Bob Lonsberry

Bob Lonsberry

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               David Jakubonis is my brother.


               The guy who tried to kill the congressman.


               He’s my brother.


               Like America’s 17.4 million other veterans, he and I are family. And family has bond, and family doesn’t forget.


               Which is why the Monroe County veterans services coordinator spent the day looking up records and making phone calls, learning about David Jakubonis, trying to track him down, leaving messages, hoping to speak to him.


               Because that’s how brothers are.


               You probably saw it on TV. Congressman Lee Zeldin, the Republican candidate for New York governor, was giving a stump speech, up on a flatbed trailer decorated with hay bales and bunting. This was outside the VFW on a hot summer’s evening, and some stumbling, mumbling drunk guy was elbowing through the crowd.


               That was David Jakubonis. The one with the Iraq War Veteran hat on.


               He pushed past this one and that one and climbed up on the flatbed and came around in front of the bales and walked up to the congressman.


               He’s a brother, too. Lee Zeldin is a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve. But he used to be an Intel lieutenant, and went to Iraq with the 82nd Airborne, and he’s in the family. And muttering, “You’re done,” David Jakubonis came at him in slow motion, raising his right hand and driving it toward the congressman’s head and throat. Lee Zeldin, with the microphone in his left hand, reached across with his right hand and grabbed David Jakubonis’s right wrist.


               The one with the knife.


               Kind of a knife. It’s a self-defense keychain called My Kitty <Click here to see photo>. When you’re walking out to your car in the dark parking lot, I guess you’re supposed to put your two fingers through the cat’s eyeballs and have its sharpened pointy ears extend beyond your knuckles.


               That’s what David Jakubonis had armed himself with as he raised his hand against Lee Zeldin.


               By that time another brother was involved. Joe Chenelly, a barrel-chested man who came in with the first Marines into both Afghanistan and Iraq. He got David Jakubonis in a bear hug and dropped him to the ground, and for a moment it was the three Iraq brothers in a pile, two soldiers and a Marine, and then someone pulled Lee Zeldin away and a scrum came in on David Jakubonis.


               In a few minutes he was subdued and zip tied and on his belly waiting for the deputies.


               “I’m an Iraq War veteran,” he slurred over and over as Joe Chenelly tried to calm him. “I’m a real veteran.”


               Turns out he is, and he’s had a rough time coming home.


               Nick Stefanovic – Afghanistan Marine times two with some short-timer Iraqi dust on his boots – looked him up. Nick Stefanovic runs veteran services for Monroe County, and as David Jakubonis pushed onto the stage he shouldered past Nick Stefanovic. Nick saw the whole thing unfold.


               And he says David Jakubonis is legit.


               Iraq times two, an enlisted medical soldier, who probably did some hospital duty and mortuary affairs in the war, along with convoys and infantry work. The DD 214 says there’s a Bronze Star on the dress uniform in David Jakubonis’s closet.


               It also says he’s disabled as a consequence of his military service.


               Nick Stefanovic says he’s also gotten the runaround from the VA. For a good four or five years, maybe more, David Jakubonis has tried to get mental health treatment from the government that sent him to war. And for a good four or five years, maybe more, he’s come up against a brick wall, a soldier pleading for help, trying to come home, shut out and spiraling.


               And maybe that’s where he was as he grabbed hold of Lee Zeldin.


               Lost in a fog of what looked like alcohol and despair.


               I guess we all signal SOS our own way.


               But it might not have been received.


               The deputies took him away, bruised and bleeding a bit, his pants falling off his ass, and in short order, under the requirements of New York law, he was turned loose. He didn’t go to the jail to get screened, he wasn’t taken to Veterans Court, he didn’t have a chance to sober up or get into a program, the law ordered him released.


               Turned out into the world he seems to have spent years trying to escape.


               This is a family story, about a band of brothers. Jakubonis and Zeldin and Chenelly and Stefanovic. Men who have been in harm’s way on their nation’s errand. Men who have come home in various ways in varying degrees.


Thrown together by fate outside the VFW on a hot summer’s evening.

               But that’s not the end. That’s the story of last night.


               This is the story of tonight.


               Joe Chenelly and Nick Stefanovic went home last night troubled, wondering about this man. And while Nick Stefanovic was making calls today, so was Joe Chenelly. In his day job, he’s the national executive director of AMVETS, and he can call the secretary of Veterans Affairs. And he did. And the secretary came through. America came through.


               Joe Chenelly and Nick Stefanovic are going to go find their brother, and tell him there’s help if he wants it. 


               Because “Leave no man behind” means what it says, and family never forgets.

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