Jonathan Nathaniel Spicer

Private First Class
United States Marine Corps
27 May 1948 - 14 March 1968
Miami, Florida
Panel 44E Line 054

Navy Cross

Purple Heart, National Defense, Vietnam Service, Vietnam Campaign
Jonathan N. Spicer

The database page for Jonathan Nathaniel Spicer

30 Oct 2003

Marine Who Wouldn't Kill Now a Hero

KHE SANH, Vietnam (AP)- Fate played strange tricks on Jonathan N. Spicer. He became a Marine yet he hated war and refused to kill. He received the jeers of fellow Marines, then became a hero. He was counted clinically dead, yet he lives today. He was clinically dead, field doctors said, but when he was hit while helping wounded Leathernecks he was just 100 yards from Khe Sanh's main aid station. There, doctors fought to save his life with open heart surgery in a badly lighted, underground bunker. "What no one realized was that he was throughly unselfish and wouldn't hesitate to put himself in danger," said Lt. Edward Feldman, a medical officer from Forest Hills, N.Y.


Spicer got hit in a situation he didn't have to be in. Men were having trouble loading wounded onto a medical evacuation helicopter because of enemy shelling. Spicer saw it but an officer called to him from a bunker: "Get the hell back in here." Nevertheless, the young private turned and ran to the helicopter. He arrived just as a shell burst among the wounded men and the litter bearers. Spicer was hit in the heart, face and legs. In the medical bunker, Lt. John Magilligan of Brooklyn, N.Y., his fatigues, flak jacket and helmet already stained with the blood of other casualties, began to work on Spicer. "He died real fast," said Magilligan. "His heart stopped. So did his breathing."


Nethertheless he cut open Spicer's chest. Dr. Joseph W. Wolfe of Rutledge, Tenn., forced a plastic tube down the throat and began pumping oxygen into Spicer's lungs. Magilligan had helped in a similar operation at a rear area hospital in November. He suspected that the piece of shrapnel had penetrated Spicer's heart, which then pumped blood into its surrounding membrane sac until so much pressure built up outside the heart it stopped the organ. Magilligan opened the membrane, called the pericardium, and let it drain, dropping pressure on the heart. As he began giving massive transfusions of new blood, Dr. James O. Finnegan of Philadelphia, Pa., moved to the stretcher which served as an operating table, reached into the opening of Spicer's chest and began massaging the heart. The heart began to beat again. Finnegan next put his finger into the small hole in Spicer's heart, stopping the blood flow. Then the doctor took two stitches in the heart wall, withdrew the finger and drew the stitches tight. He added a third stitch and the wound in the heart was closed. "The heartbeat was strong, breathing was normal, blood pressure was 92. It was remarkable, that's all, remarkable," Finnegan said. Spicer's youth and good physical condition worked in his favor. In all, 15 minutes had passed from shellburst to final stitch. Spicer was evacuated within minutes by a Marine helicopter to a rear area hospital. A medical corpsman went along, ready to massage the heart if it stopped. It did not. A Khe Sanh medical station is not supposed to handle major surgery. Doctors and medics are supposed only to stabilize the wounded until they can be evacuated to the rear for elaborate operations. Although Magilligan, Finnegan and Wolfe are doctors, none has completed his residency. "In the United States, we wouldn't even have been allowed near the operating table except to lift the man on and off," Finnigan said. "In America, the operation would have been done by a senior surgeon assisted by 10 or 12 others," Magilligan said. The three doctors were helped by three medical corpsmen, Edward Stanfield, Wauchula, Fla., David Rusher, Wilmington, Del., and Preston Allen, Grants, N.M. Finnegan recommended Spicer for the Silver Star for bravery and gallantry. Khe Sanh's commander, Col. David E. Lownds, mentioned the Navy Cross. Pvt. Spicer, 19, of Miami, Fla., son of a former Methodist minister who resigned because of ill health, once was an outcast at this base manned by tough Marines in South Vietnam's northwest corner. Because of his feelings about war and killing he was assigned to the team of medical corpsmen. In that job he became a hero. Repeatedly he shielded fallen men with his own body when enemy fire came in. His father, William Spicer, now a junior high school substitute teacher, said in Miami that Jonathan was "a gentle boy who even now reads his Bible every day." He said the boy joined the Marines "only because he thought he could get into the K-9 (canine) division, but it didn't work out that way ... Jonathan's great love was horses and dogs."

