Decorated veteran called to ministry
MADISON — Edwin “Ed” J. Deuschle came home from Vietnam in 1970 with a lot of dog tags and an injury that limited his employment until he was called to Christian ministry as a Baptist preacher.
“Since nearly all of my fellow soldiers were killed in battle, there was no one who could tell my story,” he said. His heroism was finally recognized 45 years later in 2015, thanks in part to his late nephew U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelly.
A now decorated Vietnam veteran, Deuschle would be recognized for his heroic deeds in May by the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
His experience in Vietnam enabled him to value the precious gift of life and love as a minister of the Gospel, he said.
“In Vietnam, I witnessed life sacrificed for liberties we take for granted every day,” he said. “As a young Christian, I came to a full and complete understanding of the one [Jesus Christ] who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our salvation and true freedom.”
“If Christ makes you free you shall be free indeed,” he said.
Deuschle, a native of Tupelo, graduated from the University of Mississippi’s ROTC program as a 2nd Lieutenant. It was there at Ole Miss that he met his wife, Rita.
In 1969 and 1970, he was assigned to Alpha and Delta Companies, 1st Battalion, 506 Infantry, 101 Airborne Division in Vietnam as an infantry platoon leader.
On May 5, 1970, Deuschle’s D company participated in a combat assault into Firebase Maureen, and were outnumbered by the NVR 1,200 to 120. He was injured after he jumped from a hovering helicopter under enemy fire, and jammed his right knee, making walking very painful and difficult.
“My third platoon was trapped under extremely heavy fire, and I was the only officer on the ground with a radio,” Deuschle said. “Because of that, I was the one leading and coordinating the return fire. many were killed and wounded. After the area was secure, the other two platoons landed on Maureen.”
Deuschle recalls the second platoon being hit by a sapper attack around 4 a.m. on May 7, 1970. Seven were killed, many were wounded, and only six survived unharmed. Deuschle led a squad of his platoon into the scene and killed two of the sappers with a hand grenade at the risk of his own life.
“I also led in the medevac extraction of the dead and wounded,” he said. “Due to many casualties and diminished company strength, I was one of only two officers remaining, and I continued to fight for two weeks with an injured knee.”
Due to his injury, Deuschle was medevaced out of the jungle and sent to hospitals in South Vietnam, Japan, and spent nearly six months at the hospital in Fort Polk Louisiana. Due to a failed surgical procedure, he was given medical retirement.
After returning from the war, Deuschle had trouble finding work due to being a disabled veteran, but was able to get a job in Tupelo as a claims adjuster trainee at USF&G Insurance Company in 1971.
“Soon after that, I found myself being called by God, so I resigned and went to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas,” he said. “I earned a Master of Divinity degree in 1974, and a Doctor of Ministry degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in 1983.”
Deuschle has pastored numerous churches across the state, and moved to Madison in 1997 from First Baptist Church in Bay St. Louis and was called to work for the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, where he “retired” in 2010.
Deuschle said that in 2015, his nephew, Nunnelly, passed away due to brain cancer. Nunnery’s last order to his staff was for Deuschle to be recognized for his heroism, and that recognition came from U.S. Rep. Trent Kelly, Nunnelly’s congressional replacement. Kelly called for Deuschle to finally be recognized for his efforts.
“On August 31, 2015, my ceremony was held at Calvary Baptist Church in Tupelo,” he said. “Originally it was meant to be a small family ceremony, but word got out and a lot of people showed up. All of the local television stations had coverage, and it was in newspapers all over the state.”
During the ceremony, Deuschle was given eight different medals. The Silver Star Medal, Air Medal, National Defense Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with 2 Bronze Service Stars, Combat Infantryman Badge, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with “60” Device, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with Palm Device, and Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Honor Medal Unit Citation, First Class.
“I was overwhelmed and humbled,” he said.
Deuschle was also recognized at an Ole Miss baseball game in 2017 where the ROTC honored him, and he got to throw the first pitch. He was also honored at a California Ole Miss game in 2019 for his 50th anniversary of serving in the war. His most recent recognition was in front of the House of Representatives and the Senate, where he and his family stood in front of them where his story was told.
Deuschle and his wife Rita currently live in Madison and have been married for 53 years. They have four children and eight grandchildren, all of whom live in Madison County — except one, who lives in Brandon. He’s been doing well battling stage four cancer, and has survived a mild case of COVID-19.
The cancer treatments that started two years ago and the minor bought with COVID-19 temporarily sidelined Deuschle, but he’s not done serving in the Lord’s army.
“I am recovering and hope to have more ministry opportunities in the near future,” Deuschle said.