I was not there. I did not know him. But I've crawled
inside his skin a thousand times, and agonized over his demise.
I conducted informal interviews and acquired
military historical files. Authors of the reports that I read had not
communicated with each other. Their information had
existed for three decades as isolated strands of data. I was the first person to
benefit from their collective knowledge.
Over a period of several months, a moving picture of who I thought he was began to
play in my head. As I learned of his life
experiences, the images evolved and became clearer. I came to greatly admire
this fallen stranger.
After death, this soldier was moved from battlefield to final resting place with
dignity and respect. Many contributed to his return,
and their contributions are documented, but no one person was
present at each segment of this articulated process. Repeatedly
and obsessively, I thought about the end,
his end, and the journey that followed. I thought
about it from the perspective of a single person who was
present throughout it all. But who? No living
person could tell this story from personal experience.
Most people would argue that fiction has no place in a biographical
work. While I would normally tend to agree, I felt that an exception was in order
here. "The End" holds out the hope that life continues
death. It tries to convey what each of us might wish we
could say, if given one last chance, after our earthly voices have been
forever silenced. Though I felt it was a story that needed to be
told, for many months I shared it with no
one. I worried that it
would bring pain to those who have already endured so much. It
wasn't until after I shared it, that I learned of the closure that the
factual aspects provided for some.
describes the journey as his soul might have observed it, as spectator, from a
nearby plane of post-earthly existence. The journey began at 3:20
on the afternoon of
October 16, 1970.
Stephen A. Judycki
January 19, 2003
Table of Contents
I no longer feel the warmth of day on my skin, nor do I feel any
pain from my wounds. Though it continues, I cannot hear the sounds
of exploding grenades and automatic weapons fire. I no longer smell
the pungent aroma from the meal that was prepared only minutes before.
My sergeant, SFC John T. Ropple, is preparing me for
extraction. Actually, he is preparing my body for extraction.
He and several Regional Forces soldiers pick up my body from where it lay,
and they carry it to a clearing about 300 yards from the ambush
site. I only weigh 150 pounds, but they struggle and strain because
they are very tired. I want to help them, but I cannot. They
reach the clearing and set me down. John radios a request for a
support helicopter. The helicopter approaches. As John pops
smoke to mark the landing zone, the Viet Cong open fire. The same
Viet Cong who ambushed us have pursued them to the landing
zone. John waves off the
helicopter because the LZ is too hot. A short time later, two
helicopter gunships arrive and lay down some suppressing fire, enabling
the support helicopter to land. They carry my body to the
helicopter, where a crewman waits in the open doorway. He helps pull
me aboard, and the helicopter quickly takes off.
The remains of deceased U.S. military personnel in South Vietnam
were evacuated through one of 30 collection points located throughout the
country, then on to one of two in-country mortuaries. U.S. Army
Mortuary DaNang was responsible for I Corps in the north, and U.S. Army
Mortuary Saigon was responsible for II Corps, III Corps, and IV Corps in
the south. Remains were then further evacuated to a port of entry
mortuary located at Oakland, California or Dover, Delaware.
It was a short flight to the 12th Evacuation
Hospital at Cu Chi. A U.S. Army surgeon, Captain Michael Allen
Wanchick, examines my remains and pronounces my death. He notes the cause as “Missile Wound to Head” and records
the time as “1700 hours, 16 October 1970.”
I was just getting used to thinking of my former self as “a body,”
and now they are referring to it as “the remains.” Hey, there is
my sergeant! He is up on his feet, but he does not look very
good. John stayed on the ground after I left, and worked with the helicopter
gunships. He is physically and mentally
exhausted. He feels bad about what happened. He keeps telling
himself that he did everything possible to keep his lieutenant
alive. He really did do everything possible, but he does not believe
it. I want to comfort John and tell him not to worry, but I
cannot. The doctors keep him overnight for observation.
It is morning now. My remains are moved down the road to the
mortuary in Saigon. They arrive at 9:30am. This place is a
real production shop, and the workers are very busy, but they are
professional and respectful. They fingerprint me and then compare
the prints to some I had made back in June, just in case something like
this happened. They inspect my teeth and compare them to my
dental records by means of a dental chart. My remains are going to
be viewable, so I guess they want to make sure it is really me. They
also do some repair work on my wounds. The name of the gentleman doing the
work is James L. Hobgood. He’s a civilian. James came to Vietnam all the way from Oklahoma to help the
American boys on their last trip home. They are also processing a
lot of paperwork today.
