Words worth repeating in honor of veterans
The original version of this column was published April 30, 2015, the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon. And while The Times Herald doesn’t typically rerun previously published columns or articles, this is an exception.
Because the names of the 22 young men – boys really – who never returned from that war should never, ever be forgotten.
And the countless young men who were injured, or who returned home physically whole but emotionally and mentally scarred, should never, ever be forgotten.
As I had written in the original column, I didn’t know anyone personally affected by that war at the time of their deaths - but I do now. And even though it was almost a half of a century ago, the pain and loss felt by the family of
Cpl. Daniel Brady and all families who give the ultimate sacrifice for our country - are still real, still raw. Yes, time helps you cope with loss, but it doesn’t allow you to forget. And nor should we.
And I know other families who have lost sons and daughters – Sgt. Ashly Moyer in Iraq and Petty Officer Jake Moletzsky that will never heal – not completely. The loss is too great.
So our hope is that by republishing the names of these young men who gave the ultimate sacrifice that we honor all those men and women who fought, died, or returned home forever impacted by war.
To all veterans – and their families – we thank you.
••• I don’t much remember anything from Vietnam — my family was spared any direct involvement. But 22 men and boys from Norristown were killed in the war, and the people in this town, whether they knew these heroes or not, were affected.
My mom knew of a few boys who were either drafted or enlisted, and she prayed every day for their safe return.
And every night, my mom and grandmother watched the news, sometimes my grandmother wrapped her rosary beads around her hands, as scenes from Vietnam invaded our living room. To me, they were just flashing images from a world far, far removed from Norristown — not realizing that for some of my neighbors it was way too close to home.
I wish now I had paid more attention. I wish I had paid attention to the heartaches and the chaos and the nightmare that was the Vietnam War. Later, through movies and books and newspapers, I learned about that war. And about the difficulties veterans faced trying to return to their lives.
And I learned about men who didn’t return.
In March 1984, Times Herald staff writer Peter King submitted a six-part series the newspaper ran on the 22 men (some really just boys) who gave their lives for their country during their service in South Vietnam.
This was King’s introduction: We call wives who have lost husbands widows, and husbands who have lost wives widowers. We say children who have lost parents are orphans.
But there is no word in the English language for parents who have lost a son.
Likewise, there is no word in English to express the special, terrible grief these men and women feel…”
In 1984 The Times Herald dedicated its first several pages to these heroes and the family they left behind. The series led up the dedication of the Vietnam monument in the Public Square at Main and Swede streets. Peter King did a remarkable job interviewing the families of Cpl. Michael A. Baronowski; Spc. Walter Bartasch; Cpl. Daniel Brady; Spc. Anthony J. Cabot; Spc. Wallace S. Carter; Pfc. Robert M. Childress; Pfc. Nils A. Drennen; Pfc. John R. Foley; Spc. Nicholas J. Fulmer; Lt. Richard L. Giambrone; Pfc. Stephen A. Guardino; Sgt. Dennis W. Hippo; Sgt. Joseph R. Hudson Jr.; Spc. Willie L. Jones Jr.; Cpl. David B. LeFever; Pfc. Gregory Littlejohn; Pfc. Jimmy L. McMorris; Pfc. William Reese; Pfc. Fred L. Ricard Jr.; Maj. Robert F. Ronca; Pfc. John E. Scheetz and Pfc. James A. Watson Jr.
As they say, times change, and so do newspapers. Sadly, The Times Herald print edition just doesn’t have the amount of space it did in 1984, so my original plan to rerun this series in full was an impossible dream. But while our ability to fully honor these men is limited, our admiration is not. And it should be noted, our deepest gratitude is extended to all military men and women for their service to the country.
One Vietnam veteran, who did return, retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. Robert M. Reed, was also featured in the series. It should be noted that this hero was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Navy Cross, the Army Commendation with Combat V, the Navy Achievement with Combat V and 12 Purple Hearts.
If you would like to revisit King’s series in its entirety, the Montgomery County-Norristown Public Library (http://mnl.mclinc. org/) at Powell and Swede streets has editions of The Times Herald on microfilm. Lance Cpl. Michael Baronowski: A promising journalism student, Michael was 20 on Nov. 29, 1966, when he died of “a gunshot wound to the chest while participating in an operation against a hostile force near Quang Tri.” Spc. Walter Bartasch: The Norristown High graduate was 21 when he was killed on the morning of Oct. 5, 1969, near the Cambodian border. His ship came under anti-aircraft fire, and according to Walter’s father, he manned the copter’s .50-caliber machine gun after the gunner was hit. He was awarded Cpl. Daniel W. Brady: The Jeffersonville native was attending night school at La Salle College in 1966 and hoped to be a history teacher. He joined the Marines, and volunteered for duty in Vietnam. Danny was Online: Check out the lottery Master’s blog HTTPS://KARLSLOTTERYBLOG.BLOGSPOT.COM
killed on July 2, 1967 in Khe Sanh, Hill 861. Lt. Richard Giambrone: During his last battle, Richard, according to his aunt, “used a machine gun to get all his men out, and he was riddled,” on March 25, 1968. On March 31 he was promoted to first lieutenant, and he died the next day. Cpl. David B. LeFever: A Marine draftee, David saved the life of his commanding officer and was awarded the Bronze Star, but on Sept. 6, 1967, when he was 21, he was killed by either mortar fire or rifle fire (his mother received conflicting telegrams). David, who grew up on Swede Street, had five months remaining on his tour. Pfc. Gregory Littlejohn: Greg was 17 years old when he left Norristown High School to enlist. He was an Army paratrooper, and on Dec. 7, 1967, according to the letter to his mother written by his commanding officer, “Gregory exposed himself to the deadly enemy fire to cover the other members of his squad while they moved to safety … Death came quickly and he did not suffer.” Greg Littlejohn was 20 years old.
In this April 23, 1975, photo provided by the Department of Defense, Vietnamese refugees crowd aboard the Military Sealift Command ship Pioneer Contender to be evacuated to areas further south.
In this April 30, 1975 file photo, a North Vietnamese tank rolls through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon, signifying the fall of South Vietnam. The war ended on April 30, 1975, with the fall of Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City, to communist troops from the north. the Bronze Star.
View of names on the Vietnam Memorial on Main Street in Norristown Wednesday, April 29, 2015. April 30 marks the 40 anniversary of the fall of Saigon. here, Mom. I’m still living for now — you can tell by my handwriting — but I don’t know for how long.” Willie led a mortar team, and on Sept. 5, 1967, he and seven of his men were ambushed and all were killed. He was 20.