One man's focus, a veteran's honor

Lloyd E. Jones died in 1969 fighting in Vietnam

thanks to his brother's efforts, he received the Bronze Star

November 12, 2007|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN REPORTER

Nearly 40 years ago, Lloyd E. Jones took a bullet for his country.

He was only 23 years old, an engine man on a boat patrolling Vietnam's Mekong Delta, when his crew came under attack. For three months, he clung to life in military hospitals, hoping to return to his parents and two younger siblings in Pasadena. But the wounds were too serious, and Jones died in the spring of 1969.

Over the years, LeRoy Jones never stopped thinking about his older brother, with whom he briefly served in the Navy before Lloyd Jones went to Vietnam. He remembered Lloyd's quiet nature, his love of fast cars, his shame over the deep scars that ravaged his body during those last days.

In more recent years, something else began to tug at him: Lloyd Jones never received his due for his bravery all those years ago.

Yesterday, the U.S. military sought to rectify that. In a Veterans Day ceremony at Fort McHenry, Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Thompson, commanding officer for the Navy Operational Support Center at the historic site, honored Lloyd Jones' sacrifices with the Bronze Star.

"After exhaustive research and more than a decade of unrelenting effort, LeRoy's persistence has ensured that Lloyd will finally get his due," Thompson told the crowd of about 70 people, several of whom happened to be touring the grounds and stumbled upon the ceremony.

To LeRoy Jones, Thompson said with admiration: "Your persistence is inspiring, and few could dare match you on it."

LeRoy Jones' quest to correct the military record has lasted 12 years. He has made countless calls and written dozens of e-mails to senators, congressmen, military leaders and other sailors who served with his brother.

"He was not going to give up," said LeRoy Jones' wife, Jeanne. "He said it was due. Sometimes he wouldn't hear anything for a while, and he'd go shoot off an e-mail, asking, `Any word yet?'"

LeRoy Jones didn't begin his quest right away -- he was in the military when his brother died, and it wasn't as though Lloyd Jones received nothing for his sacrifice. He was given the Navy Achievement Medal for his valor, a high honor in its own right.

But in 1995, LeRoy Jones said, he was feeling nostalgic about his brother. His family had just bought a computer, and he began researching the battle. "I've always thought he should have gotten more than he did, but I didn't have the ability to show it until the Internet came along," he said.

LeRoy Jones sent for his brother's service records and saw that Lloyd had been recommended for the Navy's Commendation Medal, a higher honor than the achievement medal. He began trying to get his brother's medal posthumously upgraded.

Online, he looked for other unit members to learn more details on what happened. Some were no longer alive, many couldn't remember what happened, and the ones who could didn't necessarily want to discuss it.

But then he found Frank Geddings, who was the forward gunner on Lloyd Jones' boat the night he was wounded. Geddings is the only surviving crew member. From him, Leroy Jones learned that there were four boats in the 40-foot canal, and theirs was the second. The first boat hit a mine and exploded. Then their boat was riddled with bullets and shrapnel -- the captain and coxswain were killed, and Lloyd Jones was shot twice, but both times he got up. He was able to keep fighting while Geddings steered the boat out of danger.

Then, in 2002, LeRoy Jones received records from the Navy Yard indicating that three other men who were in the battle that night were awarded the Bronze Star for their bravery. The citation for their actions were almost identical to his brother's.

It was then that he stepped up his efforts.

"I really didn't think it would take this long, but you're talking about trying to prove something that happened 40 years ago. It's tough," he said. "You can't just call up and go, `My brother deserved this.'"

Last year, when he still hadn't gotten anywhere, he decided to go the political route, writing to members of Congress.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said she would contact the Navy and make a request on his behalf. Soon after, Larry McCrary, an official in the military's records department, called to help.

McCrary tracked down the patrol officer in command of that night's operation. He's now a retired three-star admiral. He knew Lloyd Jones had been wounded that night and wrote a letter on his behalf.

And one week ago, the chief of naval operations authorized the upgrade to Bronze Star.

Often, the military awards medals such as this in small ceremonies in families' homes. But because the award was to be presented so close to Veterans Day, Thompson invited the family to the Fort McHenry ceremony.

As a light breeze blew, LeRoy Jones and his sister, Darnell Fried, watched as Navy officers hoisted a large American flag over the fort. Fried, who was in 10th grade when her brother died, fought back tears as Thompson handed her the citation and her brother the Bronze Star.

In addition to his wife, the crowd included LeRoy's daughter, Michael and his son, Jeffrey. LeRoy's father, who won the Bronze Star for bravery in World War II, died in 1987; his mother died 10 years later.

LeRoy Jones, who works in the fire marshal's office of the Anne Arundel County Fire Department, said he plans to mount the Bronze Star in his home office. He will keep the citation too.

"It's his. He worked very hard to get it," his sister said. "He'd hang it right on his heart if he could."

rona.kobell@baltsun.com

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