Medal of Honor: James Bondsteel, an American hero

JONESVILLE, Mich. (WLNS) – In the week before Veterans Day, 6 News is honoring veterans from mid-Michigan who went above and beyond, earning the Medal of Honor.

For Wednesday’s installment, we’re highlighting the service of James Bondsteel, and the effort to make sure his bravery is not forgotten.

Last summer, Jonesville resident Dave Bauer was traveling out west when he came across a tribute to Congressional Medal of Honor recipients and spotted a familiar name from his hometown.

“I guess you could call him a hero, as far as the Vietnam War, and his service went above and beyond,” Bauer said.

Bauer started learning more about James Bondsteel.

Though he was born in Jackson in 1947, Bondsteel grew up in Jonesville, graduating from Jonesville High School in 1965.

“What I’ve heard from people who knew him is that he was a very unassuming person when he lived here and went to school. Quiet individual,” said Bob Snow, Post Commander of the American Legion in Jonesville.

After graduation, Bondsteel joined the U.S. Marines, then the U.S. Army, finding himself in the Vietnam War.

In May 1969, Bondsteel and other troops came under heavy enemy fire.

Despite being injured by a grenade, the mid-Michigan native stepped into action, quickly organizing soldiers for attacks, and single-handedly destroying six enemy bunkers.

With bullets flying around him, Bondsteel came to the aid of a wounded American officer, striking down an enemy solider who was about to kill the officer.

Bondsteel’s actions saved numerous American lives and took a heavy toll on enemy forces.

“I think there were a number of people who were surprised that he would do those kinds of heroics, only because of his demeanor in school,” Snow said.

In 1973, Bondsteel was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Richard Nixon for his heroic actions.

He survived a brutal war, only to lose his life in a tragic accident.

Bondsteel died in Alaska in 1987 when his car was crushed by logs that fell off a truck, leaving behind a wife and two daughters.

After looking into his story, Bauer realized more needed to be done in Jonesville to honor Bondsteel.

“Not every town has a Medal of Honor winner and we needed to recognize that,” Bauer said.

He approached Bob Snow, the post commander of the local American Legion.

Snow says he was moved by Bauer’s interest.

“I came back to our post, and the members of our post, and told them of our conversation and we started talking about what we could do,” Snow said.

The legion members started talking with the state of Michigan about how they could name the stretch of U.S. 12 that goes through Jonesville after Bondsteel.

In May of this year that dream was made a reality.

Thanks to a bill sponsored by State Rep. Eric Leutheuser of Hillsdale, Governor Rick Snyder officially renamed part of the highway after Bondsteel.

“We were terribly pleased. It’s only proper that his name be memorialized here forever,” Snow said.

Bondsteel’s brave efforts are now on the minds of drivers as they go in and out of Jonesville, thanks to signs put up in October, that tell them they’re driving on James Bondsteel Memorial Highway.

But tributes to the local hero don’t end there.

In 2011, a street in Blackman Township outside Jackson was renamed for Bondsteel.

Placed along Bondsteel Drive is a memorial that honors Medal of Honor recipients from Jackson County.

And in Europe, a U.S. Army base proudly uses the Michigander’s name, honoring him with Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo.

Bauer is every happy that his ice cream shop in Jonesville, the Udder Side, is now located on James Bondsteel Memorial Highway.

He hopes this will inspire others to think of how they can honor veterans in their communities.

“The freedoms we enjoy today are because of them,” Bauer said.

 

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