It is morning again...October 18, 1970. James begins a preserving process at
8:00am. By 10:30am, the process is complete and I am ready to
go. However, the mortuary personnel have more paperwork to process, teletype
messages to send, and transportation to arrange. I learned that I
was not the only American who died in Southeast Asia on October 16,
1970. There were eight of us–seven soldiers and one marine.
I outrank all but one of them, but that is just a matter of
record. Rank did not matter before, except when it was necessary to
get a job done, and it certainly does not matter now. Moreover, to
prove it, here we are in alphabetical order without our rank! From
the Marine Corps, there was Ernest Daniel Cardwell of Concord,
Virginia. From the Army there was Dominic John De Angelis of New
York City; Wilfredo Galivan-Torres of Ponce, Puerto Rico; Stephen Edward
Jesko of Hereford, Texas; John Dewey Livingston of Red Creek, New York; me
of course; David Alan Moore of Lafayette, Indiana; Robert Thomas Wilson of
The next day, October 19, 1970, they place my remains in a
container, called a traffic case, and load it onto an Air Force C-141
transport plane that is bound for Kadena AFB in Okinawa. I am not
alone, however. Two other traffic cases are loaded onto the
plane. They contain the remains of Wilfredo and John. Wilfredo
and I were Roman Catholic and John was a Methodist. All three of us
were Infantrymen, and we shared the same casualty status: “hostile,”
“ground,” and “gun, small arms fire.” Wilfredo and John both were 20 years old. Both were
killed in the Binh Thuy Province. Both
received posthumous promotions. John, a draftee, arrived in Vietnam
on March 19, 1970. Wilfredo, an enlistee, arrived in Vietnam on
August 31, 1970. My traffic case is labeled “NR 457,” which will
mainly be of interest to the Chief of Support Services at Dover AFB,
because my case contains all three of our fingerprint charts. The
plane departs around 1:00pm and heads for Kadena. It arrives at
5:45pm, but this flight is bound for Oakland, not Dover, so we are
off-loaded to a different C-141, which departs Kadena around 10:00pm.
My remains arrive at Dover AFB at 9:00am on October 21,
1970. If the U.S. Army
Mortuary at Saigon was big, the port of entry mortuary at Dover is
huge. It is busier, too, but the staff here are just as
professional and respectful. My remains are reprocessed for
identification. They are
cosmetized. The name of the gentleman doing the work is Howard W.
Atwell. Howard, like James Hobgood back in Saigon, is a
civilian. My remains are dressed in a U.S. Army officer’s uniform
with appropriate rank insignia and decorations. They are placed in a
metal casket. More paperwork is processed, and logistical plans are
communicated to concerned parties.
It is now
October 23, 1970. My remains
were transported from Dover AFB to McGuire AFB in Wrightstown, New Jersey,
and then to the civilian airport in Philadelphia. My escort has
arrived. His name is 1LT
William E. Dobbs, and he is assigned to the 10th Special Forces
Group (Airborne) at Fort Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts. Bill
supervises the loading of my remains onto an Eastern Airlines plane, and
he boards the plane himself. We will be traveling together from this
point on. The plane departs Philadelphia at 5:05pm. It is
scheduled to arrive at Bradley Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, at
I have been so
caught up in all of the attention being paid to me, that it has just occurred to me that I am going home. My family…my fiancée…my
friends...they are all waiting for me to arrive. Their lives have been shattered.
I wish I could tell them that I love them, and that they should not
worry about me, but I cannot.
The world had been at war for most of Mary’s adult
life, and it was still at war as she carried her second child to term. The
winds of change were blowing in 1944, however, as a series of monumental
events presaged victory for America and her allies.
Mary’s hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts, was
designated one of 32 war production centers nationwide. In the
1940s, over 50,000 area residents were employed in factories, foundries,
shops and laboratories that were engaged in defense production.
Baystate Thread Company supplied thread used in the manufacture of
parachutes, boots and cartridge belts. Moore Corporation produced
drop-forge metals used in the manufacture of tank parts and surgical
equipment. American Bosch produced fuel injectors for diesel engines
and magnetos for airplanes. Westinghouse produced shell fuses and
stabilizing equipment that enabled tanks to shoot accurately while moving.
Chapman Valve produced valves for battleships, and participated in
the top-secret Manhattan Project, which developed the first atomic
bomb. The United States Armory in Springfield was the national
center for small arms research and development. The Armory, which
produced weapons for every war since and including the American
Revolution, was then producing a self-loading rifle known as the Garand
M1, named after its inventor, Springfield resident John C. Garand.
The prolific and flamboyant General George S. Patton considered the M1 “the
greatest weapon ever made.”
Springfield residents closely followed the war’s
progress through newspaper and radio and newsreels. They knew that
the allies’ mounting victories were made possible by the collective
effort of a nation united, but they also had tangible evidence of the
importance of their individual contributions.
Mary’s husband, for example, was a rifle maker at the U.S.
Armory; one of 14,000 workers who produced 4.5 million M1 rifles during
World War II.
It was into this world, a world at war, that
Bernard James Lovett Jr. was born at Springfield, Massachusetts, on
November 24, 1944. “Bernie” was the son of Bernard James Lovett
and Mary Jane (Clark) Lovett.
Bernard James Lovett (Sr.) and Mary Jane Clark were
both born in Springfield, in 1915 and 1919 respectively. Bernard’s
parents and Mary’s grandparents both emigrated from Ireland around the
turn of the century; the former came to the U.S. directly and the latter
arrived through Canada. Their families lived in the Forest Park
section of Springfield, and both Bernard and Mary attended city
schools. They were married in 1940, and had four children between
1943 and 1953. Their first child was Mary Anne, followed by Bernard
Jr., Christine, and Karen. Bernard Sr. worked at the U.S. Armory in
Springfield during World War II, and later held sales positions at the H.
E. Shaw Company and Consolidated Cigar (“the Dutch Masters company”),
retiring from the latter. Mary was not employed outside the home.
