The Early Years
Donald Constande (pronounced con-STAND-e) was born in Springfield,
Massachusetts, on February 16, 1929. He was the son of Constandinos Hage Constande and Marie
Bernadette (Boulanger) Constande. Both
immigrants, his father came to the United States from Greece in 1907
through the port of New York, and his mother came from Canada in 1901
through Vanceboro, Maine. The
Constandes had seven children between 1917 and 1929.
The oldest was Stephen, followed by Stella, George, Albert, twin
girls who died at birth, and Donald.
Marie Boulanger was born in 1894 in St.
Magloire, Quebec, Canada, and Constandinos Constande was likely born in
1889 in Mytilēne, which is located on the Greek island of Lésvos.
All of their children were born in Springfield, except the twins,
who were born in North Carolina. In
the early 1920s, the Constandes had moved to Statesville, North Carolina. They lived across the creek from the “colored” section of
this racially segregated town. A
woman named Mrs. Brown had heard about a destitute family– theirs–with
more children than they could care for.
On August 26, 1926, the day the twins died, George went to live
with Mrs. Brown. Shortly
thereafter the Constandes, sans George, returned to Springfield.
The Constandes lived on Grosvenor Street and
Ringold Street in the North End section of Springfield during Don’s
childhood. Don attended Carew
Street School, Chestnut Street Junior High School, and Trade High School.
His father owned the Buffet Lunch restaurant on Dwight Street,
followed by a smaller restaurant on Dwight and Ferry Streets, followed by
a hot dog stand on Bond Street. The
second restaurant catered to Russians and Poles who worked nearby on the
railroad, but the Great Depression broke his father, leading him to sell
this restaurant to another Greek. Don’s
mother worked alongside his father at these family businesses, and Stella,
who was 10 years older than Don, used to “baby-sit” Don while their
parents were at work. As a
result, Stella and Don spent a lot of time together and were very close.
All of the Constande children grew up with
the last name of “Costas.” It
wasn’t until the oldest son, Steve, needed to provide proof of his
parents’ identity, when enlisting in the Army, that the name “Constande”
first appeared. Don’s
father couldn’t speak a word of English when he passed through
Immigration at Ellis Island in 1907.
As the story goes, when an immigration worker asked Don’s father
for his last name, he shrugged his shoulders and looked to an acquaintance
standing behind him in line. The
acquaintance addressed him as “Costas,” which is a diminutive form of
Constande in Greek. The immigration worker recorded “Costas” as his last
name, which was used by the family for identification for nearly four
All three of Don’s brothers served in the
military. Steve joined the
Army Air Corps in 1939, and was an aerial combat photographer at Pearl
Harbor on December 7, 1941. He
spent World War II in the Pacific theater, initially taking photographs
from the bellies of B-17s, B-18s, and B-24s.
Later he became a ground combat photographer after he contracted
Malaria and was “grounded” by the flight surgeon.
Steve was training to photograph the invasion of Japan from the
belly of a B-29 when the war ended. His
photographic Intelligence experience and training landed him a job in the
Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps, where he worked as an investigator
until 1947 when the Air Force was born.
At that time he changed uniforms and went to work for the Air Force’s
Office of Special Investigation. He
retired with 30 years in service. George
enlisted in the North Carolina National Guard in 1939, was activated
in September 1940, and enlisted in the regular Army after the war.
He was an aircraft radar mechanic in the Army Air Corps from
September 1946 to September 1947 and, like his brother, had to change
uniforms when the Air Force was born.
George retired in 1967 with over 27 years in service.
Albert was in the Navy Sea Bees–for one tour during World War II–and
then he enlisted in the Air Force, but a medical discharge for Emphysema
ended any career plans he might have had.
As a child, Don enjoyed playing football,
basketball and softball, and he liked to sketch.
He was a pretty good artist. Before
television, radio is what brought news and entertainment into the home,
and Don kept a sketchpad and pencil on top of the family radio.
He would sit by the radio, listening to his favorite shows–Our
Gal Sunday, Helen Trent, and The Lone Ranger–and draw cartoon characters
to go along with the stories he was hearing.
Many years later, Don’s youngest daughter would become very
artistic, probably inheriting this talent from her father.
