Lockport veteran answers nagging questions for fellow Marine
By Janet Lundquist email@example.com November 10, 2012 3:58PM
Vietnam veteran Nick Kozak holds a photo of Amil Jackson, his military card and a veteran's magazine at his home in Lockport, IL on Thursday November 8, 2012. Kozak helped another Vietnam veteran in Texas who wrote a letter to this magazine, looking for information about Amil Jackson who was in Kozak's platoon when he was killed. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 10, 2013 1:46AM
In 1969 Vietnam, someone tossed Marine Cpl. Nick Kozak a battered helmet with his friend’s blood and bone still splattered on the inside of it.
They didn’t tell him what happened, but they didn’t have to. He knew his buddy was dead.
“They tossed me his helmet and said, ‘You might want to wash that out,’ ” said Lockport native Kozak. “My staff sergeant came and took me aside because he thought I was probably going to cry. He wouldn’t even tell me he was dead then.”
Kozak, now 63, enlisted in the Marines in 1967, right after high school, with four of his high school friends.
But his friend who was killed, Gordon Myers, was a man he met in his battalion after boot camp.
Myers and Kozak were mechanics, and both wanted to go on the mission on the Bantangan Peninsula that ended up being fatal for Kozak’s friend and two others.
A coin flip had determined Kozak would sit it out, he said.
On Jan. 25, 1969, Myers and another man from his battalion, Amil Jackson Jr., were killed by a land mine while attempting to carry a wounded commander to a medical helicopter. The commander also was killed.
They were the first people to die in his platoon, Kozak said.
“That kind of stuck in my mind,” Kozak said.
More than 40 years later, someone else was still thinking about Jackson.
Paul Celedon had wondered how Jackson, who was like a brother to him, was killed.
Celedon, who lives in Boerne, Texas, placed an ad in the U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam Tankers Association newsletter asking if anyone knew what happened to Jackson.
Kozak saw the ad and knew right away who he was talking about.
“I’m just stunned that after 40 years ... I hope I’ve put this guy’s mind to rest,” Kozak said.
Celedon said he and Jackson were high school friends who enlisted with three other friends. Two of them came home alive.
“It was good to hear from Nick,” Celedon said, adding that he was shocked to hear about what happened to his friend. “Now it’s like, I don’t know if it’s closure or not.
“Today sometimes I wonder if (Jackson) was still around, we’d probably be talking about grandkids and getting together,” Celedon said.
The bond among the members of his platoon has stood the test of time, Kozak said. Even now he keeps in touch with some of the men who served with him.
The contact helps him cope with the memories, he said.
“Nobody really knows (how you feel) unless they’ve been through it themselves. That’s why it’s good to contact these people once in a while,” Kozak said. “We sweated it out a lot of times. We all wondered if we were ever going to get home. We were
all waiting for that one (rocket-propelled grenade) round to hit the tank and kill us all, but that never happened to us.
“I think we became close friends, more like brothers,” Kozak said. “We’ve been through so many tough times together. Life-or-death situations.”