The Lovetts lived in a two-family, wood-frame house on Oakland
Street in the Forest Park section of Springfield. Bernie and his family lived on the second floor at 255
Oakland, while his paternal grandparents and a “maiden aunt” lived on
the floor below them at 253 Oakland.
The Lovett house was located on the east side of
Oakland Street, two doors south of the intersection of Oakland and
Orange Street, which was bustling with activity in
the 1940s and 1950s. This was due not only to the
vitality of the working-class neighborhood that it quartered, but also
because each street intersected with a major thoroughfare at both its
starting point and its terminus: Oakland Street ran north from Sumner Avenue to Allen
Street, and Orange Street ran east from Mill Street to Allen Street.
Looking north from the front yard of the Lovett house, the tower of the U.S. Armory at Lower Watershops Pond
was visible. Because the foundation of the Armory was set afar at a much
lower elevation than the Lovett house, the tower appeared to be sitting
directly on Oakland Street with no indication of anything beneath it.
Bernie was raised Roman Catholic and he attended Holy
Name Church, where his parents were married. He played little league
baseball for Holy Name, sang in the Holy Name Choir, and attended Holy
Name School from Kindergarten through eighth grade. His Cub Scout
troop even met at Holy Name School. Bernie loved his Irish heritage,
and those who knew him as a boy may remember his beautiful tenor
voice. He used it often to entertain his family, but it was his St.
Patrick’s Day performances that were most treasured.
The Maiolo boys who lived next door–James Jr., Donald
and Richard–were among Bernie’s closest boyhood pals. They lived
on the first floor of their house, while their grandparents lived on the
second floor. The Cocchi family lived around the corner on
Kensington Avenue. Pete and Catherine, and their children Mark,
Cindy, and Joanne were friends of the Lovetts. The Shrudes, who had
three daughters, lived two houses down from the Cocchis. Bernie was
friendly with Phil Shrude, who was a high school basketball referee for
the City of Springfield. The neighborhood kids “hung out”
together and went places on their bicycles as a group. They went to
Shrude’s Variety for ice cream. They went to the Phillips Theater
for Saturday matinees. They went to Forest Park (an actual park,
after which their section of the city was named) to play tennis, swim,
hike and fish. A favorite pastime of the boys was to play football
at the Kensington School playground, located right around the corner from
Bernie’s house. In the 1950s and 1960s, the neighborhood was
essentially a collection of friends who looked after one another, and were
truly concerned for each other’s welfare. One can easily picture
this neighborhood–with its close-knit neighbors, its extended families,
and many children–as the setting for fond childhood memories.
Bernie and his sisters had many.
Bernie was a huge sports fan. When he wasn’t
participating in sporting events, he was watching them on television,
listening to them on the radio, or attending them in person. A loyal resident of the Bay State, Bernie loved the Red Sox,
the Patriots, the Celtics and the Bruins. Bill Russell, center for
Celtics from the mid 1950s through mid 1960s, was one of his favorite
athletes. Bernie had the rare fan attribute of also liking the New
York Yankees! He went to Fenway Park several times to watch the Sox
play, with his father and his maternal grandfather. He also saw the
Boston Patriots play a few times. His
favorite college football team was Notre Dame (the Fighting Irish!), and
his favorite boxer was Cassius Clay, who in 1964 converted to Islam and
changed his name to Muhammad Ali. Bernie and his family spent many
hours sitting around the radio at the kitchen table–quality time–listening
to baseball, Notre Dame football, and boxing.
Bernie attended Cathedral High School for ninth grade
and then transferred to Technical High School. During his three
years at Tech, Bernie was enrolled in the college preparatory program and
was a very active young man. He
managed the basketball team, played golf and served as team captain, was a
member of the student and class councils, was on the staff of Tech News,
and was voted “Mr. Tech Spirit” by his senior classmates.
During high school, Bernie was employed as Caddie Master at
Longmeadow Country Club in nearby Longmeadow, Massachusetts. His
best friend in high school was a fellow Tech student named James A.
McDonald. At 17 years of age, Bernie was graduated from Technical
High School as a member of the Class of 1962. He then enrolled at
Westfield State College in Westfield, Massachusetts.
Two months after his 18th birthday, on
January 21, 1963, Bernie registered with the Selective Service System
through Local Board 82 in Springfield. His registration card
described him as 5’ 8-1/2” tall, 147 pounds, with black hair and brown
eyes. Because he was enrolled in college at the time of
registration, his Selective Service classification was “2-S,”
signifying that the registrant was deferred because of “activity in
Bernie was also very active in college. At
Westfield State, he played varsity golf, intramural football, basketball,
and was on the staff of the Tekoa yearbook. Jim McDonald
enrolled at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, but the 40-minute
drive did not keep them apart. They golfed together, and attended
UMASS football games together. Bernie continued working as Caddie
Master at Longmeadow Country Club while attending college. Jim,
whose mother ran the concession at Franconia Golf Course in Springfield,
was said to have played 36 holes a day there, every day! The
practice paid off as Jim became the city golf champion in 1968. Bernie was graduated from Westfield State College in 1966 with
a BA in History.
