When Joe Jedlovec returned from his time in the Vietnam War in 1969, he did not exactly receive a hero's welcome. As were many Vietnam veterans, he was ridiculed and criticized for his participation in the war, he says.
It's a scar he says remains with him to this day.
Armed Forces Day ceremonyWhat: Armed Forces Day, with a ceremony to honor Vietnam veteran and Bronze Star winner Joe Jedlovec
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 21; Bronze Star ceremony at 1 p.m.
Where: First Division Museum at Cantigny Park, 1S151 Winfield Road, Wheaton
Details: Visiting active-duty soldiers will be on hand to speak to kids and parents.
Info: firstdivisionmuseum.org or (630) 260-8187
But 42 years later, Jedlovec will get his hero's welcome, albeit for a feat he says was nothing spectacular.
"I guess they said I did something brave," said the modest Jedlovec, Winfield Township's highway commissioner.
Did he ever.
On a battlefield near the east-central Vietnamese city of Hue on May 6, 1968, Jedlovec braved "continuous enemy fire" to organize a team to rescue an injured squad leader during an 11-hour battle and get him airlifted out of the scene, according to the certificate that accompanied the Bronze Star Medal he will be honored for Saturday.
It's one of two he earned during the war, both with the "V device" designation, meaning the acts of valor happened during direct combat with the enemy.
Jedlovec, 65, received his first star during the war, but problems with paperwork delayed the second star until recently. He will be honored at Cantigny Park's Armed Forces Day at 1 p.m. Jedlovec has two Purple Heart awards as well and all soldiers in his unit received the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.
True to his personality, Jedlovec said his achievement was nothing heroic and, instead, was merely that of a soldier doing his job.
"When you're young and dumb, you don't realize that people are going to shoot at you," said Jedlovec, who served in the 101st Airborne Unit. "It's just one of those things you do and you did it to save somebody. It was your buddy. That's the way it was."
The medal was a long time coming. After Jedlovec's superiors heard about his feat, they recommended he receive the award. It was not until the mid-1990s, when one of the leaders of his platoon was researching a book, that it was discovered Jedlovec had not received the Bronze Star.
When it was delivered to him just last month, Jedlovec said the box it was in suggested that there should be more fanfare for the award. That's when Jedlovec, a longtime Winfield resident who now lives near Warrenville, reached out to Cantigny, hoping for a small ceremony for his family. After nixing a Memorial Day ceremony because he said the day is too solemn, they chose Armed Forces Day.
"I'm excited for it, but probably more for my family," he said.
That statement did not surprise his wife of 17 years, Mary.
"He cares about people," she said. "He's probably one of the most caring people you will ever meet."
Although Joe Jedlovec is understated about his contribution to Winfield Township, his wife is quick to emphasize his love for public service, which was rooted in his parents' work with Winfield.
He served on the Winfield Fire Protection District's volunteer department for 25 years. His tenure as a highway commissioner for the township followed work for the DuPage County Highway Department that began almost immediately after his service in the war. He is also president of the Lions Club of West Chicago.
The couple dated as teenagers and then, after drifting apart for many years, they met again in 1993 and married soon after.
"It makes us silly. We feel like we're teenagers again," Mary said. "It's been fun relearning about each other."
As she relearned about his time in the war, Mary said she was not surprised that "Joey" had done the things he has been honored for.
"It's his character. He would do it and not think twice about it," she said. "That's just the kind of guy he is."
And, like many heroes, Jedlovec downplays his achievements. Winfield Township Clerk Cliff Brown has worked with Jedlovec for 10 years and only recently started hearing about his time in the war.
"He doesn't talk about it," he said. "That's what true heroes do; they don't seek the spotlight."
Jedlovec, an outdoorsman who annually takes a fishing trip to Minnesota, said he has been pleased that veterans have been getting more respect lately, considering how horrible his experience was when he came home.
"I am very patriotic and I did what I had to do for my country," he said. "People spit on us and they are trying to make up for that. They'll never make up for that. That was terrible. But I am glad they are recognizing the veterans now."