Don was a member of Boy Scout Troop 14 in
Springfield. He eventually
became a Patrol Leader, and in 1945 he achieved the rank of 1st
Class Scout. It is likely
that Don participated in the Scouts’ rendering of war service -- typical
for Boy Scouts of the early 1940s -- which included collections aid in
salvage drives, distribution of government pamphlets and circulars, and
conservation projects. Troop
14’s historical records would have documented the Troop’s activities
during Don’s tenure, but they were destroyed by fire in 1982.
One of Don’s first jobs as a teen was that
of Battery Assembler at Penn Battery Manufacturing in Springfield.
He earned $30 per week assembling the components of storage
batteries into complete units. He worked for 18 months at $8 per week as a Baker Helper at
Mercy Hospital in Springfield, while enrolled in a welding course at Trade
High School. Don’s mother
was the seamstress at Mercy Hospital at the time.
In 1945, half way through the 10th grade, he quit school
and went to work at Ford Auto Sales in Springfield as a garage worker. He earned $25 per week assisting with the replacement of
broken and worn parts, grinding valves and making minor repairs to motors,
and greasing and lubricating cars and trucks.
Don and his siblings were initially raised
Greek Orthodox, the religion of their father, but then were converted to
Roman Catholic, the religion of their mother.
Don’s father suffered from Alcoholism and, probably related to
his drinking, his father and mother argued often.
This would cause Don to “take off,” as he didn’t like
arguments and he didn’t like to see people get hurt.
His parents separated shortly after Don’s 11th
birthday, in part because of their differences over religion and in part
because of his father’s losing battle with alcohol.
He had a close friend who was known to his
acquaintances as Johnny “Cabbage.”
Don and Johnny had palled around since grammar school. You couldn’t find one without the other.
John Dziewkiewicz was of Polish descent and few could pronounce his
last name, much less spell it, so the name Johnny “Cabbage” stuck.
Don was easy to get along with and he had a
nice personality, recalled Stella many years later.
He was happy-go-lucky and everyone liked him. Being “the baby,” Don usually got what he wanted.
He was his mother’s pet. They
had a rocking chair in the house and whenever he sat on the arm of the
chair, his mother knew he was about to ask her for something.
She was unyielding, however, when Don wanted to join the service at
16 years old. His brother
Albert had recently joined the Sea Bees, and Don wanted very badly to
enlist in the Marine Corps. World
War II was still being fought, and in the front window of their home his
mother displayed a flag with three white stars on a blue background–signifying
that she had three sons serving in the military.
She was not about to add a fourth star with her 16 year old “baby,”
but she told Don that she would sign for him when he was 17, if he was
still interested then. She
hoped the idea would pass.
A Dream Fulfilled
Less than two weeks
after his 17th birthday, on February 28, 1946, Don enlisted in
the U.S. Marine Corps for three years.
Because he was not of legal age, he was required to obtain his
mother’s written consent, which she provided.
Don and Johnny joined the Marine Corps together–Don’s service
number was 599162 and Johnny’s was 599164.
They were administered the oath of enlistment at DHRS Hartford,
Connecticut, and they traveled by train for two days, on five different
railroads, to get to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island,
Upon completion of
recruit training in mid-June 1946, Don spent a month with the Special
Training Regiment at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and then enrolled in
the Cooks Regular Course “D” at the Cooks and Bakers School also at
Camp Lejeune. He completed
the course in early August, and was then assigned to the 109th
Replacement Draft. Don’s
primary Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) was established as Cook.
Don and Johnny got separated after recruit training, and were never
assigned together again. They kept in touch, however, and years later they made a pact
that together they would form a detective agency when they got out of the
In the aftermath of World War II in 1945, the
2nd, 4th, and 5th Marine Divisions were
sent to occupy Japan, while the 3rd Marine Division was sent to
occupy various Pacific islands. This
left the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions, which were
sent to North China to assist Chinese Nationalist authorities in disarming
and repatriating the Japanese, and in controlling ports, railroads, and
airfields. They also supported the Nationalist government while it
reasserted its control of the nation in the face of anarchy and civil war.
By the end of 1946, Marine occupation forces had been removed
entirely from Japan and had been drastically reduced in China.
