A PORT ARANSAS HERO
Everyone knows there's a softball facility in the middle of Port Aransas called Jerry McDonald Field.
But if you haven't lived here very long, you might not know much about just who Jerry McDonald was.
Folks who knew him say they will never forget him.
McDonald was the only Port Aransan who died in the Vietnam War. But that wasn't his only distinction. He was a handsome, popular, gentle-natured youth, a natural leader who played quarterback for his high school football team. He was a clean-cut kid, a favorite son of his community.
When he died in Vietnam, it hit the town hard.
"It killed us," said Skipper Lister, who grew up with McDonald in Port Aransas. "It still hurts today. That's how close I was to him. It still hurts today.
"He was a model student, a Boy Scout, a great football player and he just did it all," Lister said. "People thought so much of him that they named a youth foundation after him. What more do you need to ask?"
McDonald was born in 1946. His parents were Don and Doris McDonald of Port Aransas. Don was an employee of Central Power and Light Co., which was the power company that served Port Aransas in those days. Doris worked in the CPL office, too.
McDonald attended school in Port Aransas up through the eighth grade, then went on to Aransas Pass High School. Port Aransas had no high school at the time.
McDonald was a quiet boy who delivered newspapers early each morning and excelled in all sports, according to those who knew him.
"He always was good-natured," said Charles Bujan, a lifelong Port Aransan who grew up with McDonald. "I don't think I ever saw him angry. I don't think I ever heard him raise his voice. He was just a unique individual who you liked right off the bat. You could just look at him and like him."
McDonald's brother, Linley McDonald, recalls Jerry as a boy who was always interested in helping others. Linley still remembers the day Jerry was driving through Port Aransas as a young man and spotted a woman and her two children trying to fly a kite in a vacant lot - a clearing that later would be named Jerry McDonald Field.
"They weren't having any luck," said Linley, who lives in Kenedy today. "My brother pulled up, went over there, got the thing all straightened out for them and got the kite up for them. They were just elated. They just thought that was the greatest thing in the world. He was a role model, is what he was. Kids all looked up to him. He was always reaching down to help people up."
As teen-agers, McDonald and Bujan shared a bond. Bujan was a quarterback on the Aransas Pass High School varsity football team, and McDonald became quarterback after Bujan graduated. Both boys also shared a love for '57 Chevys.
"Each of us had one," Bujan said. "His was green, and mine was black. Jerry and I, in our early days, were like brothers."
McDonald earned a basketball scholarship to Southwest Texas State University at San Marcos and Victoria College. He chose to enroll at Victoria College.
He married Amelia M. "Tootie" Littleton (now Mrs. George Barnes) in 1967, when he was about 21 years old. They had grown up together in Port Aransas, so they knew each other well.
"He was just exceptional," recalled Tootie, who still lives in Port Aransas and works as a loan assistant at American Bank. "He was just so kind and caring, and he loved his mother, he loved his family, he loved God. He was just a good, good person."
McDonald entered the Army in November 1967, and it wasn't long before he was sent to Vietnam. Bujan said he did some research on his old friend's military background. What follows is what Bujan found.
McDonald began his tour of Vietnam on May 8, 1968. He was assigned to Company B, First Battalion, 12th Infantry, Fourth Infantry Division.
On March 8, 1969, two months before he was scheduled to come home, McDonald and his platoon were plunged into a battle with the enemy. Surrounded, they fought through the night and into the next day.
McDonald was killed in action in an area known as Hill 994 in the Kontum Province of Vietnam.
He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal for heroism and a Purple Heart.
After McDonald's death, Port Aransas schools established good citizenship awards in his name. The awards have been given out every year for decades now. They are given to two top students on each of the three campuses in the Port Aransas Independent School District.
On May 14, eighth graders Jocelyn Flood and Andrew Hardegree were the newest Brundrett Middle School students to receive the awards. The awards will be presented to fifth graders at the H.G. Olsen Elementary School awards assembly on Thursday, May 28. Two seniors will be named Jerry McDonald Award winners at the Port Aransas High School Senior Awards Assembly tomorrow, Friday, May 22, at the PAHS cafetorium.
"On March 9, 1969, Jerry ceased being just an island boy," Bujan told an audience during presentation of the Jerry McDonald awards at PAHS last year. "He became an American hero. He will always be my hero. Long after all of us in this room are gone and forgotten, he will be remembered by thousands of his countrymen as they file past Panel 30W, Row 92 of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C."