If you ask Lake Winola resident Spencer Jonas how he was able to acquire extensive decoration for his actions in Vietnam, his answer is pretty simple.
“I would rather meet them in their backyard than ours,” Jonas said.
Yes, it’s that simple - bravery and courage have radiated from Jonas all of his life, and when he was overseas, it didn’t take much corralling for him to shine.
Jonas joined the service immediately following his high school graduation at the ripe age of 18.
“I wasn’t ready for college,” Jonas said. “I wanted to travel.”
And travel, he did.
It was 1959 when he enrolled in the United States Army, and his journey first took him around the nation to different military schools, where he acquired skills in para-diving and jungle warfare.
Then, they shipped him off to the Far East, where his ascension toward Vietnam began.
Posted in Cambodia and Thailand, he fought in active duty as a paratrooper and continued garnering an impressive resume and skill-set.
Once it was time for Vietnam, he made the decision to enlist in a company of entirely Vietnamese soldiers fighting against the enemy.
Again, his reasoning was simple.
“I got tired of seeing Americans get killed,” Jonas said, noting that his duty in Vietnam also consisted of somewhat of a vendetta. “I had a score to settle- I wanted to get even.”
By the time he was finished with his 54-month tour in Vietnam, Jonas was a well-decorated veteran.
He received a Silver Star First Oak Leaf Cluster, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Fourth Oak Leaf Cluster, Air Medal second award, Army Commendation medal, Army Service ribbon, National Defense Service Ribbon, Master Parachute Badge, among many others.
Still, his highest U.S. award came in the form of the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest military award in the U.S. Army, given for extreme gallantry and risk of life in actual combat with an armed enemy force.
In essence, a soldier only gets the award if their actions are above and beyond the call of duty.
The letter accommodating his award detailed the circumstances of his gallantry, establishing that the company Sgt. First Class Jonas was leading, made surprise contact with a numerically-superior enemy element, forcing them to assume the defensive.
For four days, Jonas defended the perimeter of his company, directing artillery rounds, air raids, helicopter ambulances, and even operating strobe lights for artillery fire to aim at in order to halt the enemy.
The document states that Jonas: “remained in an exposed position to operate a strobe light and pinpoint enemy position for artillery support fire. Although the focal point of enemy fire, he continued this action and again successfully prevented the enemy from overrunning his position.”
The list goes on, as do the documents detailing Jonas’ unmerited valor in the face of extreme danger and intense enemy fire.
Jonas credits military schooling for his survival, saying the schools taught him how to respect the enemy.
But, he also points to a military family, with a father and three uncles who served in active duty and one brother who also served in Vietnam.
“I was made out of some pretty good stuff- I came from a pretty good family,” Jonas said.
When he returned to the United States, he stayed in Pennsylvania, and was designated to head the 55th Brigade, a post he held until an honorable discharge in 1989 as a Sergeant Major.
He met his wife Carol (Gary) around that time, at the age of 47, and the two began a life together out near Lake Winola.
Over the years, he’s continued his service to the community as a trustee of the Lake Winola Fire Company, as well as assisting the community in times of emergency, including helping to provide food and water to Lake Carey after a tornado ravaged the area.
During Independence Day, Jonas spent his time reflecting on the veterans and on those serving actively overseas.
“I am thinking about our special forces in Iraq and their chances of coming out,” Jonas said.
He’s also thinking about the lives of soldiers returning homeward.
Jonas remembers his trip back to the U.S.: he remembers having to change out of his uniform and into civilian clothing.
“They were worried people were going to sit on me,” Jonas reflected.
But his true support came from the people who knew him.
“People who knew me were proud of me; they knew I was there for a reason,” Jonas said.
Of course, even with support, many soldiers suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, where certain triggers remind veterans of the awful things witnessed in active duty.
“I’ve had some really bad, bad dreams,” Jonas said. “That’s the kinds of things these guys go through.”
He remembers while, on a 30-day leave from active duty, he was taking his then-girlfriend to church. A car back-fired in the parking lot and, before he knew it, Jonas was diving straight into a drainage ditch for cover.
Chuckling about it now, he remembers how much of a challenge it was then, returning from war.
It’s a sentiment not soon to be forgotten.
The men who gave their lives and the ones who still dream of the brothers they lost are forever stapled into U.S. history, a reminder of the price of freedom and the luxury of independence.