In early-October 1946, as a member of the 109th
Replacement Draft, Don embarked aboard the USS General A.E. Anderson
(AP/TAP-111) at San Diego, California, and steamed for 24 days to Taku,
China. Taku was located at
the mouth of the Hai River in Bo Hai Bay, which is connected to the Yellow
Sea by the Bo Hai Strait. Once
ashore, Don was assigned to Company “F,” 2nd Battalion, 5th
Marines, 1st Marine Division (Reinforced) at Peiping, China. His primary duty while assigned to Company F, 2/5, was Ammo
Peiping was located about 100 miles inland
from Taku. Peiping was the
name of the city that had been known as Peking until 1928.
The change of name occurred because China’s capital was shifted
from Peking, which means “Northern Capital,” to Nanjing, which means
“Southern Capital.” China’s
capital has shifted between Peking and Nanjing several times during its
long history. Peking has been
known as Beijing since 1979.
Don was appointed to Private First Class in
December 1946. In May 1947,
six months after arriving in China, he embarked aboard USS Bronx
(APA-236) at Chinwangtao, China, and sailed for Guam in the Marianas
Islands. In the fall of 1947
he was awarded the World War II Victory Medal and the China Service
In October 1948, Don was assigned to the
Marine Barracks, U.S. Naval Base, Boston, Massachusetts, where his primary
duty was Guard. In December,
he was appointed to Corporal, and in February 1949 he completed his 3-year
active duty enlistment. Don
was transferred to the 1st Marine Corps Reserve District in
Boston and was awarded his first Good Conduct Medal.
Don registered with the Selective Service
System through Local Board 13 in Springfield on March 1, 1949.
His registration card described him as 5’ 11” tall, 150 pounds,
with black hair and brown eyes. At the time of registration he was living with his mother on
Grove St. in Springfield’s Brightwood section.
The following month he requested to be returned to active duty, but
he was rejected due to defective color perception. His rejection was waived, however, when it was learned that
he had served for three years with this defect.
On April 20, 1949, Don enlisted in the Marine
Corps for two year at DHRS Hartford, Connecticut, and was assigned to the
Naval Training Center at Great Lakes, Illinois, where his primary duty was
Guard. In September 1949, Don’s
primary MOS was changed from Cook to Machine Gunner, and in February 1950,
it was changed to Machine Gun Unit Leader.
While in Great Lakes, Don met a woman named Frances Virginia Zara.
Virginia was a Navy enlistee, or WAVE as the women were called, who
held a Machinist Accountant rating. Don
and Virginia went to see a movie on their first date, and while strolling
back from the theater, much to their surprise, they learned that they were
both born on February 16, 1929!
In December 1950, Don was appointed to
Temporary Sergeant, and in January 1951, he was assigned to Weapons
Company, 3rd Infantry Training Battalion, Training and
Replacement Command, Marine Corps Base Joseph H. Pendleton, Oceanside,
California. His primary duty was initially Mortar Section Leader Under
Instruction, then Platoon Sergeant, Assault Platoon. In May, he reenlisted for four years at Camp Pendleton, and
was assigned to Company “K,” Tenth Replacement Draft, Fleet Marine
Force, Pacific Troops. His
primary duty was Awaiting Assignment.
Don embarked aboard the USNS General
William Weigel (T-AP 119) at San Diego, California, and sailed for
Korea in June 1951. On July
6, 1951, the Weigel arrived and disembarked at Pusan, Korea, and
Don began his first combat tour. He
was assigned to Machine Gun Platoon, Company “C,” 1st
Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division, FMF.
His primary duty was Machine Gun Section Leader.
Don’s unit was involved in some of the war’s toughest fighting
in the vicinity of the infamous Chosin Reservoir.
In January 1952, Don received a Summary Court
Martial for violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article 134–discharging
a firearm through carelessness. He
was found guilty and reduced to the rank of Corporal.
At every mail call while in Korea, Don awaited a letter from
Virginia Zara, but in the course of a year, not a single letter ever
arrived from her. Operations
against enemy forces in south and central Korea were completed in early
June 1952, and a couple of weeks later Don returned from Korea.
Stella (Constande) Rabideau recalled that Don
almost got “hit” while fighting in Korea.
When he returned to the States she said to him, “you’ve done
your time, you were in a war, why don’t you get out now?”
He replied, “Sis, if there’s a bullet with your number on it,
there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.”
For his combat service in Korea, Don was awarded the National
Defense Medal, the Korea Service Medal, the Korea Presidential Unit
Citation, and the United Nations Korea Service Medal.
West Coast Marine
In July 1952, Don was assigned to Company “E,”
2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, 3rd Marine
Division, FMF, MCB Camp Pendleton, California.
