A Hero’s Journey

 

They call it the Hero’s Journey, this theory of storytelling taught in high-dollar workshops for writers and those longing to become one. It’s the notion that every story follows the same general pattern: Person confronted with a quest/challenge. Person accepts challenge, faces overwhelming odds, successfully meets their quest after defeating all dragons, and comes out on the other side a better person – A Hero.

For me, though, the Hero’s Journey is about far more than just storytelling.

It’s about men like Tom Jones.

I  met   Lt.Col. Tom Jones years ago while I was on a quest of my own. I had flown to Washington D.C. with a list of names in hand. It was a list I had found after a couple of years of research into my own father’s death in Vietnam. With the help of then Senator Gordon Smith (R-Oregon), I had been able to obtain my father’s death records and after action reports from the National Archives. Among those records was a list of names of men who had deployed with my father from Hawaii’s Schofield Barracks.

I didn’t recognize any of the names. It’s not surprising that I didn’t know any of the men given I had been barely nine years old when Daddy deployed. And nine years and a few months older when he came home via a casket. His body bloated and bruised and blued.

There was a reunion of the 25th Infantry Division, the unit my father deployed with, during the Veterans Day events in DC. I took that list with me into a ballroom at that DC hotel, hoping like heck I would be able to track down at least one of the men who served alongside my father. Someone who could look me in the eyes and tell me exactly what happened that day in July 1966, when Daddy died. I knew the story the Army had told us back in 1966 wasn’t true. I just didn’t know then what the truth was.

I walked into that ballroom, moved among those towering soldiers of a war in which there was never any peace for anyone, my palms sweaty, my heart pounding. I had no idea how to approach a veteran then, much less how to enlist their help in tracking down men who may or may not want to speak to me about my dead father.

I was on a quest but instead of facing dragons that sought to slay me, I encountered nothing but kindnesses extended to me by Golden Dragons. Tom Jones was among that crowd that night. Mike Coale, of New Jersey, introduced us. Coale and Jones took my quest and made it their own. They did everything they could to help me find the men who served alongside my dad.

That’s the thing about a Hero’s Journey that folks rarely talk about – Heroes never accomplish anything of worth in isolation. The entire point of becoming a hero is to help others. What makes a hero a hero isn’t their ability to overcome all odds. What makes a hero a hero is that they defeat all odds on behalf of others. Any quest is only of merit when it serves another person.

Tom Jones was all about serving others.

We exchanged contact information that night, Tom Jones and I did. Even yet today, I can go to my email account and type in his email and a list of exchanges we’ve had dating back over a decade will pull up. Each one deals with one of two things – storytelling and veterans.

Tom had quests of his own he was undertaking. He was working on a book about the Bastard Brigade of the 25th Infantry, working to ensure that the stories of other veterans would be remembered. There are memorials at Schofield, at Fort Benning, and in other places that would not exist today had it not been for the tireless efforts of Tom Jones.

Like every hero on a quest, Tom never took a break from his missions. Every time he was successful in getting another memorial built, Tom would send me photos and a detailed account of the ceremony surrounding the unveiling. He was particularly proud of making sure that women veterans were included in the memorials. Not only did he make it his quest to memorialize fallen soldiers, he worked along with a pastor in his home state of Ohio to establish a program of spiritual direction for those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Above all else, Tom was an advocate for veterans, those fallen and those who continue to suffer, and their families. Given his commitment to honoring those harmed by war and its aftermath, it is particularly hurtful that what took Tom’s life was an Agent Orange induced cancer.

Tom Jones died on 12/21/17.

