Remembering Jon Reynolds

Although he graduated ahead of me – he was in the Class of 1959 and I was in the Class of 1967 – Jon Reynolds and I both received Air Force commissions through Trinity’s Air Force ROTC unit.  He was shot down over North Vietnam when I was still at the college, and I followed his time as a POW through Trinity’s alumni magazine. I was serving in Korea when he was freed, and a few years later our separate paths in the Air Force met at the Air Force Academy’s Department of History.

Jon had been an engineering major at Trinity.  On his release, the Air Force Personnel Center asked each returned POW what assignment they wanted.  Jon, a little to their surprise, I’m sure, told them that after seven years in Hanoi he wanted to study history and teach at the Academy.  The wand waved, and he was sent to Duke University for a Ph.D.  His dissertation on the early career of General Hoyt Vandenberg, who served as the Air Force’s Chief of Staff from 1948 to 1963, is still a cornerstone reference in understanding the development of air power and Air Force history.

Arriving in Colorado in 1975, Jon joined the 30-strong faculty in the Department of History.  (Worth noting is that members of that Department included three Trinity grads – David MacIsaac ’57, Jon, and me – a fine showing for a liberal arts college.)  In the Department Jon taught the core introductory courses in world history and military history.  He chaired courses, graded exams and papers, and advised cadets.  He became the Director for Military History, leading more junior “trenchers” like me.  Jon also taught the upper division course in Unconventional Warfare, and his searching mind reshaped it to include the most recent scholarship – from those who supported and those who opposed and those who analyzed – the war in Vietnam.  Along the way, all his cadets learned something about enduring misfortune, hardship, and pain – and about fidelity – as officers.

Jon didn’t say much about his years in North Vietnam, and when he did it was low-key.  I do recall, though, that he once told me he had read a speech by retired Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale, who had been awarded the Medal of Honor for his steadfastness and leadership as a POW.  Jon and the future admiral had shared adjacent cells.  They communicated in whispers, but Stockdale noticed that Jon was visited by the North Vietnamese guards a few times each day.  It was because both of Jon’s shoulders had been broken when he ejected, and the guards had to feed him. That Jon never mentioned this additional suffering to Stockdale made him a hero in Stockdale’s estimate.  Those years later at the Academy, Jon said, “if you’re the personal hero of someone who received the Medal of Honor – that’s something.”

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