by COL Barry Willey, USA (Ret.)
Final Act of Courage
The citation to Jon’s posthumous Silver Star for gallantry in action described his actions: “During the initial contact, Lieutenant Shine was seriously wounded. Despite his wounds, Lt. Shine immediately began placing suppressive fire on the enemy positions, thus allowing his men to move to cover.”
His words to “Doc” Jackson seem clearly intended to keep “Doc” and the other platoon members focused on Joe Roberts for the few moments that he engaged the enemy. Jon, thinking only about his men and acting on their behalf, perished when the enemy returned his fire.
When word of the fight reached back to Cu Chi base camp, an incredible thing happened. The battalion scout platoon was just back from an operation for rest and recuperation.
Their leader was a close friend of Jon and a West Point classmate and his soldiers knew of that strong bond and Jon’s reputation in the battalion.
Without orders, they put on their combat gear, drew ammo and stood by to go in and retrieve Jon’s body. The battalion commander himself had to order them to stand down.
A Special Reunion
In May of 2002, I had the privilege and honor to join the first gathering of members of Jon’s platoon since that fateful battle in 1970. Greg Yahn, Gene Hess, Joe Christopher, Jesse ‘Sal’ Salcedo, Rob Jackson, Steve Harlan and Ted Hooker were plain-talking heroes who gave their all and after Vietnam went about their lives as solid citizens, not asking anything from their country that asked so much of them. Several were severely wounded in ways that profoundly affected the rest of their lives.
Joe Christopher suffered from a fragmentation wound to his back during the firefight and then serious injuries to much of his body when the rescue litter he was in dropped from 60 feet up when the evacuation helicopter carrying it was hit by enemy fire; Gene Hess lost a finger and part of his upper arm from AK-47 fire when he attempted to rescue a wounded Jon Shine. Greg Yahn went in after Gene and was eyeball-to-eyeball with enemy soldiers only yards away as he pulled Greg back to safer ground. Ted, Sal, and Steve moved, fired, and bravely defended their ground despite the horrific firestorm, while Rob courageously attended to Jon and Country Joe Roberts. All of these men have dealt with the emotional and physical scars from that awful day in South Vietnam’s Hobo Woods.
Greg Yahn sent me several notes and emails and his words are poignant:
“Lt. Shine was absolutely courageous in his assault on that day, as was Sgt. Roberts…I wish this book could be written from the first person, because we have all lost a comrade soul…God bless you and your family. God has directed your hand in all of this, pulled all of us veterans together, helped to give us rest in heart and mind, and given us all a reason to remember each other. For this I am forever grateful.”
Jon Shine and Joe Roberts names are on the Vietnam Memorial Wall, panel 6 West, line 2…together…just as they fell in battle.
The Investment Pays Off
The time Jon Shine invested in me–studying God’s Word, praying together, meeting in fellowship with others at the Academy and going to spiritual conferences on weekends–made profound inroads in my life and the lives of several other cadets, and set me on a course of personal spiritual discipline and training.
During my senior (Firstie) year at West Point, I asked two younger men in my battalion–Greg Schumacher and Jim Blackwell–if they wanted to join me in a year of intensive spiritual growth together. They both eagerly agreed.
My desire was to share the disciplines of the Christian faith that I was taught from my parents, and then had learned from and seen so clearly in Jon Shine and the Christian faculty officers who had “adopted” me. I would now pass them on to Greg and Jim, so they in turn could pass them on to other reliable men. I was convicted and convinced of the truth in Scripture that the Apostle Paul taught to his young friend, Timothy. (2 Timothy 2:2)
Following graduation I sensed there would be other opportunities to work with men eager to grow as believers. The first opportunity came during my first assignment in the Army.
As a young lieutenant of infantry and a member of the storied 82d Airborne Division, the quick reaction force for the United States, I was humbled yet proud.
Following an alert to possibly deploy to the Middle East in 1973, we all felt what it was like to be physically and emotionally prepared for combat. We also became sensitized to the spiritual side of our makeup. I felt a strong obligation to share my own faith and ensure my men knew that if they ever needed encouragement in that area of life, they could call on me without hesitation. I was also still very cognizant of Jon Shine’s life and death and impact on my life. He was killed in action only three years earlier in combat in Vietnam. My memory of his brief but inspired life and my own changed outlook on life–feeling a strong need to work with men as a spiritual mentor, as God led me to those men–convinced me that I needed to share my Christian testimony with my platoon of about 40 soldiers.
