• Former navy seal fighting his last battle on the streets of Monterey

    by Erika Fiske

    homeless jonathanAfter a cold night that dipped into the 20s, Jonathan stretched out on a bench at the downtown Monterey bus stop on Tuesday afternoon to sooth his aching legs in the warm sun. He proudly wore a cap from the USS Wisconsin and closed his eyes. A cane rested against the wall beside him. Jonathan, 56, was a sniper for the U.S. Navy SEALs and a Navy intelligence officer until a bullet passed through his legs many years ago. When he was put at a desk to shuffle papers, he left the Navy and returned to the U.S. For the past 18 months, Jonathan has been homeless–and dying of stomach cancer.

    He could be the poster child for a country that uses its soldiers, and then throws them away. But Jonathan displays no bitterness, even as his life is coming to an end. He’s proud of his service to his country and that of his father, who was in the military for 30 years before his death.

    “I did 14 confirmed kills, and they all deserved it,” Jonathan said, recalling his past as a sniper. “It was me and a spotter.”

    Jonathan’s training with guns began at an early age, as a resident of Switzerland. “In Switzerland we were required to begin military training at 13 years of age,” Jonathan said, adding that by 16, he had to keep a gun under his bed.

    The vet’s family traveled the world as his father, Burt, carried out his duties as an intelligence officer. He worked out of the American Embassy in Switzerland and served as a Chief Provost Marshal at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey. The family purchased a home in the Carmel Valley in 1948 and held onto it throughout those years.

    After living in places like Moscow and Paris, the family wound up in the Dominican Republic, where Jonathan’s father was nearly assassinated as he took his children to school one morning. That was the time of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, and Burt was there to help get rid of him. Jonathan’s father was unfazed by the attack, which missed all of them. He continued on to deliver the kids to school.

    “My Dad was just 5’5”, but he was the most hardcore person I’ve ever known,” Jonathan said. Besides getting cancer later in life, Burt also developed Alzheimer’s.

    Jonathan sat up on his sunny bench to go on with his stories of daring rescues, assassinations and bad decisions by higher-ups that cost the lives of his fellow men in uniform. One of Jonathan’s assignments during his 12 years in the Navy was the failed attempt to rescue 52 Americans held hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Iran, ordered by former President Jimmy Carter. “We lost a lot of guys. We weren’t given enough time to put the sand filters on the helicopters,” he said.

    After a weather report from the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey predicted no sandstorms during the rescue, the filters were left off.

    “We told them it would just take 30 minutes to put the filters on,” he added, but people like Jonathan were overruled. “We lost four helicopters.”

    Jonathan’s injuries occurred on a mission to Iraq. “My buddy was shot in the head and killed while he was showing me pictures of his wife and two kids,” he said. After exiting his friend’s skull, the bullet passed through both of Jonathan’s legs. The same day, Jonathan was stabbed in the chest. When he was assigned to a desk because of his injuries, he left the military.

    “I couldn’t handle desk duty, processing paperwork all day,” he said. Jonathan wound up in Seattle and although he was out of the Navy, he was contacted regarding one last assignment, tracking down a war criminal who tortured and killed U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. Due to bad information, that never occurred. Eventually Jonathan returned to the Monterey Peninsula and became a paramedic with the Carmel Valley Fire Department and American Medical Response.

    Lately, Jonathan hasn’t had the stamina to hold a job, especially with the cancer. “Until a year ago, I’d run five to seven miles and bike everyday. But my injuries caught up with me,” he said. “Now it takes me 40 minutes to walk a distance that used to take me five minutes, because I have to find benches where I can sit and rest.”

    Because he’s a veteran, the $200,000 in cancer treatments have been covered for Jonathan. “Cancer has killed everyone in my family,” he said, listing stomach, colon and lung cancers. “It’s bad genetics, and it’s all been in the last five years—my mother, father, oldest brother, next oldest brother, sister and now me. I never did anything to get this stomach cancer.”

    With just $500 a month to live on, and a little money for providing physical therapy to some vets in Carmel Valley, Jonathan no longer has a roof over his head. “I was living in a boarding house till 18 months ago, renting a room,” he said, noting that the building was sold. “Lately I decided it was more important to stay local than renting elsewhere. I knew there were places where I could stay in town. All the cops know me. One even gave me $60.”

    Jonathan won’t divulge his sleeping place, other than to say “it’s dry and out of the wind, and it’s not on the beach or in the woods.” But he can’t escape the cold, noting “it was 26 the day before yesterday in downtown Monterey. It was darn cold.“

    He and others miss the outdoor fire that used to brighten the night by Peet’s Coffee and Tea in Monterey. It was removed when the homeless tried to warm themselves there on cold evenings, he said.

    Jonathan is lucky to be alive. “I was supposed to be dead six months ago,” he said. “I’ve been doing chemotherapy and taking pills, and my white blood count is four percent of normal. If I got the flu, I could die. The day before yesterday I was coughing up blood.”

    Living outdoors hasn’t helped. Although he applied for low-income housing two years ago, nothing has opened up in this area. “The only housing they had for me was in East Salinas. If I went to the 7-Eleven at night with my cane, I’d be a total target,” he said. Even in Monterey, Jonathan admits to being mugged a couple of times. “The last time it happened I took two of them down, but the third one hit the back of my head with a brick.”

    Jonathan said he gets a little depressed at times, but it doesn’t last. There was a point when he actually measured the distance between boulders at the Bixby Bridge, in case he decided to drive off the cliff someday. “I’ll keep going till I get to the point that it’s not worth it anymore. I’m still full of life,” he said.

    The vet was married twice over the years, and even stopped smoking at the request of his second wife, a physician. “She left me for another doctor,” he said, smiling as he took a puff of his cigarette.

    Thinking back to his years of intelligence gathering, Jonathan now views this country’s many wars as a waste. “It’s been a waste of time, money and lives,” he said, adding that it was also a very profitable business for people such as former Vice President Dick Cheney.

    “Our invasion of Iraq provided the military machine with something to do, and trust me, they’ll always find something to do,” Jonathan said. “If it’s not Iran next, it’ll be Pakistan.”

    Jonathan hasn’t seen the latest film on the mission to kill Osama bin Laden—“Zero Dark Thirty”—and he doesn’t want to. “I saw ‘Black Hawk Down’ and it brought back too many bad memories of our failed mission in Iran,” he said. “I don’t care how many countries we defeat, there’ll always be another. We got nothing out of Iraq or Afghanistan. But I lost two friends who were blown up in Afghanistan over the past few years.”

    War and the military are distant memories now, as Jonathan spends his days among the homeless of the Monterey Peninsula. He can usually be found on these bus stop benches, or at the public library reading medical textbooks and fiction. But Jonathan doesn’t need a book to experience adventure—he lived it.

    “And I’m still a good shot,” the former sniper said. “At the Swiss Rifle Club in Soledad, I can still hit a quarter at 300 feet, three times in a row.”

    Unfortunately, it will take more than a gun to win this last battle.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on January 18, 2013

    Topics: Homeless Chronicles

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