By Kathleen Knowles
Michael James Jawor was born October 21, 1948, to Anthony David and Alferda Helen Jawor. He grew up in Port Huron in South Park. The fourth of six siblings, (two brothers and three sisters.) he attended Lincoln School in the Kindergarten and then St. Joseph School. Michael graduated from Port Huron Catholic High School in 1967.
He would make a decision a year later that would affect the rest of his life. Rather than go to college, he followed in his father’s footsteps and enlisted in the United States Navy in May of 1968. After attending Boot Camp at Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois, Mr. Jawor was given the rank of Bosun’s mate. He received orders to report to Fighters Squadron 31 in Oceana, Virginia. When Michael arrived, he was informed Bosun’s mates had to be a Master of Arms for the Fighter Squadron. His commanding officer could not accept a man with the rank of E2 becoming a Master of Arms. When the CO realized Michael could type, he became his yeoman. The position lasted six months.
Michael was transferred into the Seabees. After going to school in Davisville, Rhode Island, he was assigned to a Mobile Construction Battalion. His next assignment was in San Juan, Puerto Rico. When that ended, he was transferred to the Naval Air Station Patuxent River Navy Base in Lexington Park, Maryland. Michael then went back to Davisville, before being sent to California for training.
In the last year of his service, he was deployed to Vietnam at Cam Ranh Bay in the Khanh Hoa Province. Mr. Jawor was assigned to special service. His job was to assist the men who were deployed there. Whatever was needed, he was responsible for making sure the men got it. “I even delivered mail if it was not getting to them. My job was to do whatever I could to help make their lives livable,” Mike said.
When asked about his service in Vietnam, Michael hesitated, but then shared, “Let’s just say I saw combat. I could shoot well enough to protect my buddies on both sides of me; I didn’t miss my target. They wanted me to be a sniper, but I wasn’t forced to do it. It was not something I wanted to do. I bonded with the guys I was with. We were quite close and protected each other.”
After his year in Vietnam, Michael returned home to his first wife and their two children, Anthony and Shawna. He worked as a security guard for the county for a little over a year, after which he worked construction, in factories, and at London’s Dairy before settling on working as a handyman. During that time his marriage began to crumble. Michael and Soledad divorced.
In 1982, he would meet the love of his life. Relaxing at home one night, his best friend’s sister showed up at his house asking to borrow an extension ladder because she had locked herself out of her apartment at 9:00 at night. Mike went over to her home, broke in through the kitchen window, fell over a sink full of dirty dishes and landed on the floor. Finding his way to the door, he let in Mary Eisenhower and her friend, Nina. The reverse gear in the car Nina was driving had quit, and she wanted to go back to her house to get some clothes, in order to spend the night at Mary’s apartment. Mike insisted on taking her home to pick up her belongings and bring her back.
The chemistry was instant between the two and they started dating. One month later on March 26, 1982, Mike and Nina were married in a private ceremony. In August, they had a second ceremony for their families in the Catholic church. The couple has three children, David, Adam, and Katelyn, as well as an adopted son, Jason Black. Their first child, Angelique died shortly after birth on August 2, 1983. They have 18 grandchildren. Michael is semi-retired but continues to work doing carpentry, roofing and general handy work.
When discussing the effect of his years in Vietnam, Mike said, “I don’t know how you are going to take this, but sometimes I think I would have preferred to come home in a body bag. If you did that, the war was over for you. If you came back, it never ended.” He explained, “You continue to fight that battle even though you know it is over.” The horrors of war have taken its toll on him. Although he refused to get into any details of his time in Vietnam, his wife, Nina was able to describe the struggles her husband has endured.
“I learned the hard way to be careful how I wake Mike up in the morning. Early in our marriage, I shook Mike gently to wake him. He came out of that slumber like a madman. Before I knew it, he had me on the floor with his hands around my throat, until he realized it was me.” After apologizing profusely, he explained it was because of having been waken suddenly too many times in Vietnam when lives were in danger. He taught me the proper way to wake him safely. Since then, there have been no repeats of that incident. Nina also related the many nightmares Mike has had over the years, waking in a cold sweat, in a posture that indicated he was holding a rifle. Although she knows the cause, she rarely asks him about the dreams. He just doesn’t like to talk about them.
Mike said despite the fact the war ended in 1973, he still fights it every day of his life — in his mind, in his dreams, and sadly in the way Vietnam vets have been treated. “There are sounds, smells and different things that trigger flashbacks or memories of war, of friends lost and battles fought.”
The one thing that has haunted Mike was the mindset of many Americans when Vietnam vets returned home. He remembers getting off the plane in San Diego California. One mother gathered her children close to her and told them, “Stay away from him, he is a baby killer.” That was bad enough, but as he arrived back in Michigan some people, whom he thought were his friends, had the same attitude; it was hard to take.
Mike was exposed to Agent Orange for the year that he was in Vietnam. Has it affected him medically? He believes so, but he has not been able to get the American government to admit that his medical problems are directly related to Agent Orange. In dealing with the Veterans Administration, Mike feels medical care has been inadequate and too slow. Hopefully, with the passage of the VA Quality and Choice Employment Act of 2017, our veterans will get the proper care they deserve in a timely manner.
Sometimes when it all becomes overwhelming, Mike calls two or three veterans he knows who also served in Vietnam. They go down by the river, have a drink and talk about their service experiences. Each has a similar story to tell, and they are each others support systems.
Through it all, despite everything he experienced, when asked whether he would do it all again, he answered with no uncertainty or doubt.
“Oh yeah, I would do it again in a heartbeat. I did not necessarily agree with the war, but I love my country, so when called upon, and your country says this is what you do, then you do it. You do it for your fellow Americans so that their ability to live in freedom is protected.”
With his service time past, and considering everything he experienced, asked if he would recommend the United States Armed Forces to our young men and women of today, again Michael said unequivocally, “Absolutely! They will certainly learn discipline, which later in life will become one of their biggest assets. They will learn teamwork and what it means to sacrifice. If they are stationed overseas, they will be exposed to other cultures and how people in other countries live. Most of all, they will honor all those before them, and those who will come after them in the preservation of freedom, and all that our great country stands for.”
We as a people quite often take our freedom for granted. It is not the politicians or the government that has provided and preserved that freedom for us. It is men and women like Michael Jawor that have made it possible. As it has been said before, “Land of the Free, because of the Brave.” November 11th is Veterans Day. Take the time to thank a veteran like Michael James Jawor for making your life of freedom in the greatest country in the world possible. We owe our respect and profound thanks to our veterans who have given so much for so little in return.
Thank you, Blue Water Healthy Living for honoring our heroes in the Blue Water Area.
Kathleen Knowles is a life-long resident of Port Huron and a 1973 graduate of Port Huron High School. After attending St. Clair County Community College, she has worked for credit unions all of her life as well as a professional dog show handler, known for handling Pekingese. Kathleen has been writing fiction for years as a hobby, having posted many stories online.
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Disclaimer: Blue Water Healthy Living is an online magazine located in Port Huron, Michigan. Our purpose is to promote healthy living by showcasing the Blue Water Area, its people, issues and surroundings. This online magazine is devoted to providing healthy living related stories, local happenings, and commentary. Often inspiring and uplifting, our stories come from our heart and soul to promote the enjoyment of a more fulfilling Blue Water Area lifestyle. The material on this web site is provided for informational and amusement purposes only and is not to be confused with any medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of Blue Water Healthy Living.