After College, Bernie worked in the Greenfield Public
School System in Greenfield, Massachusetts. He was hired to fill a
vacated position at the junior high school as a 9th grade
teacher of Ancient Medieval History. James A. Fotopulos, the
K-through-9 Social Studies Coordinator who hired and then supervised him,
later recalled, “Bernie was one outstanding individual.”
Jim exclaimed, “Bernie did not merely teach history to his
students, he taught his students History!” Bernie had a casual
approach to teaching, but he was very competent and professional.
Jim remembered him as the best-dressed teacher at the school; not to make
a fashion statement, but to set an example of professionalism for his
students. He had a superb relationship with the other faculty and
was very popular among the students. There were six Social Studies
teachers at the junior high, and they were a tight knit group. They
often golfed together, or played pick-up basketball at the high school or
junior high school gymnasium after the school day had ended. After
play, they usually stopped somewhere to sip a couple of cold beers and
enjoy each other’s company.
Bernie was also a friend of high school European
History teacher William Tenney. Bill was also the high school golf
coach. They lifted weights together at the high school, and Bernie
was a frequent guest at Bill’s home. Bernie would visit after
eating supper on his own, and upon arriving would always ask, “what’s
for dessert?” Bill’s wife would serve them dessert, and then
Bill and Bernie would retire to Bill’s basement to play table
hockey. Bernie never won, as it was Bill’s table and Bill had much
more time to practice, but he did not stop trying. Bernie used to
say that he came over for dessert, but Bill knew better. He knew
that Bernie was determined to win at least one game of table hockey!
They also played a lot of golf at the Northfield-Mount Hermon School in
nearby Northfield, Massachusetts, where Bill had worked, part-time, since
caddying there as a youth.
Bernie kept an apartment in Greenfield, where he would
stay during the week, but he usually returned to Springfield on
weekends. He had good reason to return, as he was dating a young
Elms College graduate named Kathy Corridan, whom he met at "The
Gunnery," in Springfield's Kimball Towers. His sister Christine
remembered one time when his car was in the shop, and she let him borrow
her 1961 Volkswagen to get to work. Her car did not have a fuel
gauge, so she kept a notebook to record the number of miles she drove and
the number of gallons of gasoline it took to fill up the tank. With
this information she calculated fuel consumption and then monitored the
odometer to estimate when it was time to “fill up.” When Bernie
borrowed her car, he may have doubted her math skills, because he
disregarded her notebook. Instead, he drove to Damour’s and filled
up the tank to play it safe. He had a good laugh when he reached
Greenfield and filled up the tank again, because it only took 30 cents’
worth of gasoline! Volkswagens were very good on gas.
Bernie, Bill Tenney, and Bill’s wife dined out on
many occasions. One evening, Bernie brought Kathy, who was now his
fiancée, and the foursome dined together. Bill finally was able to meet the woman he had heard so much about. Bill was eight years
older than Bernie, and was never sure why they hit it off so well.
Bill remembered that Bernie just fit right in, that he had a great sense
of humor, and that they never, ever, talked shop.
Former students of Jim Fotopulos had completed high
school, entered the military, and had been killed in Vietnam.
By the close of the 1967-68 academic year, two Greenfield residents
had been killed in Vietnam, and from Bernie’s hometown of Springfield,
21 residents had been killed, while two others were listed as “missing
in action.” Bernie told Jim that he could not sit back and let
these young kids die without doing something to help. Bernie began
to investigate opportunities to serve in the military, and on July 25,
1968 he enlisted in the Army Reserve on a delayed entry program.
Bernie had wanted to become the golf coach at the high
school, and in the 1968-69 academic year, he was slated to take over that
position from Bill Tenney, who had been looking forward to handing over
the reins to Bernie. When
Bernie announced his plans to take a leave of absence and join the Army,
however, Bill decided to stay on and hold the coaching position for Bernie
until he returned. Jim Fotopulos had previously written letters to
get teachers out of serving in the military. He did this because the
teachers were performing an essential service as civilians, and he did not
want to lose them. Bernie had not been drafted though; he decided to
serve his country of his own free will. Even so, Jim offered to
write a letter for Bernie in case he wanted to change his mind. Jim
tried in vain to get Bernie to change his mind. Bernie thanked his
good friend, but remained steadfast in his decision.
From October 7, 1968 through August 28, 1969, Bernie
served on active duty as an enlisted soldier. He attended basic
combat training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and was authorized the
Infantryman’s 11B military occupational specialty (MOS) upon completion
of Advanced Infantry Training (AIT) at Fort Polk, Louisiana. While
attending AIT, Private Lovett received a certificate of achievement “for
exemplary diligence and proficiency in the pursuit of military knowledge,
and for being selected Outstanding Trainee of the Advanced Individual
Training Cycle, 16 December 1968 through February 1969.”
Immediately following AIT was the 23-week Infantry Officer Candidate
School at Fort Benning, Georgia. Upon completing the school, and
several promotions later, Specialist Five (SP5) Lovett received an
honorable discharge from the United States Army Reserve.
On August 29, 1969, Bernie was appointed 2nd
Lieutenant (2LT) in the United States Army Reserve, and was authorized the
Infantry Unit Commander’s 1542 MOS.
He was assigned to the Advanced Training Command, Infantry at Fort Lewis,
Washington, and on December 9, he was authorized the Training Center Unit
Officer’s 2622 MOS as a secondary military occupational specialty.