When my mother died on 12/26/12, Tom sat down at his computer and sent me the following note:

Karen: Aw man, I’m so sad to hear of the passing of this great lady.  I’ve met and enjoyed so many of your family and regret that Mama and I never got to swap pre-deployment Schofield stories.  Believe it or not, I had plans of contacting you shortly to insure that the two of you were signed up to join our recently formed 25th IDA Heritage Society.  With tears in my eyes, all I can tell you is that my thoughts and my prayers are with you and your wonderful family.
Hugs, Tom Jones
It’s poetic, I suppose, that now I sit here at my computer, tears in my own eyes as I reflect on what a hero Tom Jones was to so many of us.
As a 19-year old at Kent State University, before his tour of duty, Tom Jones memorized a pledge. It was more than just a rote saying. It became the values by which Tom lived his daily life:
The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe. – John Walter Wayland
His quest complete, Tom has joined with his fallen comrades.
If you sit quietly with me for a moment, I bet we can all hear the cheers as they give him his final Hero’s Welcome Home.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of After the Flag has been Folded (William Morrow).

Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

15 Comments

Walt McDonald

about 9 months ago

Karen, I appreciate very much what you wrote abot my Friend and Golden Dragon Brother Tom Jones. As a seventeen year old solfier in 1964, I had no idea of what was about to come in my Army service. After basic training in Ft Knox, Ky and my Advanced Infantry Training (AIT) in Ft Polk, LA, I was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. I was assigned to Company A, 1st Bn 14th Inf Regiment. I arrived to this unit in April 1965, still seventeen, and full of, as we used to say, 'Piss and Vinegar' and eager and hopefully able to become a fierce warrior. On September 11, 1965 I turned a whole eighteen years old. In December 1965 we got word that we would be deploying to Vietnam with the 3rd Brigade, which as you know became the "Bastard Brigade". I, as a enlisted man, never really got to associate with the officers. Hell, we was kind of scared of them. lol. But I knew the names of most of our officers in our Battalion, and one that had a name just like a singer Tom Jones. I guess I should stop rattling on and get to the reason I am sending you this message. In 1997 the VietnamTraveling Wall came to Akron, Ohio, my hometown. I was excited and terrified to go see it. However I put on a set of Jungle Fatigues that I had aquired for a parade I was in in the early 90's. Off I went and I ended up staying at this beautiful memorial for the entire time it was there. I slept in my car I couldn't seem to leave. Anyway I was sitting in the reception tent late the second evening drinking coffe, when this big tall guy walked in and was thumbing throught the guestbook like he was looking for a name. He glanced over to where I sat in the darkness and saw my 25th Infantry Patch on my right shoulder of my jungle fatigues, and says in a loud voice, " Are you Walt McDonald?"., I says yes I am and he immediately came over as I was standing up and gave me a big ol bear hug. He then told me who he was and that he had seen a photo that i had placed below what I called 'our panel' which is 12. We started chatting for a while then exchanged phone numbers. Latyer in the summer 0f 1997 he called me and asked if I was a member of the 25th Inf assoc. and I said yes. He asked me if I would go to the 25th Inf reunion in Kentucky that fall. Of course I said yes, as I had never been to one yet. He said it was his first one also. We rode there together and that was the start a great friendship. After that we got together for anoher traveling wall visit when one came to Cleveland, Ohio. And over the years since 1997 we would get together for lunch many times. His passing away is so hard to take. I loved this man as a brother. He will always have a special place in my heart. Thanks for your time. Walt McDonald.

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 9 months ago

Walt: What a beautiful story you have shared. Thank you. Tom was that kind of man who made everyone he came into contact with special, important. That's because he was an honorable man honoring others, I think. I loved how he cared for so many. He set an example for all of us. Thank you, Walt, for your service. I am glad you made it home. Thank you, too, for sharing your hurting heart with us. All who have ever been loved by Tom understand your deep sorrow.

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Linda Tate

about 9 months ago

Karen,the man on the left is my husband, Martin L. Tate. He was in A/ 1st/14th 3rd Brigade 25th Infantry. He went over with the whole division from Hawaii. The man on the right of Tom is Lt. Col. Jock Lindsay. He is the President of the Golden Dragons (14th Infantry). Tom is holding our Golden Dragon we found in Florida during a reunion. Tom will be missed greatly by all who knew him. My husband was in Vietnam in '66.

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 9 months ago

Linda: Thank you for sharing this information about your husband and Tom. Yes, I think all of us who were fortunate enough to be loved by Tom are going to miss him terribly. He was so proud of being part of that Bastard Brigade. I just hope Linda finds his manuscript he was working on and sees that it gets published. Tom put so much work into that effort.

