Dalton, Ga., man to be featured on Discovery Channel

Dalton, Ga., man to be featured on Discovery Channel

January 24th, 2018 by Mark Pace in Local Regional News

John Hitchens is photographed while in Vietnam. He was a medic in the war in 1971 and 1972.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

John Hitchens has lived an eventful life and one that producers for a Discovery Channel show want to highlight.

The Dalton, Ga., resident, 65, used his combat experience in Vietnam to help him eventually land a job as the EMS director in Whitfield County, but not before he recovered from being an alcoholic. That story will be featured on the Discovery Channel show "Operation Fishing Freedom" next month.

"We loved the way his military service transitioned into the rest of his life," show host Ben Olsen said.

The show features veterans who are taken fishing. On the trips, they share their life experiences. Hitchens has fished recreationally for much of his life but went shark fishing for the first time for the shooting of the episode.

John Hitchens, holding fishing rod, is pictured with the host of Operation Fishing Freedom, Ben Olsen, during a shark fishing trip to Florida in November. Hitches is a local veteran being featured on the show.

John Hitchens, holding fishing rod, is pictured with...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

The show is in its second season but first on the network. The episode will air Sunday, Feb. 25, at 8 a.m.

"We didn't feel like there was a great understanding of what a lot of these guys have gone through," Olsen said. We saw a need to record and share these veterans' stories."

Hitchens, a Minnesota native, joined the military when he was 18 and spent 1971 and 1972 in Vietnam. He was a medic, serving in three units, where he worked to collect casualties before finishing his tour in an assault helicopter.

Hitchens returned to the U.S. but was unable to transition back to a more normal life. He became an alcoholic.

"I think a lot of Vietnam veterans came back and struggled getting back to normal society," he said.

Hitchens eventually overcame the addiction and used his combat experience to become a paramedic. That decision eventually led him to Georgia to become the Whitfield County EMS director in 1985.

Hitchens retired from Whitfield County EMS in 2007 but still lives in Dalton with his wife, Judy, who recently retired from teaching special education in the local school district.

After retirement, Hitchens became the local Red Cross director for disaster response. He now spends time with his family and on his motorcycle. He rides with a sober motorcycle club.

"My sobriety allowed me to return to a normal life," he said.

Contact staff writer Mark Pace at mpace@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6361. Follow him on Twitter @themarkpace and on Facebook @ChattanoogaOutdoors.