I called them together one day, shortly after the alert, and sat them on the steps to our barracks. I spent about ten minutes sharing my personal philosophy of life as a Christian and was compelled to talk to them about my relationship with Jon Shine, his powerful touch on my life and his heroic death in action during the Vietnam conflict. Some squirmed, others looked away…but all listened. Most seemed appreciative of my willingness to share something many of them had never heard before–nor expected to hear. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect following this session but hoped a few of them were sensitized to the Christian lifestyle and the hope and assurance it provided.
I did, however, remember Jon and others in my early days as a believer at West Point, telling me a great truth. They asked the question, “How best should we be spending our time in this life?” Their answer was, “By focusing on the only two things that really last…that really have eternal value…the Word of God and the souls of men.” If you think through that statement, it makes a lot of sense. Everything else is all eventually meaningless when life is over. You can’t take any of it with you! What does last are the words of our Heavenly Father, found in the Holy Scriptures, and the souls of men…that which passes on into an eternal state after death on this earth. My priorities were set.
The session with my platoon was a Friday afternoon and Sunday night I was at my apartment in Fayetteville, N.C., getting my equipment ready for a field exercise starting the next day.
It was probably about 9 or 10 p.m. The phone rang and I thought it a bit unusual to be getting a call at that hour. I answered it and the voice on the other end said, “Lieutenant Willey, sir, this is Specialist Fred Staples”…Staples was a machine-gunner in my rifle platoon and not one of the stellar performers. In fact, there were rumors going around the platoon that Staples was into drugs, both using and pushing, and we were simply waiting for an opportunity to catch him in the act and remove him as a bad influence on the other young troops. Now, I figured, was our chance. I suspected he was calling from the jail downtown and needed me to bail him out.
“Sir,” the young soldier continued, “I went to South Carolina this weekend with a friend from our platoon and met someone while I was there. I met Jesus Christ and gave my life to Him. I was wondering if you would help me learn more about him.” Needless to say, God had worked a miracle in young Fred Staple’s life through the power of His Spirit and a Billy Graham film. And he knew about my faith because of my taking the time to share my testimony. I assured Specialist Staples that I would gladly help him learn more about the Lord. I recalled the early days of my first year at the Military Academy and Jon Shine–my senior by three years–taking some risk and taking me on, teaching me about faithfully walking with the Lord and being a disciple.
I wanted to follow that example and be a spiritual big brother and mentor to this soldier. Because he was a member of my platoon and, therefore, presented me with a potential challenge–possible charges of favoritism–I very discretely met with him after normal duty hours for several weeks before I changed jobs within the battalion and helped him learn a few spiritual ropes. Jon Shine’s influence was taking hold, motivating and inspiring me to follow in his footsteps…and as Jon would have observed, more importantly, follow in the Lord’s footsteps.
More Generations of Reliable Men
The next or fifth “generation” of believers will pick up with Timothy Mallard, a young man I met and worked with when stationed in Panama. Timothy is now a Chaplain in the United States Army and on fire for the Lord and His work.
He recently shared his written testimony with me and here is how it started: “My story as a Christian goes back to several formative experiences, not the least of which was a Bible study and discipleship program I experienced in Panama when I was a teenager. Many years after that…I dedicated myself to full-time Christian service, followed a call to the ministry and another call to the Army Chaplaincy.”
While a Chaplain at Fort Benning, Georgia, for a mechanized infantry battalion, Timothy also led a ministry at a small chapel on the base. He was soon reassigned to Europe and found himself in a Germany-based artillery unit bound for Bosnia with another Army unit. He soon was encouraged by some of his soldiers to start a Promise Keepers Bible study and found himself ministering to a diverse group of men from all races, religious affiliations, and backgrounds, all desirous of learning about and walking close to Christ.
They started calling themselves the “Men of Integrity.” Timothy eventually led this group of men on a spiritual journey to Washington, D.C., during the Promise Keepers’ “Stand in the Gap” rally in October of 1997. It was a logistically challenging time to fund, transport, feed, and house a group of thirteen soldiers, but through some amazing answers to their prayers, it all worked out and they experienced a life-changing time together. Timothy concluded his testimony this way:
“We made it back to Germany and, returning to our community, began to share with others our adventure in Christ, including those brothers of ours who had remained behind to accomplish other missions.