His primary duty was Machine Gun Squad Leader.
In August his primary duty was changed to Squad Leader. In September and October, he participated in training
operations between Camp Pendleton and San Diego, California, which
involved ship’s movements aboard USS Renville (APA-227) and USS Pickaway
(APA-222). In December, Don
was appointed to Temporary Sergeant.
About six months after Don returned from
Korea, he bumped into Virginia Zara in the Navy Exchange in Great Lakes.
When he asked her why she never wrote to him, she replied very
honestly, “I never thought I would see you again.”
They resumed their dating.
In January 1953 Don participated in cold
weather training at Camp Pickel Meadows in Bridgeport, California.
Bridgeport is located up near Lake Tahoe, where the air is thin and
the snow can be very deep. From mid April to mid May, Don attended Drill Instructor’s
School at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California, and
became a Drill Instructor there upon graduation.
In July, Don completed high school through the United States Armed
From December 1953 to April 1955, Don was a
Sea School Instructor at MCRD San Diego.
He and Virginia Zara were wed on June 26, 1953.
One evening, Don and Virginia–the newlyweds–were walking in
downtown San Diego and talking, when a man in civilian clothes stopped
them. “Do you remember me?”
the man asked Don. Don
answered in the affirmative. “I
want to apologize for what happened,” the man uttered sincerely.
Don told him not to worry and added a reassuring, “all is
forgotten.” When they
resumed their walk, Don told Virginia that the man had cost him a stripe.
The exact nature of the communication between the two men is a
matter of speculation, but it appears to be related to Don’s Summary
Court Martial in 1952.
There was a story Don used to enjoy telling
about three young Marines in his charge in 1954 at the Sea School.
It seems that these three men had been pestering Don to let them
wash his car. One day he
finally gave in and let them do it. When they were done washing and drying, Don slowly walked
around the car and inspected their work, while they watched and waited for
a sign of approval. "Instead
of thanking them," said Don, “I gave them each three days’ extra
duty for brown-nosing me!”
Don was assigned to the Marine Detachment
aboard USS Bremerton (CA-130) from April 1955 to March 1957.
His primary duty for the first 10 months was Sergeant of the Guard.
His primary duty for the last 14 months was Gunnery Sergeant.
In May 1955, Don reenlisted for four years aboard the Bremerton,
and his primary MOS was changed to Infantry Unit Leader.
In June he received his second Good Conduct Medal, and in October
he was appointed to Temporary Staff Sergeant (E-5).
In February 1956, Don completed the Marine Corps Institute “Criminal
Investigation Course.” It’s only natural to wonder if Don’s idea to form a
detective agency with his friend John Dwiezkiewicz was sparked by this
course, or vice versa. In
December, Don received a Letter of Commendation for outstanding
performance aboard USS Bremerton.
The commendation was directly related to the Battle Efficiency
Competition for Pacific Fleet Cruisers in 1956, in which the Bremerton
Don and Virginia’s first daughter, Maryann
Helen Constande, was born in 1956.
From March 1957 to April 1960, Don was again
stationed at MCRD San Diego. His
primary duties during this period, while assigned to Headquarters Company,
H & S Battalion, ranged from Instructor to Battalion Reenlistment NCO
to Company Property NCO. In
June 1958, he received his third Good Conduct Medal.
In January 1959, he completed the Enlisted Basic Course at Marine
Corps Schools in Quantico, Virginia.
In May, he extended his enlistment for three months, and in August,
he reenlisted for four years. Both
oaths of enlistment were administered at MCRD San Diego.
East Coast Marine
In April and May 1960, Don attended Recruiter’s
School at Parris Island South Carolina.
For the next three years he was assigned to Headquarters, 1st
Marine Corps Reserve and Recruitment District, at Garden City on Long
Island, New York. His primary
duty was Recruiter/Canvasser at RSS Yonkers, New York.
In January 1961, Don received his fourth Good Conduct Medal, and in
March he was appointed to Staff Sergeant (E-6). In July, he received a Letter of Commendation for
contributions to the Marine Corps Physical Fitness Program for New York
City junior and senior high school students.
The program supported the desires of former President Eisenhower
and then-President Kennedy to promote the physical fitness of American
Don and Virginia’s second daughter, Lisa
Veronica Constande, was born in 1962.