Photo and article appeared in the
Daily Intelligencer Journal
Lancaster, PA, on 03-12-68.

Gentle Hero Dies From War Wounds

MIAMI, Fla. (AP) - Pvt. Jonathan Nathaniel Spicer, who hated war but became a battlefield hero while helping his beleaguered Marine buddies at Khe Sanh, has died in a Japanese hospital, his father said Thursday. He was 19. William Spicer said two Marines interrupted his World Affairs class at Shenandoah Junior High School and informed him of his son's death in a U.S. hospital in Japan. "They said he died Wednesday," Spicer told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.


Spicer said shortly after Wednesday midnight, the family received a telegram saying Jonathan had been transferred from Viet Nam to a hospital in Japan and was in poor condition. "Then this morning I had just started my class when the two Marines arrived," he said. "They accompanied me as we went to where my wife works and we told her together." Jonathan, one of four sons, last saw his family on Christmas leave. He was wounded by shrapnel last month while helping load wounded Leathernecks onto a medical evacuation helicopter under enemy fire.


Declared clinically dead, Spicer was rushed to a field hospital and later transferred to Japan. Doctors performed open heart surgery at the battlefield aid station, in an underground bunker. Jonathan's Marine buddies, who derided his soft spoken manner and refusal to kill, viewed him as a hero after he was wounded. Because of his objection to killing he had been assigned to the medical corps and repeatedly faced enemy fire to reach wounded comrades. "What no one realized was that he was throughly unselfish and wouldn't hesitate to put himself in danger," said Lt. Edward Feldman, a medical officer from Forest Hills, N.Y. Jonathan's refusal to swear and his practice of reading the Bible daily made him the butt of his fellow Marines' jokes. Jonathan's father said he received his son's last letter two months ago, shortly after he arrived at Vietnam.


"It contained his last will and testament," said the elder Spicer. "He wanted $1000 of his $10,000 worth of Army insurance to go to the church - in keeping with our practice of tithing. Another $200 is to be used to buy his youngest brother a horse and he said the rest is to be used by the family," Spicer said. Jonathan had two other brothers, Bill, 21, and 17-year-old Timmy, a Marine recruit undergoing training in California.

Photo and article appeared in the
Daily Intelligencer Journal
Lancaster, PA, on 03-15-68.

The President of the United States
takes pride in presenting the



Jonathan Nathaniel Spicer
Private First Class
United States Marine Corps

for service as set forth in the following


For extraordinary heroism while serving with Company C, Third Medical Battalion, Third Marine Division in the Republic of Vietnam on 8 March 1968. During an intense enemy rocket, mortar and artillery attack against the Khe Sanh Combat Base, Private Spicer unhesitatingly volunteered to serve as a stretcher bearer and assisted in embarking the numerous casualties aboard transport helicopters for evacuation. Completely disregarding his own safety, he continued to expedite the loading of the wounded aboard the aircraft, despite the increasing intensity of the attack, and was the last man to seek shelter in a bunker at the edge of the air strip. Observing a mortar round exploding near an evacuation helicopter loaded with casualties, he unhesitatingly left his position of relative safety to assist the wounded who were unable to move from their exposed position. Moments later, another round exploded within a few feet of Private Spicer, seriously wounding him, as he shielded a Marine from the blast with his own body. Unable to walk, he warned his comrades to remain in their protective positions while he attempted to crawl from the hazardous area to safety by himself. His selfless actions undoubtedly prevented serious injury or possible death to his fellow Marines and were an inspiration to all who observed him. By his dauntless courage, unfaltering determination and selfless devotion to duty at great risk, Private Spicer upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.

Semper Fidelis, Marine!

A Note from The Virtual Wall

According to Navy records, Pfc Spicer was assigned to B Company, 1/26 Marines, one of the units at Khe Sanh. As described above, he was assigned duties with the Khe Sanh medical detachment, C Company, 3rd Medical Battalion. He was evacuated to the USAF Hospital at Tachikawa Air Base, Japan, where he died 6 days after being wounded.

His casualty record incorrectly describes the cause of death as gunshot wounds.

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With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Channing Prothro, former CAP Marine
Last updated 08/10/2009