He performed various training officer duties during his nine-month stay at
One duty Bernie had at Fort Lewis was to command a
barracks of 40 to 50 OCS holdovers, who had been accepted for Officer
Candidate School, but were waiting for a class date.
He was well-liked by these enlisted men, many of whom were
draftees, because he treated them with friendship and respect. One OCS holdover who served under Bernie recalled, “Occasionally
he would have to “lean on us” a little to get us to clean up the
barracks or ourselves for inspection.
However, he always used minimal and appropriate ‘harassment’–this
was highly unusual and a pleasant difference from most officers and NCOs!”
In May 1970, Bernie received orders for overseas duty
in the III Corps Tactical Zone (III CTZ) of South Vietnam. He
returned home for 30 days’ leave before “shipping out” on June 18,
1970. During that period, he spent a lot of time with Kathy Corridan,
his fiancée. He also visited with friends and played some
golf. The entire Lovett Family even gathered as a unit for a
memorable, weeklong vacation on Cape Cod. Bernie’s sister, Christine, later recalled the last night
of Bernie’s leave. “His bedroom was directly over mine, and I
could hear him pacing all night. I got out of bed and went up to his
room. He was quite nervous and had an upset stomach. He was
scared. We made small talk, but it felt as though we were at someone’s
wake…I felt so helpless.”
On June 20, 1970, Bernie's plane landed at Tan Son Nhut
Airbase in Saigon, South Vietnam. He was assigned to the Field Advisory
Element, Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV), and attended the USARV Advisory School
at Di An–a brief, but formal education for U.
S. Army Advisors in Vietnam.
Located northeast of Saigon, Di An was the former home of
Infantry Division. The USARV Advisory School, also known as
"MAT School," occupied their headquarters after they
deployed back to the United States in April 1970. The "Big
Red One" had served 1,656 days in Vietnam.
MAT was an acronym for Mobile
Advisory Team. The training course at the MAT School was
a mere two weeks in length. In that short amount of time, however,
most students were able to learn about 400 words of
Vietnamese, with which they could make about 3,000 phrases. The
course also included some weapons training. Recalling
the experience, one former advisor said, “they tried to squeeze us
a 2-week course at MAT school...but that is not enough time to
learn 'dinky dau.' All of the rest was a harsh OJT, where we learned in the field
on operations with an RF Mobile Group.”
After completing MAT School, Bernie was assigned to Advisory Team
43, which had advisory responsibility for Hau
Nghia Province. Upon arriving at Advisory Team 43’s Province
Headquarters at Bao Trai, Bernie was assigned to a mobile advisory team in the
Trang Bang District. The Trang Bang District was essentially flat, just a
few feet above sea level, and dotted with forest, rice fields, and rubber
plantations. The most prominent topographical feature to be seen in
the area was Nui Ba Den, located to the
northwest in Tay Ninh. Known as Black Virgin Mountain, Nui Ba Den
rose to an elevation of 3,235 feet.
Trang Bang District
Three mobile advisory teams supported the Trang Bang
District in July 1970. They were MAT-21, MAT-17, and a third team, whose name eludes
the memories of several advisors who were there at the time. A fourth team,
MAT-107, was added in the fall of 1970. The
complete and official name of a mobile advisory team also included the
tactical zone in which it operated. For example, MAT-107’s official
name was MAT III-107, signifying that it operated in III Corps Tactical
Zone. MAT-21’s outpost was located
approximately five miles west of Trang Bang in the village of Loc Giang,
which included the hamlets of Gia Binh and Loc Binh. MAT-17’s two
outposts were located two to three miles north of Trang Bang. The
third team was located five miles southeast of Trang Bang.
When he reached District Headquarters in the village of
Trang Bang, Bernie met the DSA, and was assigned to MAT-21 along with
SFC John T. Ropple, whom he met at MAT School. John Ropple was an
Infantryman who had been in the Army for 12 years, and was beginning his
second combat tour in Vietnam. John was from South Charlestown,
Massachusetts, so he and Bernie had something in common and immediately
got along well. MAT-21 was comprised of 1LT Wayne Lash who was the
team leader, 1LT James Powers who was the assistant team leader, SFC
Charles Mays who was their NCO, and a South Vietnamese interpreter.
Bernie and John lived and worked with Wayne, Jim, and Charlie, until they
had enough experience to be assigned to their own team.
outpost at Loc Giang was a mud-walled fort built by our Green Beret and previously occupied by them.
The fort was also home to a Regional Forces (RF) company–South Vietnamese
soldiers who ranged from 20 to 30 years old–and their families.
Nearby the fort was Fire Support Base
Jackson, which housed an artillery battalion from the 25th
Infantry Division. Surrounding the fort, several miles away, were
approximately one dozen Popular Forces (PF) outposts, manned by members of the local
militia–typically 16-year old boys. Some of these PF outposts were
located within nearby villages and hamlets, while others were set off by
themselves. The roadsides were still littered with overturned tanks,
and bomb craters still dotted the landscape, from B-52 “Arc Light” bombing raids on the Loc Giang
area in 1968. In the area around FSB Jackson, American soldiers used
to say that there was more shrapnel on the ground than at the firing range at Fort
As secluded as
they were from the regular Army, food for the American advisors was “on
their own.” Officers received a monthly food allowance of $47.50
compared to an NCO’s allowance of $95, which must have caused a lot of good-natured kidding between the lieutenants and the sergeants! One
option was to drive to Saigon on Route 1 to buy food at the Post Exchange
at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. Another option was to scrounge around
locally. The mess hall at FSB Jackson sometimes gave them leftover
hamburg that they would "purchase" with a bottle of booze or a
case of beer.
