A band of brothers gathered at the VFW in Union City last week to remember Jonathan L. Stoops, who was killed in Vietnam 50 years ago, June 5, 1968. Those brothers included two men who traveled thousands of miles to honor their comrade-in-arms. The brothers also included several members of Stoops’ Union City Community High School Class of 1966, several of whom also served in Vietnam.
John Holguin, of New Mexico, served with Stoops in the mortar unit on LZ Loon in Quang Tri Province. He said, “We are left with a lifetime of loss and guilt. We made it back, but Jon didn’t. It seems like yesterday, and, God, I wish it were.”
Holguin said he has never felt closure from his war experiences, but the warm welcome to Union City and meeting up with those who also knew Stoops helps. Citing the presence of so many Class of 1966 members, Holguin said, “You remember him from the more pleasant days of his boyhood.”
The mortar base at Landing Zone Loon was under attack on Stoop’s first day, and he was wounded that first day. He was medevacked to an in-country medical facility and then returned to his unit a month later.
Holguin remembered Stoops as mellow, quiet and thoughtful, whereas he and Fred Owen, who also served in the mortar unit, weren’t so serious and were often in trouble. He explained, “We three were so different culturally – me from New Mexico, Fred from Canada and Jon from the Midwest. But we formed a common bond, and it’s lasted a lifetime.”
Stoops, not yet 21, was killed in a helicopter crash that took the lives of several of Holguin’s and Owen’s buddies.
Jorge Ortiz, representing U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly, declared, “Jon’s story is remarkable. He chose to serve in a time when young men were being drafted left and right. His service was selfless.”
One of the most poignant parts of the evening was the presence of Jon’s youngest brother, Mark, and his family. To many, Mark bears a striking resemblance to his lost brother. Seeing Mark’s family was a reminder of what was lost with the death of Jon Stoops and the 58,318 other Americans killed in Vietnam.
A police escort led a caravan to St. Mary’s Cemetery, where Hetty Scofield, a Class of 1966 member, placed a wreath at Stoops’ gravesite. She said, “Jon, it’s been 50 years. It’s been too long. We thank you and salute all of our Vietnam veterans. You are our heroes.”
At the cemetery, Father Peter Logsdon acknowledged the torment of war. He said, “Vietnam broke this country apart. It brought out the worst in some people and the best in some people.”
He quoted from Walt Whitman, who urged people to re-remember those lost in war to heal broken hearts. He concluded, “We remember Jon Stoops, and we remember them all today.”
Senator Donnelly and Senator Pat Toomey introduced a bipartisan bill that became a law establishing March 29 as National Vietnam War Veterans Day.