From July 1963 to January 1965, Don was
assigned to Company “K,” 3rd Battalion (Reinforced), 8th
Marines, 2nd Marine Division, FMF, MCB Camp Lejeune, North
Carolina. His primary duty
during this assignment was Platoon Sergeant.
In August 1963, Don reenlisted for four years at MCB Camp Lejeune,
North Carolina. From December
1963 to February 1964, Don sailed to Vieques and San Juan, Puerto Rico;
Fort Sherman and Coco Solo, Panama; and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba aboard USS Rockbridge
(APA-223) and USS Monrovia (APA-31).
In February 1964 he received his fifth Good Conduct Medal, and in
March he completed the Marine Corps Institute “Tactics of Marine Rifle
In January 1965, Don was assigned to Company
“M,” 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd
Marine Division, FMF, MCB Camp Lejeune.
His primary duties for the next six months alternated between
Platoon Commander and S-3 Tactics Instructor.
In January he sailed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba aboard USS Guadalcanal
(LPH-7), returning in April aboard USS Raleigh (LPD-1).
In August 1965, Don was assigned to
Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd Shore Patrol Battalion, 2nd
Marine Division, FMF, MCB Camp Lejeune.
His primary duty was Company Gunnery Sergeant.
In an NCO Fitness Report submitted in October 1965, Don was
complimentarily described as "a 24 hour a day Marine."
In November 1965, Don was assigned to Company
“H,” 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st
Marine Division (Reinforced), FMF. His
primary duty was Platoon Sergeant. He
was ordered to move out with his unit on January 6, 1966, “out of the
continental limits of the United States for duty involving service of
importance to the U. S. President.”
On April 13, 1966, Don began a combat tour
– the second of his career -- in support of U.S. Forces at Chu Lai,
Republic of Vietnam. From
April 26 to April 30 he participated in Operation Wyoming.
In May his primary duty was changed to Company Gunnery Sergeant.
From June 9 to June 13 he participated in Operation Apache in Quang
Tin Province. “He is cool
under fire and handles the troops extremely well in combat situations,”
noted 1st Lieutenant Jerome J. Doherty in Don’s June 1966 NCO
Fitness Report. From August 6
to August 12 he participated in Operation Colorado near Tam Ky in Quang
Tin Province. On August 7, he
extended his enlistment for one year to accept appointment to Temporary
Gunnery Sergeant (E-7). On
August 12, 1966, Gunnery Sergeant Donald Constande was killed in action in
Tam Ky in Quang Tin Province.
A Hot Walk In The Sun
In January 1967, a lessons learned pamphlet
was published by the Marine Corps under the title, “Small Unit Action in
Vietnam, Summer 1966.” It
contained nine small unit action stories written by Captain Francis J.
West, Jr., a Marine Corps reserve officer who was recalled to active duty
at his own request to perform this assignment.
Captain West arrived in DaNang on June 5, 1966 and immediately went
into the field as an observer and member of a wide variety of Marine small
units. Captain West saw action in all areas of the III Marine
Amphibious Force area of responsibility.
In addition to carrying normal weapons and equipment, he also
carried a tape recorder, a camera, and a note pad, and he took part in
most of the actions he wrote about. The
pamphlet was published for the benefit of the men serving in Vietnam, the
men who would soon be serving in Vietnam, and other interested Americans
who sought to understand the demands of the Vietnam conflict on the
An excerpt from one of Captain West’s
stories, "A Hot Walk In The Sun," offers a glimpse of Don at work
during his final days:
A HOT WALK IN THE SUN
Preface: On 6 August 1966, the 5th
Marines launched Operation COLORADO, landing in company strength at
several sites deep in Viet Cong territory, some 12 miles northwest of
Chulai. Although thousands of
the enemy were supposedly in the area, the companies initially met little
resistance. Their search and
destroy missions became what the infantrymen have termed “walks in the
sun.” The author describes here two such walks by two units he knew
well and worked with for several weeks.
The men of Hotel Company, 2/5, moved down
the road in helmets and flak jackets, weighted with ammunition and gear.
They had expected a fight in this flat, populated area, so long
held by the Viet Cong. They
found nothing but deserted houses and warning signs scrawled on boards
which formed arch-ways above the main trail. "Marines, do not use noxious chemicals." "Death follows you here every step of the way."
"Stop killing defenseless women and innocent children, protest
the war." "250 members of
the French Expeditionary Force are buried here,do not join them."
