NEENAH, Wis. (AP) _ Jon B. St. John II was nearing graduation from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse when he suddenly decided to enlist in the Army a year and a half ago. His family says it has now been informed by the military that the 25-year-old soldier from the Town of Vinland was killed Saturday by an explosive device near Baghdad in Iraq. “He had six credits left to graduate when all of a sudden he says he was tired of school and had been looking at the Army. He gave us 36-hour notice and he was out the door,” his father, Jon St. John Sr. said Monday. “He wanted a change in life. He felt the Army would give him direction.” The younger St. John, a member of the 1st Cavalry Division in Fort Hood, Texas, joined the Army in June 2005 and was deployed to the Middle East last fall, working as a machine gunner atop a Humvee, his father said. His son knew the danger of joining the military during a time of war but felt it was the right thing to do, the senior St. John said.
“We were proud that he took that initiative, and we could see he was proud to have done it,” the father said. “He felt it was something that needed to be done.” St. John graduated in 1999 from St. Mary Central High School, where he played varsity football and tennis. Social studies teacher David Meixl remembered his dry sense of humor. “In some ways, he was a salesman, he just had that type of personality _ warm, inviting, low-key,” Meixl said. “He wasn’t so much a class clown but every now and then had some antics.” St. John later attended the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley before going to UW-La Crosse.
Meixl said that he was a little surprised that St. John enlisted because of his personality. “He just seemed a bit more reserved,” Meixl said. “I saw him more on a business track.” But Sue Simonsen, St. John’s former high school principal, said she was not surprised _ once he set a goal, he went after it wholeheartedly. “He was one of those guys you had to stay on, keeping him focused on schoolwork,” Simonsen said. “I know when Jon had a goal in mind, it would be when he kicked into gear and got someplace.” Simonsen, who now works about 15 miles from the school St. John attended, said his death brought the war home to friends in the Town of Vinland, a close-knit community with a little more than 2,000 residents. “I feel really bad that we’re losing our young people to a cause,” Simonsen said. “It becomes more personal when all of sudden you know somebody who’s over there, giving their life for our freedom.”
He attended Lakeview Elementary School, where he played soccer, and Shattuck Middle School, where he excelled in math, before going to St. Mary Central, his father said. He played guitar and piano, was extremely well read and made the Dean’s List at the UW-La Crosse, the senior St. John added. His son also enjoyed snowmobiling and loved hunting grouse and deer in Bayfield County, he said. “He was an excellent shot, with a rifle or a shotgun,” St. John Sr. said.