MAT-21's Charlie Mays had fought in Korea with the Marine
Corps. He was discharged after the war and later joined the
Army. During his first tour in Vietnam, he was assigned to an
armored unit, and with only one month left to go, he was hit by small arms
fire from an AK-47. Charlie was nearly bisected as the bullets
ripped him diagonally from hip to shoulder. He spent a year in a
hospital recuperating from his injuries, and then immediately began his
second tour in Vietnam with MAT-21. Charlie used to get nervous when
he learned that he would be going out on an ambush patrol, because of the
trauma he suffered during his first tour. Usually quite jovial, he
was noticeably quiet while on patrol. Jim Powers recalled that while
quiet, Charlie was very brave and always did what needed to be done.
Each mobile advisory team in the Trang Bang District
had been requisitioned a jeep, and MAT-21 had somehow managed to also
acquire a gray, U.S. Navy
pickup truck. It was sometimes
necessary to drive in the district and beyond just to obtain food and
supplies. Driving was relatively safe during
daylight hours, but Jim Powers recalled an incident that shook them up one
day when he and Charlie Mays were on
Route 1 in the team jeep. They were headed toward Cu Chi, with
Charlie driving, when they heard small
arms fire nearby. Charlie bailed left, Jim bailed right, and the
jeep kept going until it ran off the road and into a ditch.
Fortunately, neither of them were injured because it was a false
alarm. Regional Forces soldiers returning from a patrol decided
it would be fun to discharge their weapons into the air. Jim and Charlie
were able to drive the jeep out of the ditch and continue on their trip.
Life at the home outpost was often very boring for the
U. S. servicemen. Bernie and Jim Powers read a lot to pass the
time. Jim usually read science fiction, but he recalled a book that
Bernie was reading called The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight
by Jimmy Breslin. In the book, a mobster named Joe
Quarequio was walking while carrying a remote-controlled bomb. He
was going to plant the bomb in the car of a competing mobster, who was
dining at a nearby restaurant. When his foe entered the car
after dinner, Joe planned to detonate the bomb while watching from a
safe distance across the street, but it never happened. As Joe approached the car,
sergeant at a nearby police station activated a patrolman’s
pager, AND THE BOMB! Bernie simply could not believe
that the mobster was dumb enough or unlucky enough to put the bomb’s
detonator on the same radio frequency as the police paging
system. Bernie was so entertained by this passage that he handed the
open book to Jim and said, “Here, you just have to read this!”
Life may have been boring inside the outpost, but not
outside. In the spring of 1970, the 25th Infantry Division sent elements into Cambodia in
search of North Vietnamese Army sanctuaries. This caused the
district to be somewhat quiet for a couple of months, but the search for Viet
Cong did not ease.
MAT teams in the
Trang Bang District had a standing order from their DSA to conduct 20 Viet
Cong ambush patrols every month. They had to go out on five patrols
every week, and one of them had to be on the weekend.
Most were at night. The ambush patrol would usually consist
of an American officer and NCO, a South Vietnamese interpreter, and a
squad of 8 to 12 South Vietnamese RF soldiers. The patrol would
usually leave the fort around 5:00pm. They would go out to one of
the dozen or so PF outposts, unscheduled and unannounced, and explain what
the mission would be for that evening. The advisors, the RF squad,
and five or six PF personnel would go out and set up an ambush for several
hours. Around midnight, they would return to the PF outpost, and
wait there until daylight. At daylight, they would return to the
home outpost to clean up and sleep for a couple of hours.
addition to the ambush patrols, there were daylight sweep missions,
usually airmobile, every two to three weeks. These missions usually
involved a larger group–24 to 36 RF soldiers–and the airmobile aspect
meant that they would be inserted into an area and then later extracted by
months of living together at the outpost, and going out on patrols under the supervision of the seasoned MAT-21 members, Bernie and John
Ropple learned the ropes and in the process had become good friends.
Their training would soon be tested, as Bernie and John were
reassigned to the newly created MAT-107.
Bernie continued to believe in his government’s
position on the war in Vietnam, and he was very proud to be serving his
country in this capacity. When he wrote home, he spoke about the
rains, the mud, the heat, and about going out on patrols. Sensitive
to his family’s worries about his safety, he always downplayed or
withheld any worries he had. He wrote about the terrible stench in
the capital of Saigon, of how poor and filthy the children were, and how
they swarmed U. S. servicemen and begged for any handout that might be
provided. On August 29, 1970,
Bernie was appointed 1st Lieutenant (1LT) in the United States
Army. Always the sports fan, at the outpost he used to listen to Notre
Dame football games on cassette tapes that his father recorded and mailed
to him. He had also begun to think of himself as a pretty good
mechanic, having learned how to fix the electrical generators that were
Around the same time that Bernie and John were re-assigned to the
newly created MAT-107, Jim Powers was re-assigned to MAT-17 located north
of Trang Bang. The road leading north out of Trang Bang forked left
(LTL 19) and right (TL 6A), and MAT-17 had an outpost situated off each
fork. Their team house was located in the left outpost. Jim
was team leader, Edwin “Bill” Boland was assistant team leader, and
they each had an NCO. Although Bernie and Jim were now on separate
teams, a twist of fate was about to bring them back together.
