For Spencer Jonas, serving his country in Vietnam became a career.
Jonas, 77, of Tunkhannock, served five tours of duty in Vietnam, for a total of 54 months, from 1965 to 1972.
Serving in the U.S. Army is a family affair for Jonas. His father served in the Army, as well as several uncles, and even some cousins.
When he was six years old, Jonas explained, he attended a military funeral for his Uncle Irwin, who had been killed in Bastogne, France while serving with the 101st Airborne Division.
“They played Taps, folded the flag,” Jonas recalled. “It put chills up and down my back. I knew at that point I was going to be a paratrooper.
In 1959, Jonas enlisted in the Army.
“I went to all different schools, including jump school,” he said.
Jonas served his first tour of duty in Vietnam in 1965 with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Although a paratrooper, Jonas worked mostly with ground forces and helicopters in fighting the Viet Cong.
After completing his tour of duty, Jonas returned to Fort Bragg in the U.S., but later volunteered to return to Vietnam, serving with the Third 503rd Division from 1966 to 1967. But things did not go well at the time.
“The (North) Vietnamese really tore us up at Doc Tow,” Jonas recalled.
Following his second tour of duty, Jonas decided to remain in Vietnam because he did not like the political climate in the U.S.
“All hell was being raised on college campuses,” he said.
Assigned to the 162nd Airborne Detachment in 1968, Jonas became an adviser to South Vietnamese paratroopers.
“I spent about two-and-a-half years with them,” he said.
Eventually, the South Vietnamese would award him the Master of the Parachute.
This was but one of a number of citations Jonas was awarded by both the U.S. and South Vietnam. In addition to the Bronze Star and two Silver Stars, Jonas is the recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, which is awarded “For extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations involving conflict with armed hostile force.”
The event occurred from Jan. 28 to 31, 1970, in Tay Ninh Province. Jonas was acting as adviser to a group of South Vietnamese soldiers, when they were attached by a superior force during a search and clear mission. For four days, Jonas coordinated the troops, keeping the enemy at bay, and working to evacuate the wounded, despite being constantly under intense enemy fire.
His best experience about the war, Jonas said, was going in as an E5 - a fire team leader - and coming out as an E7 - a platoon sergeant. When he retired from the Army in 1989, Jonas was an E-9 - a sergeant major.
In 1983, Jonas was assigned to the Tunkhannock area. Here he met his wife, Carol Ann, whom he married in 1987. After his retirement, Jonas worked as a corrections officer for 19 years at the Wyoming County Jail.
“I was in charge of the jail at night,” he explained.
But the war was not without its toll. Jonas suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, primarily from the conflict which earned him the DSC.
“You can’t be constantly fired at for four days and not come out unaffected,” he explained.
Still, Jonas is proud of the time he served in Vietnam.
“The big reason I went there is because I wanted to fight them in their backyard, instead of ours,” he said. “I hate to see our families have to go through some of the things that they have to go through.”