The Viet Cong had fled before the waves of
helicopters had landed. The
villagers were hiding in small caves near their homes.
The Marines searched some of them.
Inside one they found buried a rusty shotgun and a new carbine with
hundreds of cartridges. From
another they dragged two Viet Cong. One
cowered and meekly obeyed the orders of his captors.
The other, a well built Vietnamese in his thirties, scowled and
showed no fear. The Marines
would send them to the interrogator translator team at division
headquarters when they returned to base.
They did not have time to search all the
caves, so they poked only into those they most suspected. A corporal heard whispering from the entrance to one large
cave and Marines were stationed at both exits.
The Vietnamese interpreter with the rifle company yelled into the
cave. No response.
A Marine threw in a smoke grenade.
A dozen women and children slowly came out.
They looked fearfully at the grim faces of the Marines.
The Marines ignored them. The
interpreter pushed them to one side.
"Is that all?" the company gunnery
sergeant, Donald Constande, asked.
"No, here come the men," a corporal
Two men came out. One walked directly to the waiting group of women.
The other looked at the Marines, then at the interpreter, stopped,
turned, and reentered the cave. Seconds later, he ran out, moving with the speed of a
sprinter. He was by the
infantrymen and into the jungle before anyone reacted.
Then two automatic rifles were fired at
the same time. Two more
rifles joined in. The firing
lasted less than 10 seconds. An
acrid cloud of cordite hung in the humid air in front of the cave.
Bushes and small banana trees in front of the Marines were
Two Marines advanced forward.
They passed from sight in the green foliage and reappeared shortly.
"He’s dead," one said.
"Nothing on him.
No ID card, no papers, no nothing," the other added.
"Stupid trick he pulled, huh?"
"What do you mean—stupid?" yelled
the gunnery sergeant. "You’re
the ones that are stupid. He
almost made it."
"Well hell, gunny,” a Marine replied,
“I’ve never seen a VC that close before.
I didn’t think he’d try to get a hat."
"Look, you just stop thinking, O.K.?"
the gunny said.
The interpreter questioned the villagers.
No, there were no VC in the village.
They had all gone. Yes, the dead man was a VC but he thought he would be safe
until he saw the interpreter. No,
they didn’t know who he was.
The column moved slowly forward.
The villagers went back toward their houses.
Nobody approached the body.
From another cave came noises.
"Now don’t get trigger-happy,” the
gunny said, “it’s probably only villagers.
Just be careful. Is
The people in the cave refused to come
out. The interpreter screamed
at them. They came out.
"O.K. gunny," a small Marine answered...
Later that day the Marines were flown out,
and then flown into another objective.
The next day, their mission turned humanitarian as they assisted in
the helicopter evacuation of 697 South Vietnamese civilians to a refugee
camp located at Tam Ky, near the coast.
Five days later, Gunnery Sergeant Donald Constande was killed in
action at Tam Ky.
My dear Mrs.
The untimely death of your husband,
Gunnery Sergeant Donald Constande, U.S. Marine Corps on 12 August 1966 at
Tam Ky, Quang Tin Province, Vietnam is a deep source of sorrow to me and
to his many friends in the Company.
Gunnery Sergeant Constande was assigned as
the Company Gunnery Sergeant of Company “H.”
At the time of his death, Donald and the marines of Company “H”
were in a defensive position of the 2nd Battalion, 5th
Marines, when the unit was hit by a number of mortar rounds and small arms
fire which resulted in the untimely death of your husband.
Everything possible was done to save
Donald. However, he failed to
respond and died at 7:45 a.m.
It may comfort you to know that a Memorial
Service was held on Friday, 12 August 1966, in the Company “H” forward
position, to allow all the many friends of Donald’s to pay a last
tribute to him.
His cheerful disposition, pleasant
personality, and outstanding devotion to duty won for him respect from all
who knew him. Although I
realize that words can do little to console you, I hope the knowledge that
your husband is keenly missed and that we share your sorrow will in some
measure alleviate the suffering caused by your great loss.
If I can be of any help to you, please do
not hesitate to write me.
Richard D. Hughes
14 August 1966
Died 12Aug66 vicinity of Quang Tin
Province Republic of Vietnam result shrapnel wound to the left foot right
leg and multiple shrapnel wounds to the head.