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Dave Riebe B- 1/14 Inf.

about 9 months ago

What a blessing to have noticed this trmendous facebook article. All is true and more. We worked together on the 14th Inf. Regiment assoc. Rosters and raising money for scholarships. Will miss him as he was one of a kind!

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 9 months ago

You are right, Dave, Tom was something special. I think it was his way of making everyone he came into contact with feel as though they were the most important people in the world to him. Thank you for sharing your story. Tom left a great legacy of honor.

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Kirk Ramsey

about 9 months ago

Thank you for the wonderful tribute to Tom, I know that his family, and all who knew him will appreciate it. If you don't mind leaving this online for a while, I will add a link to it on the 1/14th, 2/14th and 14th Infantry Regiment Association web sites so that it may be shared with as many 'Golden Dragons' as possible. I think you've hit the nail on the head - Tom was all about serving others. After years spent building a successful trucking company based in northeast Ohio, he retired and focused his boundless energies on veterans, and became a tireless champion of the 25th Infantry Division, and its 14th Infantry Regiment with which he served. He touched the lives of countless individuals. Personally, I will miss his friendship...

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 9 months ago

Thank you, Kirk. Yes, of course, feel free to share. I think it's important that we come together and remember how well Tom loved us all.

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AFRoger

about 9 months ago

Wouldn't it be wonderful if at inauguration and on January 1 of each succeeding year the President of the United States and the Majority/Minority leaders of Congress went before the nation and recited John Walter Wayland's pledge, following it with the request that we, the American people, actually hold them accountable to keep it? OK, that won't happen on their part. But what is stopping us, the people, from doing our part? Lt. Col. Jones' death is a loss to us all. And the greater loss is the example of such a standard for manhood and citizenship. Let our mourning properly reflect that.

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 9 months ago

It would be more wonderful if a host of men around the nation took the pledge and kept it in the same fashion that Tom did.

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Johnny B Page

about 9 months ago

What an interesting and heart-warming story about Tom Jones. I remember him from Schofield Barracks, although I was in the 2/14th that deployed with the 1st brigade. I was a Sp-6 medic at Schofield Barracks and later promoted to platoon sergeant (SFC) after deployment to Cu Chi, RVN.

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 9 months ago

Thank you, Johnny .My dad was with the 2/9th Brig. Tom always found ways to honor the fallen and their families. I just happened to be on the receiving end of all that goodness Tom extended. He is missed.

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James Bishop

about 9 months ago

James (Skipper) Bishop. I came over with the2/14th 1st Brigade along with John Page. I was a Staff Sergeant of a rifle squad in the Recon Platoon. We were deployed to Chu Chi, RVN.

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Jock Lindsay

about 9 months ago

I was assigned to A company, 1/14th Infantry, 3d Brigade 25th Infantry in September 1966. I was a replacement, not one who deployed with the division. I was a 22 year old 2d Lieutenant, as scared as Walt McDonald . I didn't know Tom in Vietnam, he was on staff somewhere far removed from me.In 2009 I went to a small reunion on Veterans Day, a reunion I was very conflicted about attending. When I got to the hotel I re-met ML Tate, Dan Marthers John Boyce and Tom. We seemed to have an instant connection.The big smile, the sincere welcome, plans for the future of the Association just bubbled out of him We remained friends all these years and talked frequently on the phone even after he said he would not be talking on the phone, he always took my calls. Never a complaint. He stayed happy sounding, upbeat, and confident he could beat this thing. I will miss my dear friend. Today he is pain free, happy, and reunited with old comrades. I know we will meet again,

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 9 months ago

Jock: Lovely story. Thank you for your service. I imagine that you are right about Tom now. I imagine him walking into the arms of Jesus and hearing those words every Vietnam veteran longed to hear: "Welcome Home, Son. Welcome Home." He never told me he was ill. I had no idea. But that was Tom. Never seeking the limelight himself. Always serving others. Always caring for the families. I miss that big heart of his.

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