I knew then, however, that our fellowship–not just those who made the journey–but all fifty of our men, had achieved that which God had purposed for us to accomplish. I knew that it was time for us to begin going out from that place to carry our faith to others.
Not eight months later over half our group would be gone to other parts of the world…we have eight men preparing for or serving in full-time ministry, two who have gone to college to return to the Army as officers, and many who are in new places of service in the local church as musicians, deacons, lay leaders, or teachers.
As well, there is no telling what impact on the world the sons and daughters of these men will have in the future.”
One of those “Men of Integrity” I was able to locate was Sergeant First Class John Kurzyniec, now stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. When I contacted John–the sixth generation of reliable men in this story–in September of 2001, he wrote me the following:
“I first met Chaplain Mallard in Bosnia in a Tactical Operations Center (TOC) in 1996…We had a nightly briefing at 1900 hours and it was his first night there…I remember him standing in front of everybody in the TOC and giving us the Scripture of John 15:5, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.’ Now I remember this because at that time I was searching the Gospel to find out who this God was. I gave my life to Christ and recognized Jesus as my Lord and Savior 20 July 1996…that Scripture has stayed with me until this day.
“There was something different about this man, different from other chaplains I had met previously in the battalion. At the time I didn’t know what it was, but later realized that he had a light that shined. There was something in this man’s life that I wanted, too.
He was compassionate and very friendly, always had time for others and what was best is that he brought people together. We had services in Bosnia and people came to hear what this man of God had to say. Church was never that full before, but now they were coming. They must have seen what I saw and that was the realness for Jesus Christ.”
I knew at the time I contacted John that he was heading up a group of men at Fort Hood who were preparing to host a Central Texas-wide Christian Men’s Conference. They had planned it for 11 months and briefed the concept to the Garrison Commander, receiving his approval to proceed.
When I re-established contact in April of 2002, John and his group had just completed the conference, whose guest speakers included author Stu Weber and pro-football great, Hershel Walker. His note to me: “…we just had a wonderful, blessed time in the Lord…What I found really great about the whole conference was the prayer leading up to the conference.
We asked the Lord if just one came and gave his life, all would be worth it. Well on Friday night the altar was open and we had about 25, including a nine-year-old who was moved and came by himself. On Saturday before the conference started, we had a soldier who was running the track at 0530 and the praise team had just finished setting up and started playing. This individual started asking the conference staff that was around what was going on. We explained to him what we were doing and one thing led to another and BAM!!…out of the clear blue he wanted Jesus in his life. We called all the men around that were there and prayed with him. I thank God every day that He can use men all around us for His glory.” Indeed He can!
God began this ministry of multiplication through generations of faithful men years ago, using Jon Shine as a powerful influence on many others along the way. We don’t always know how and why He works the way He does, but we can be assured that He is in control.
He took Jon Shine from this earth, at age 23, to be with Him. Jon’s tragic death was certainly a horrible loss to his family and friends and to the Army and his country, for which he held so much potential. We may never know what Jon could have accomplished in an earthly sense. But we do know what he has accomplished in a spiritual sense. Jonathan Cameron Shine serves as a life-altering inspiration and motivation to live for Jesus Christ and serve others selflessly and sacrificially. Jon, I’m sure, would not want us to focus on him. He would much rather we focus on the Lord, giving Him all the glory.
True believers, however, know that faithful disciples of Christ who have gone on from this life, have always left behind them powerfully vivid signs–trail markers–that point the way toward Him.
One of those trail markers Jon left us was an example of total reliance on the Holy Spirit, our Comforter and a true Friend we all can have as Christians. Robert “Doc” Jackson, the brave Army medic who heard Jon Shine’s last words, now understands why–coming from his platoon leader lying five feet from him with a serious wound to his head, and enemy fire all around–they were so amazingly calm and full of assurance and peace.
In F.B Meyer’s David, the author traces this young warrior’s life through the steps by which he became king…those steps in which his character was formed. In one of his poignant passages, he describes David, who, without hesitation, bolts toward the enemy with great valor and skill when that enemy threatened his men.
