There are heroes around us. Some we read about in the news; others we know about from first-hand experiences.
This is the story of one local young man who died many years ago serving his country. Many of you knew him, many did not.
There have been a few stories written about him. Many have read them, many have not.
Some heroes made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their life for their country and for “their men.”
This is one such story.
On Sept. 8, 1947, Philip Boyd “Dutch” Jones made his entrance into the world. He was the first son born to Slater couple, Dick and Eleanor Jones. Three more sons — Richard Jr., Doug and Ron — rounded out the busy Jones household. You could say they were a pretty typical Midwest family.
Phil graduated from Ballard High School with the class of 1965. His brother, Doug, recently described him as a very adventurous person.
“There was one time that Doug decided to do a 50-mile hike to Des Moines, all in one day,” tells Doug from his home in Huxley. “He would climb the church steeple of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Slater. He had no fear. He was always self-testing to see what he could do.”
According to Doug, there just wasn’t anything physical that his brother Phil could not do. He was the All-American boy — active in his school and church, starring on the high school football team, was even named a Merit Scholar. He saw great challenges and great accomplishments ahead for his brother.
Phil decided to attend the University of Northern Iowa. His college career was off the ground. But it didn’t take long before he left UNI and joined the Marine Corps. On July 8, 1966, he enlisted and his first tour of duty landed him in Viet Nam. He was following his big heart into a war zone. His huge sense of justice, duty and responsibility to those around him was soon to play out in his young life.
He was injured during his first tour in Viet Nam. It happened in Da Nang, where he was an amtrak driver. The vehicle he was driving hit a mine, resulting in serious injuries to the young Marine. On Aug. 1, 1967, he was awarded the Purple Heart.
In May of 1968, Phil attended OCS and was commissioned as a lieutenant. He graduated in December that same year. In January of 1969, he returned to Viet Nam, soon to be a platoon leader.
“Phil loved being in a leadership position,” said Doug. “He was excited about what was ahead of him in this new position.”
Two weeks into his second tour, everything changed, when 21-year-old Phil Jones died for his men. He was killed in Quang Nam Republic of Viet Nam on Jan. 28, 1969.
According to Doug, Phil was waiting to go into combat with his platoon.
“Phil had less than a week and he would be assigned to his own platoon,” explained Doug. “Phil went out with another platoon to get a sense of what was going on. Soon the events of what ended up being the last moments of his life played out.”
According to John Horsley, Phil was his superior officer and platoon commander at the time.
“Our platoon embarked on a helicopter early in the morning of Jan. 28, 1969,” told Horsley in a letter to Phil’s family. “A three-hour flight and we approached a landing zone. Minutes prior to our landing, we were told that the landing zone was ‘hot,’ which meant that the chopper in front of us had received enemy fire. Once we were on the ground, we started to move forward in single file. We were ambushed and lost a couple men right away. We were pinned down and couldn’t get a good position on those shooting at us.”
Horsley went on, “Your brother, who could have stayed out of harm’s way, maneuvered through heavy automatic weapons fire to gain position on us being pinned down. He pointed the position out and started firing upon the position, suppressing the enemy fire, which enabled us to remove ourselves and wounded from the strike zone. Minutes later, he was shot and killed while saving all of us.”
“Your brother was the bravest man I have ever known” said Horsley. “He saved my life and the lives of many other Marines that day. He gave his life for me and a bunch of guys he didn’t even know. Whenever I hear the word bravery, or valor, and hero, I automatically think of Phil. I have been able to live a very productive life because of your brother’s bravery.”
The Jones family received a similar letter from another soldier who never met Phil, but was the one that was going to be put in his position after his death.
Stephen Waimey, now an attorney in California, was to be Phil’s replacement after his death. He heard from his superior officers a similar account.
“I wanted to share with the Jones family what I learned to be the last moments of Phil’s life,” Waimey said in his letter. “Phil had not been assigned to a platoon yet; he had just joined Golf Company. He wanted to get a real sense of what was going on as he was getting ready to take over a command of a platoon. He talked his way into tagging along with Golf Company. He begged the commanding officer to let him go with them on this assignment, and the commanding officer finally said ‘yes’ to him.”
Waimey said that no one he spoke with after that day was real clear on what happened next. He was told that the enemy waited for Phil to get the last casualty out and then shot at him.
“Phil’s personality and courage left a deep and lasting impression on Golf Company,” commented Waimey. “I remember Phil whenever I go to the Viet Nam Memorial. He is truly a man worth remembering.”
Word reached Slater in the same way that all families are notified of a death in the military.
“I was 16 at the time and had gone home from school to a friend’s house,” said Doug. “I had a phone call to get home, where I saw a car at our house and it was someone official to deliver the news that Phil had been killed in action.”
After that, everything seemed to move pretty fast for the family. A funeral was planned; more memorials were awarded to the family.
In February, the Navy Cross was presented to the family at their home. The Navy Cross is the nation’s second highest award for heroism. And in January of 1971, the family received the National Order of Viet Nam Medal and the Gallantry Cross with Palm, both from the Republic of Viet Nam, for Phil’s service.
In a letter to his brothers, Phil wrote on Jan. 2, 1969, just a few weeks before his death he said:
“I’m getting real anxious to come home. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen home.
I should be seeing you by the first of February – not too much longer, but for me, the time will go slowly.”
His body arrived at the Des Moines International Airport on Feb. 6, 1969, escorted by his brother, Lt. Richard Jones, Jr. Second Lieutenant Philip B. Jones, U.S. Marine Corps, did indeed come home. He was laid to rest on Feb. 8, 1969, in Bethlehem Cemetery in Slater — the church where he would climb the church steeple as a younger person.
A hero in every sense of the word, who should never be forgotten and always remembered.
A young man who is worth remembering.
Remember those heroes who have given their lives to keep the citizens of the United States, as well as other countries around the world, safe.
Celebrate those heroes, both living and dead, who keep us free and safe.
Celebrate your hometown heroes.
And celebrate Phil “Dutch” Jones of Slater.