Without taking home leave, Lieutenant Commander John J. Jamroga comes to Vietnam directly from two years at Operation Deep Freeze in Antarctica. On his arrival in Cam Rahn Bay he says, “I was afraid they would end this war before I had a chance to get here.” Jamroga, a striking looking man who had been rendered completely hairless by some mysterious disease, loved to talk about the wonderful opportunity the Vietnam War was giving America, “This war is our chance to blood our troops,” he tells those of us assigned to his division. As one of his troops, I ponder this.
At first encounter it’s hard not to stare at a man without eyebrows or eyelashes. Mr. J isn’t just bald, you see, he’s like Dr. Evil’s cat, Mr Bigglesworth. One remembers our beloved Master and Commander from Vietnam and wonders if Mike Meyers didn’t hear our stories of him. When I first see Jamroga, I wish immediately photograph him, but must admit to a level of fear. Mr. J, as the photo division officer, sets the tone for our war. He often espouses stereotypical military views on the Vietnam War, for example. He is also a student of metaphysical thought. The Lieutenant Commander especially loves to discuss the work of Edgar Cayce. Further, he believes he knows the exact date and hour of his own death. Therefore he moves through the war completely without fear and with absolute assurance he wouldn’t be killed. This is a game changer for his faithful photography crew.
At it turned out, Jamroga was right. Years later I would see the movie Patton and swear General’s character had been based our division officer. In the movie Apocalypse Now, the surfing soldier who loved the smell of napalm in the morning also brought Mr. J to mind. In short order Jamroga becomes legend at the Naval Air Facility. GIs tell of a rocket attack where the fuel tanks are hit. In the middle of a nightmare of explosions and walls of fire, Jamroga is said fearlessly direct firefighters and rescue workers. Sailors who remember hunkering in bunkers from exploding mortars told of him walking with his hands behind his back around the attack as if touring museum. He was described as smiling contentedly amidst holocaust his face light by ghostly orange light.
He’s mentioned in several stories at this site. The visit to Na Trang is memorable. The time Mr. J saved my butt from a Captain’s Mass because I told the truth to a public relations officer who ordered us to fly into an approaching Typhoon is mentioned with the Que Nhon slide story..
Years later I find Jamroga on the Internet as the director of a Navy photographer’s organization. I find his telephone number and call him at home in Washington. We have an enjoyable talk and share updates on mutual friends. Mr. J, who knew how to have a good war, remembers everyone who served under him and seems no longer at war with peace.
Great that Dan Green reports in with an account of the 86-year-old Jamroga who looks out for the returning vets in and around his area.. Good that he still walks his post in a military manner every night. I salute Mr. Jamroga with enormous respect. He’s one of those men, whether we agree with him or not, who we will always need at the wall, walking their post, looking out for his troops. Dan Green and many others are well served by one of the world’s most interesting men and a truly great leader.
J. J. jamrogaCam Rahn BayVietnamSequimWaU. S. NavyEdgar CayceNaval PhotographersOperation Deep FreezeNa TrangDan GreenGeneral PattonApocalypse NowSmell of Naplm