One day in mid October, Bernie and John’s MAT-107
team house caught fire and burned down because of a mishap with their
propane refrigerator. It was thought that rats ate through the
rubber tubing that carried propane from the tank to the refrigerator,
causing a gas leak, that was ignited by a spark from the refrigerator’s
pilot light. Ironically,
miles away, Jim Powers’ MAT-17 team house caught fire and burned down
the same day, because of a flare mishap. Someone accidentally
dropped a flare that was normally ignited by banging it on the
ground. The flare ignited and set off the team’s ammo dump and
propane tanks–everything blew up–and miraculously no one was
injured! Bernie and Jim spent their days building new bunkers at
their respective outposts, but spent their nights at the district team
house in Trang Bang. Policy required that there had to be a safe
place for cover, before they could stay overnight at their outposts.
Jim and Bernie were together once again.
On the evening of October 15, 1970, Jim Powers and
Bernie sat in the district team house in Trang Bang, and did a map
recon. MAT-17 was scheduled to go out on daytime airmobile
operations the next day. Jim,
his NCO and a platoon from an RF company were scheduled to go out with
Bill Boland, Bill's NCO and another platoon from that RF company.
However, Bill Boland had an opportunity to meet an Army buddy from back
home the next day, and this buddy promised to get the advisors the scarce building materials
they badly needed for their new bunkers. The DSA decided to
have Bill Boland’s group stay back, and send Bernie, John, and a platoon
from RF Company 636 in their place, because getting those building
materials was important. So, as Jim and Bernie sat in the kitchen of
the team house in Trang Bang that evening, Jim tried to give Bernie an
idea of what to expect the next day. During the map recon, Jim gave
Bernie one of his two laminated maps so that he had one on which to plot out the
operation. The laminate kept the maps dry in wet conditions,
and it allowed them to write on the map with a grease pencil. The
grease pencil markings were durable, but with a little effort, they could
be rubbed off after an operation enabling the map to be reused.
They talked about Bernie’s counterpart–the company commander of
RF Company 636–and possibly they talked about his Vietnamese
interpreter. After they felt they were all set, they went to bed.
In the morning, eight UH-1B “Huey” helicopters
arrived to pick them up. Jim Powers' MAT-17 team and a platoon
from their RF company were loaded into one flight of four
helicopters. Bernie's MAT-107 team and a platoon from RF Company 636 were loaded into the other flight of four helicopters. The
South Vietnamese troops and their American advisors were inserted east of
Highway 1 on the edge of the infamous Iron Triangle, whereupon they
separated and headed west on a two-pronged sweep. The Iron Triangle
was a 300-square-kilometer parcel of jungle resembling an inverted
triangle with its sides bounded by the Saigon and Thi Tinh Rivers and its
inverted base cutting through the Thanh Dien Forest on the north.
The area was so named because of its similarity to an area on the Korean
peninsula given the same name during the Korean War.
“The war pretty much stopped between 12:00 noon and
2:00 pm each day…a sort of siesta,” recalled John Ropple. Toward
the end of that siesta period on October 16, while enroute to their third
objective, MAT-107 and RF Company 636 stopped to rest and eat.
John sat by himself behind a rice patty dike with some American
food that he brought with him. The South Vietnamese RF personnel
were very generous with their food, and often tried to get the Americans
to eat with them. Bernie, who had previously eaten local cuisine of
crickets and grass, decided to try their food on this day. He was
standing, exposed, on top of a small hill while talking to the South
Vietnamese Company Commander, as a Viet Cong ambush patrol positioned
itself in a horseshoe configuration around the resting troops. He
was only 50 to 60 feet away from John, and John could see Bernie from
where he was sitting behind the rice patty dike.
Their location was officially reported as XT 618 228 on
the Military Grid Reference System, which translates to the coordinates
11° 3’ 39.6” North and 106° 28’ 38.7” East. It was
northeastern Hau Nghia Province, near the border of Binh Duong Province.
The enemy fired approximately three B-40 rounds, and
then there was heavy small arms fire from both enemy AK-47 and friendly
M-16 rifles. The B-40 was an armor defeating, shaped charge
projectile fired by a Soviet-made, rocket propelled grenade
launcher. From his position behind the rice patty dike, John Ropple
yelled, “AMBUSH,” and dove to the ground to take cover and start
returning fire. While in the
process of doing this, he saw Bernie lying on his back.
Jim Powers’ team had come upon a PF outpost located
about a mile away at this very moment and heard the shooting. Jim
called Bernie’s team on the radio, but he could not raise anyone.
He called District Headquarters, but they did not know anything.
Then he heard the South Vietnamese RTO (radio telephone operator) from
Bernie’s team report the ambush and advise that they had suffered one
U.S. KIA (this was reported in error). Jim wanted desperately to go
their aid, but the area between them was known to be covered with
landmines. District Headquarters instructed Jim to stay put, and
they dispatched a helicopter.
