“We Fought For Each Other”: Service In Vietnam As A Machine Gunner In The Rakkasans

Jon Jakeway


The son of an Air Force communications officer, Jon Jakeway was born in Walter Reed Army Hospital and grew up in Rockville, Maryland. He was a very active young boy, and somewhat of a daredevil. Armed with his camera, he and his buddies rode their bicycles around the neighborhood in search of adventure. In 1967, while attending Montgomery Junior College, his four closest friends discussed joining the Navy. Jon convinced them to join the Army with him and he dropped out of college because “I like excitement.” Already an experienced skydiver, he volunteered for the paratroopers and went to jump school after Basic Training and Advanced Infantry Training. In basic, he believed that he could do some good in Vietnam, but after fighting there he came to realize that they were only fighting for each other. After completing airborne training, he reported to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, and joined the 187th Infantry (the Rakkasans), completing six months of training before deploying to Vietnam. While at Ft. Campbell, he not only learned to be an M-60 machine gunner, he also went to flame warfare school and qualified to use the flame thrower, a weapon he used primarily to clear brush away from the perimeter of their camp. He was fortunate to deploy to Vietnam as part of a unit, and flew from Ft. Campbell to California, Guam, and finally Bien Hoa, where he remembers an oil tank burning, and the warm air and smells that hit them when the aircraft door opened. They found themselves in a new world, distinctly different from “the World” they had left. His unit convoyed to their camp in Phuc Vinh, and he recalls the “good times” prior to their first taste of combat, before anyone was wounded or killed. Much of his tour in Vietnam consisted of either patrolling or providing base camp defense, and he describes both missions, as well as hazards such as never getting enough sleep. On March 18, 1968, he was wounded by grenade fragments that sliced into his abdomen and hands, his M-60 absorbing some of the blast. He was medevaced by helicopter and flown to the hospital at Long Binh, where he remembers waiting on a stretcher on the floor while more seriously wounded Soldiers were operated on first. From Long Binh, he was eventually evacuated to Japan, where he was able to call his parents and let them know that he was wounded. Eventually he was evacuated to Walter Reed, where he continued undergoing surgeries. When he was discharged, he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. His profile prevented him from running and doing calisthenics, but he was able to join the XVIII Airborne Corps Parachute Team, and he extended until June of 1970 to take advantage of that assignment. After leaving the Army, he rode his Triumph motorcycle across the country, and four months later joined the work force back in Rockville, Maryland. Although he does not feel that he suffers from Post Traumatic Stress, he believes that everyone comes out of an experience like combat affected mentally in some way. He does, however, suffer symptoms from exposure to Agent Orange. In this interview, he talks about his childhood and some of his adventures, noting that from an early age he was always armed with a camera and ready to capture the experiences. He describes his training in the Army from basic through airborne, and explains how each school was different. He recalls that, once he joined the unit, it was good, hard training, but it “couldn’t give you the sense of fear” that accompanied combat in Vietnam. He details the amount of equipment he carried in Vietnam, and his determination to carry increasing loads of ammunition because he was “afraid to run out.” He discusses the various missions he performed in Vietnam, and provides details about several of the engagements he was in. Finally, he reflects on his service, stating that “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”


conflicts Vietnam War
topics Courage Morale Teamwork Camaraderie
interviewer David Siry
date 27 April 2019


name Jon Jakeway
service Infantry
unit C / 3-187 Infantry Rakkasans
specialty Paratrooper / M-60 Machine Gunner
service dates 1967 1970