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York soldier honored with Purple Heart

Pvt. Steven Roberts Jr. of York received the Purple Heart on Wednesday from U.S. Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C. Roberts, who served overseas for more than five years, was wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq.
Pvt. Steven Roberts Jr. of York received the Purple Heart on Wednesday from U.S. Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C. Roberts, who served overseas for more than five years, was wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

Stephen Roberts Jr. had two appointments Wednesday.

The first one tells where he's been. The second says where he wants to stay.

Roberts received the Purple Heart from U.S. Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., on Wednesday morning.

Sitting next to his grandfather on a couch in Spratt's office, the 26-year-old York native in his green U.S. Army uniform told the congressman in the gray suit about the roadside bomb in Iraq that was the reason for the medal.

"You earned it," Spratt told Roberts. "And paid for it with your own blood."

Dec. 9, 2005. 2:08 p.m. Roberts remembers manning the gun turret of an armored Humvee on the way to pick up some guys they'd dropped off to do mechanical work.

He was in the lead vehicle, scouring the area for anything unusual, when he suddenly spotted something orange by the side of the road.

Then, there was the explosion.

Roberts fell down. Another soldier rushed to him and told him he needed medical attention.

"No, sir," Roberts said. "I'm going to do my job."

Roberts wasn't aware that his face was covered in blood or that shrapnel was lodged in his chin and nose. A medic treated him on site.

He didn't suffer any life-threatening injuries, and no surgery was needed. The next day at 5 a.m., he was back in a turret.

The young private came home permanently in January. He had served five years and 10 months, including three tours of duty: one in Afghanistan and two in Iraq.

All his life, Roberts had wanted to be an Army Ranger. He watched war movies growing up and was fascinated with the skill of the elite unit. He participated in JROTC in high school. He joined the Army as soon as he had a diploma.

He remembers watching the television reports of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, with fellow soldiers at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. He called his family that night to say he would have to fight.

"We knew," he said.

He remembers July 2002 -- the first time he saw combat in Afghanistan. Soldiers were kicking in the doors of homes in a mountain village searching for the enemy. Sometimes, the people inside those homes fired. He fired back.

The nerves from that first taste of combat were no different than any other fighting. There was always some fear, he said.

During his service, Roberts lost three close friends. When asked about what he remembers, he's frank.

"I don't have any good memories," he said. "I don't talk about it a lot. It's just one of those things I'd rather keep bottled up and forget about it."

Roberts' focus now is his family, the people who watched him accept his medal Wednesday.

"He deserves it," his mother, Sandy Jonas, said afterward. "He's been through a lot."

Jonas prayed every night for her son while he was overseas. She talked to him through a Web cam. She nervously watched the news and waited for information about what was happening in the area where he was stationed.

Roberts missed the birth of his son. "He missed a lot," Jonas said.

But he returned.

"I just thank God every day that he came back safe," she said.

Roberts said the explosion told him he needed to come home.

He said he won't go back to war. So did his fiancee, Erin McGovern, who's been waiting on him for three years.

On Wednesday, Roberts accepted his medal. He posed for some pictures and said his thank yous. But he had to hurry because two stepdaughters were anticipating a trip to Carowinds.

Roberts was a soldier. Now, he just wants to be a dad.

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