Meyer describes David and all those with a similar warrior spirit, as men and women “in whose breasts the dove-like Spirit has found an abiding place, and whose hearts are ‘sentineled’ by the peace of God…these are they who bear themselves as heroes in the fight.” (F.B Meyer, David, London, 1953, Preface and p. 34)
The path we tread as we move toward that prize of God’s high calling–our reigning with Him eternally–is well lit by the courage and character of a young Army lieutenant, whose calm, peaceful voice…bright, engaging smile…and rock-solid faith in Jesus Christ remain fixed in our memories and encourage us on…each step of the way.
Robert M. Kimmitt, classmate and friend of Jon, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, former U.S. Ambassador to Germany and Major General, U.S. Army Reserves in an email to Barry Willey:
“Thanks for this opportunity to remember a friend and first-class human being…we got to know each other working on various Corps-wide activities and via mutual friends. One such friend was Guy Hester…who was also killed in Vietnam [authors’ note – seven days before Jon]. Jon and Guy were devout Christians, but Christians who were not judgmental about others. They influenced others by example, not sermonizing. I believe Jon’s and Guy’s widows were burying one of them…when word of the other’s death arrived. [author’s note – in fact, Gail Shine rushed to be with Guy’s wife–a total stranger–when she heard that Guy had been killed in action. While Gail was at the funeral, incredibly, Guy’s wife found out about Jon’s death and informed Gail. They comforted one another.]
When I think of what a West Point cadet should be, I think of Jon Shine. When I think of what a young officer should be, I think of Jon Shine.
When I think of what a human being should be, I think of Jon Shine. When I think of Jon Shine, I cry and smile; cry because I miss him; smile because he is now and has been precisely where he was always destined to be.”
Colonel (Ret.) Mike Tesdahl, USMA Class of 1969, classmate of Jon Shine and former head of the Officer’s Christian Fellowship ministry at West Point, in a correspondence to Barry Willey:
“The Jonathan C. Shine Memorial Award, traditionally a leather-bound study Bible engraved with the recipient’s name, is still presented annually during the Protestant Baccalaureate service.
The award is presented to the Cadet-in-Charge of OCF at West Point. This cadet is chosen on the basis of his/her demonstrated capacity for Christian leadership and service within OCF and the Corps…Jon’s contributions to the spiritual development of his contemporaries is reiterated annually in preparation for this award ceremony. Recent recipients of the award include Bryan Groves, an infantryman serving at Fort Bragg, NC; Mike Stone, a tanker serving in Germany; Marie (Roush) Hatch, an AG officer currently serving at Fort Campbell, KY; and most recently, Riley Post, an infantryman who just graduated from Ranger School and is enroute to graduate studies at Oxford [as a Rhodes Scholar].
Jon is also a recurring topic of discussion during the annual West Point-specific Rocky Mountain High rotation at Spring Canyon, Colorado, where Fort Shine is named after him. In particular, we recount the anecdote that Jon was led to the Lord through the witness of a ‘barracks police’–a custodian–at the Gillis Field House, and make the point that none of us knows the impact of our daily witness on those around us.”
A 1972 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, Barry Willey is a retired Army Colonel who retired in June of 2001 after 29 years on active duty as an infantry officer. He deployed to Granada in 1983 with the 82d Airborne Division, to Desert Shield/Storm in 1990/91 with the 24th Infantry Division, and to Haiti in 1994 with the 18th Airborne Corps. Barry is married to the former Barbara Fishback and they have two adult children, Rachael, and Jonathan–who is married to the former Jamie Warrick. Barry and Barb have been the OCF staff couple at West Point since January, 2005. Barry has been a member of OCF since his days as a West Point cadet and participated in a European “Summer Safari” with the late Cleo Buxton in 1972. He has published articles in COMMAND magazine and in the book, “Deployed But Not Disconnected”.
If you wish to reprint this article please use the following copyright notice: “Downloaded and reprinted by permission of Officers’ Christian Fellowship of the USA, Englewood, Colorado. Authored by Colonel Barry Willey, USA (Ret.). All rights reserved.”
2004 Colonel Barry Willey, USA (Ret.), by special arrangement with Officers’ Christian Fellowship of the USA. No portion of this article may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any way–electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or other–except for brief quotations in printed review, without prior permission of the publisher. Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible: New International Version. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.