Koon Earns Bronze Star For Valor In Vietnam

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Make no mistake. Jack Koon would never claim to represent all American military veterans. Or, for that matter, any veterans other than himself.

And contrary to what you might expect from someone with such an outgoing, supremely self-confident personality, Koon becomes visibly uncomfortable when asked to relate his own experiences in battle during the Vietnam war.

But that's all right. A clear portrait not just of this particular soldier but of all those we remember each Veterans Day emerges from the citation which accompanied one of several medals Koon earned in the course of his Army career:

A Bronze Star with Valor, awarded in 1969.

In addition to commending the "meritorious achievement" of Koon's personal drive, morale-boosting enthusiasm, professionalism and initiative as platoon leader of Company C, 2nd Battalion (Airmobile), 327th Infantry, the citation also outlines the "heroism in combat" he demonstrated as platoon sergeant of Company E in the same battalion.

"A Vietnamese soldier informed the leaders of Company E that a force of approximately 20 North Vietnamese soldiers would be coming into a nearby village that night," the citation reads. " ... Under the cover of darkness ... Sergeant Koon placed his men in the most advantageous positions possible, allowing for a kill zone of six to eight enemy soldiers.

"The hostile force walked into the ambush and, realizing that his men were outnumbered and that it was impossible for the entire enemy force to be in the kill zone, (Koon) waited until the lead man was about 10 meters from his position before initiating the ambush with Claymore mines.

"In the ensuing firefight, (Koon) again displayed his courage by subjecting himself to the intense hostile fire to direct his men and reposition his flank security so as to prevent the enemy force from overrunning it.

"Sergeant Koon's personal bravery and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army," the citation concludes.

When Koon is asked to elaborate, his modesty outshines all else.

"I just did what they told me to do," he said quietly. "I was there at the right time. We'd go out and find the enemy and engage him, then get out and go find him again."

Born in the Southern California town of Brawley 56 years ago, Koon left home when he was 18 to attend Northern Arizona University then known as Arizona State College. After picking up a law degree, he returned to his home state for another year-and-a-half of junior college, then came back to NAU. It was during a brief break in that segment of his education, in 1968, that Koon was drafted into his two-year Army stint.

His duty completed, Koon found employment as a Budweiser distributor in Flagstaff and the Holbrook/White Mountains area and held that job through his transfer to Payson in 1988.

"I just came here and took over," he said,"because I love it here. It's nice, it's beautiful. It's a good party town."

Koon went on to take jobs with several other beer distributors until eight years ago, when he made a career-switch into the maintenance department of the Payson Unified School District.

Through it all, Koon never strayed far from his second love: the softball field ... which is precisely where he met his first love: Sandee, Koon's bride of 10 years.

"I'm a Diamondbacks freak," Koon said, sounding like someone who's bragging about, oh, earning a Bronze Star for Valor.

"We went to the 6th game of the World Series, and it was super. We got there at 11 in the morning and didn't leave until 11:30 that night. I love playing baseball but, as I get older, I'm enjoying watching it more and more."

His passion for the game, Koon said, comes from being raised in a sports family.

"My mother was a semi-professional fast-pitch softball player. In the 1950s, she played for the California Lettuce Queens. I went to every one of their games. She was a pitcher and first-baseman. She could really hit the ball. She could throw it, too. We still have her uniforms."

"My Dad was a basketball player, but I was never any good at that game. I had that too-short disease."

Too short for basketball, maybe.

But plenty tall to be a hero.

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