Injuries sustained from hostile mortar while in a defensive
position on an operation against hostile forces
REMAINS OF GYSGT DONALD CONSTANDE 599162 U
S MARINE CORPS ESCORTED BY GYSGT JOHN M MITCHELL U S MARINE CORPS
CONSIGNED TO JOHNSON SAUM AND KNOBEL MORTUARY SAN DIEGO CAL DEPART SAN
FRANCISCO VIA RAIL SO PAC TRAIN 76 900 PM 18 AUG TO ARRIVE SAN DIEGO 255
PM 19 AUG ON SANTA FE TR 76. NOK
AND FUNERAL HOME NOTIFIED. NON
Message from Naval
Dispensary San Francisco
19 August 1966
While words are inadequate at a time like
this, I want you to know that the Nation shares your sorrow on the death
of your husband, Gunnery Sergeant Donald Constande, in Vietnam.
His long and faithful service has been an
inspiration to those who have served with him.
I hope that the memory of his service will be a source of comfort
and pride to you and your children, as it is to me. Our country owes its greatness to the many brave and selfless
individuals like your husband who have given their lives to win a better
world for mankind. I share
your pride and sorrow and assure you that your husband’s sacrifice will
not be in vain.
Mrs. Johnson joins me in offering
heartfelt sympathy to you and your family.
Lyndon B. Johnson
August 24, 1966
I have learned of the untimely death of
your husband, Gunnery Sergeant Donald Constande, U. S. Marine Corps.
Please permit me to express my deepest
sympathy and that of his friends in the Corps for you in your bereavement.
Nothing that I might say can minimize your
great loss or alleviate your sorrow.
However, I am sure you will be comforted in some measure by the
knowledge that your husband served his country faithfully and that his
friends share your grief.
Wallace M. Greene,
General, U. S.
Commandant of the
25 August 1966
Virginia Constande described her husband as a
no-nonsense Marine who loved the Corps, but who maintained his
individuality and was a devoted family man.
She recalled his love of classical music and how he loved to play
it loud. He also loved to
read. She claims that the
first person Don would meet at each new assignment was the Base Librarian,
whom he would persuade to let him be the first to borrow each new book the
Don’s sister Stella always thought Don
would follow in their father’s footsteps and open a restaurant. “Don loved to cook,” Stella recalled. After a long pause to reflect, she added, “Don loved his
children very much.”
For his service in Vietnam, Don was awarded
the Purple Heart Medal, a bronze star device for his existing National
Defense Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, and the Campaign Medal Republic
of Vietnam. At the time of
his death, Don had accumulated 20 years, five months and fifteen days’
service in the Marine Corps, and he had planned to retire to San Diego,
California within the year.
Virginia Constande never remarried and still
lives in southern California. She
worked for a local school district and then for IBM until her retirement.
Her time is now spent golfing, keeping current on news and
politics, and doting on her daughters.
She is proud of her husband and declares that he died doing what he
loved – being a Marine.
Requiescat In Pace
Gunnery Sergeant Donald Constande is buried in Grave Number 87 of
Section K at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, California. His widow, Frances Virginia Constande, is to be interred in
the same grave. He was the sixth Springfield resident to perish in the
Vietnam War. His name appears
on Panel 9E, Line 129 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.
Frances Virginia: telephone interviews with the author in June and
George: telephone interview with the author in August 2001.
Stephen: telephone interviews with the author in September 2001.
of the Navy, Headquarters United States Marine Corps: releasable
information from the Official Military Personnel File of GySgt Donald
of Veterans Affairs, National Cemetery Administration: burial information
for Donald Constande.
Classics Edition, (New York: C. S. Hammond & Company, 1955).
Clifton W., “BEIJING, China,” (http://www.comptons.com/encylopedia/ARTICLES/0000/00197888_A.html,
August 8, 2001).
William D., Captain, USMCR, A Concise History of the UNITED STATES
MARINE CORPS 1775 – 1969, (Washington: Historical Division,
Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1970).
Stella (Constande): telephone interview and meeting with the author
in August 2001.
Service System: Registration Card and Classification Record for Donald
Asia] Combat Area Casualty Current File (CACCF), 1997 [Electronic Record
Extracts]; Records of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Record Group
330, National Archives at College Park, Maryland.
Francis J. Jr., Captain, USMCR, “A Hot Walk In The Sun” (Washington:
History and Museums Division, HQMC, 1967).