, not pretty.”

He left Vietnam in December of 1966 and helped to run an airfield stateside. He got several commendations during his service and eventually was headed back home in 1969.

“We didn’t know when we first came back, because it was kind of early in 1966. But we knew we were going to face some stuff,” he said “You know, they spit at you, and they threw stuff at you, and called you a war monger and a killer. But the worst one was when I got delayed in Chicago. And there was a guy, probably at that time in his mid-70’s you know. He started on me, and he was just ranting and raving and calling me a war monger and a baby killer and all this stuff.”

The man was taken away by two police officers, but Provost said he would have a layover that night because the military flew standby. One of the police officers invited the Marine to stay with him, but Provost refused.

“At this point I don’t trust anybody,”

The morning flight to Marquette was already booked, so Provost had to wait for the afternoon flight, which looked like it was going to be completely booked as well.

“And there was a man standing there. I wish I would have gotten his name, and he said ‘Are you just coming back from Vietnam?’ and I said yes. And he told them, ‘You let this guy have my seat.’ And I got on the plane and was able to go. in the meantime I had called home and told them I’m coming, and when I got to the airport there was a mob there – friends and family and stuff,” Provost said. “That was something.”

After that, he said, there were still problems with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“Three guys tried to take me out when I was in the bar and I was having a few drinks with friends, and I had a flight jacket on that a pilot had given me in Vietnam,” he said. “And this one started on me and I just kind of let loose. I let it all come out. I put a hurting on those three dudes. It wasn’t pleasant, but I didn’t deserve what they were trying to do either.”

And when it came down to describing the war experience, it became a survival thing.

“My PTSD was raging. I hated the government, I had so much anger. I had so much guilt about leaving my fellow marines behind and coming home.” Provost said. “I lived to die when I got home. Nothing mattered. I drank heavily, and when I got out of the service, I managed to wrack up 12 points on my driver’s license in 6 months. So it was a wild ride. The PTSD was hurting me bad. Thank God for my wife. She is the main one that pulled me through this. I literally owe her my life.”

He said Dr. Dan Forrester, who worked with veterans through Great Lakes Recovery, along with his wife Judy helped him to see his purpose.

“I go to the point before I met Dr. Forrester where I thought I was going nuts,” Provost said. I had no idea what PTSD was. But anyway, I told Dan after a few sessions, ‘If you can get me where I can help other veterans, that’s my job.’

And Forrester told him “‘That’s why you are alive yet. There’s a reason for you to be back.’ So that stuck with me,” Provost said. “That’s when I started helping Veterans.”

While many of the experiences over the last several decades have been positive, the effort has not been without it’s challenges.

One of those times came when Provost went to visit a veteran he had been looking out for.

“I went to check on him. I could see him sitting in the living room window. But I was knocking and knocking and knocking and he wasn’t answering. So I just walked in. I went around a corner and I am looking right down the barrel of a 44,” Provost said. “And he said, ‘I think it’s time for me and you to go.’ So I stood there for a second and I said, ‘Think about this for a minute.’ I said, ‘I don’t care,’ I said, ‘I am probably not supposed to be here anyway,’ I said, ‘It doesn’t make any difference to me. Think about your family – what it will do. Think about my family, what it will do to them.’ He stood there for a minute, finally put the gun down and says, ‘Let me show you around the house.’ So it was just, bang, like that, it was over. And since then, he’s gone and gotten help, he’s got his life straightened (out).”

Provost has been recognized for his work with veterans.

The Marquette County Veteran’ Alliance named him the 2022 Marquette County Veteran of the year.

“It’s not why I do what I do. They had talked to me before about doing Veteran of the Year and I kind of put them off. But now they said they want to do it,” Provost said. “I agreed to do it this time, but it’s a pretty humbling thing.”

Helping veterans ranges from pointing them in the right direction to get VA benefits, to helping them get from one place to another.

“It started to get a little more complex as I started doing things.,” Provost said. “There’s a lot of things we do. We might have to go to a person’s house and move them, you might need to bring them food. There’s a whole gambit of things that we can do to help veterans.”

He’s also served with multiple veteran’s groups and organizations, including the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 22, the AMVETS, the Veteran’s of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.

Provost is a founding member of the MCVA which serves as a conduit between all those organizations, veterans and the people who want to help veterans in Marquette County, he now serves as its chair.

He also actively assisted with raising money for a new DAV vehicle that is used to transport veterans to medical appointments in Iron Mountain

Provost and his wife are among the people who were instrumental in bringing the ATTV Traveling Vietnam Wall to Marquette in 2016.

He hoped at the time that the event would be a catalyst for the veterans alliance to grow and continue to serve within the area.

Provost said to be honored by the people he works side by side with to improve the lives of military veterans is, in itself, an exceptional feeling.

“That’s the thing about it, when you are honored by your peers, that really makes it special. You know, I work with all these guys that work with veterans too and they sought to honor me with this because they thought I do a good enough job that I should be recognized. That’s pretty special,” Provost said.

He noted that’s the one thing that makes any veteran’s organization successful in the mission of helping veterans is working as a team.

“It’s a “we” thing — it’s not a “me” thing,” Provost said. “It takes more than one person to get this stuff done.”