John yelled to Bernie to see if he was alright, but
there was no response. He immediately went over to Bernie and saw
that he was seriously wounded. He comforted his friend and restored
his breathing, which had become difficult. John tried to call for an
urgent Dustoff (medical evacuation helicopter), but the terrain, the deep
water and the mud they had encountered during the operation had ruined his
radio handset. A mile away, Jim Powers could hear John’s
voice, faintly, but could not make out what he was saying. John left
a South Vietnamese medic with Bernie and located the South Vietnamese RTO,
whose radio he used to call for the Dustoff. When John returned,
however, he found that Bernie had succumbed of his injuries.
John radioed back to District Headquarters to inform
them of the situation, and then prepared Bernie’s body for
extraction. Jim Powers heard these transmissions “loud and clear,”
and was distraught at the news. John moved his team to a site about
100 meters from the ambush site and radioed for a support helicopter.
As the helicopter approached a short time later, the Viet Cong
opened fire on the U.S. and Regional forces, and the helicopter had to be
waved off. A short time later, the helicopter returned and was
successful in getting Bernie out and evacuated to the 12th
Evacuation Hospital in Cu Chi, where he was pronounced dead at 5:00 pm.
On October 19, 1970, a U.S. Army officer–Major McNiff–notified
Mr. and Mrs. Lovett of their son’s death. They requested that his
remains be consigned to Corridan Funeral Home in Chicopee, Massachusetts,
and that he receive a full military funeral.
The Corridan Funeral Home was owned by Donald and Maddy Corridan–parents
of Bernie’s fiancée, Kathy. 1LT William E. Dobbs of Fort Devens,
Massachusetts served as escort from Philadelphia to Hartford, Connecticut,
on October 23. Funeral services, which were televised by a local ABC
affiliate, were held at 10:00am on October 26 at St. Michael’s Cemetery
in Springfield. Military honors were rendered by a detail from Fort
Devens and 1LT Dobbs presented the American flag to Mr. and Mrs. Lovett.
1LT Bernard James Lovett Jr. was posthumously awarded
the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Before
his death, he was awarded the Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service
Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, and the Sharpshooter Badge with automatic
rifle bar. In 1973, the Department of the Army issued a general
order (DAGO 11, 73) that awarded a Meritorious Unit Commendation to
Advisory Team 43 for the period April 15, 1970 through April 15, 1972.
Bernard James Lovett Jr. is buried in Plot 3 of St.
Clare 65 at St. Michael’s Cemetery in Springfield, Massachusetts.
He was the 46th Springfield resident to perish in the
Vietnam War. A plaque on the
school podium at Greenfield Junior High School, where he once taught,
honors his memory. His name
appears on Panel 6 West, Line 4 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in
Army Quartermaster Museum,
Mortuary Affairs Center, Fort Lee, Virginia, March 2000 (http://www.qmmuseum.lee.army.mil/mortuary/MA-Vietnam.html):
memorial affairs activities in Vietnam.
Cutler, Thomas J., The Battle
of Leyte Gulf, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994):
of Battle of Leyte Gulf.
D’Amato, Donald J., Springfield—350
Years, (Norfolk, Virginia: The Donning Company, 1985): information on
the defense industry in Springfield, Massachusetts during World War II.
Defense Mapping Agency Topographic
Center: map, Stock No. 1501XNC483***03, digitized by Jim Henthorn and
available on the web in January 2002 (http://www.nexus.net/~911gfx.vietnam.html).
Department of the Army, U.S. Total
Army Personnel Command: releasable information from the Individual
Deceased Personnel File of Bernard James Lovett Jr.
Donovan, David, Once A Warrior
King, (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1985): information on U.S.
Army advisory activities in Vietnam.
Doolittle, James Harold, I
Could Never Be So Lucky Again, (New York: Bantam Books, 1991):
information on the “Big Week.”
MacGarrigle, George L., Combat
Operations, TAKING THE OFFENSIVE, October 1966 to October 1967,
(Washington, DC: Center of Military History, United States Army, 1998):
information on Hau Nghia Province and the Iron Triangle.
National Archives and Records
Administration, National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel
Records: releasable information from the Enlisted Qualification Record and
Officer Qualification Record of Bernard James Lovett Jr.
Selective Service System: Registration Card and Classification Record of Bernard James Lovett Jr.
[Southeast 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.
Stanton, Shelby L., Vietnam
Order of Battle (Washington, DC: U.S. News Books, 1981): information
on the 25th Infantry Division and U.S. Army advisory activities
U.S. Army Topographic Engineering
Center, Geographic Translator (GEOTRANS) Version 2.2.1: for converting
military grid references (MGRS) to latitude and longitude (World Geodetic
Wheal, Elizabeth-Anne, Pope,
Stephen, Taylor, James, The Meridian Encyclopedia of the Second World
War, (New York: Penguin Publishing, 1992): information on D-Day
Bacon, Franklyn C.: conversations
with the author from April 2001 through March 2002.
Cooper, John: correspondence with
Christine Lovett in March 2002.
Corridan, Barry: conversation
with the author in April 2002.
Fotopulos, James: conversation
with the author in March 2002.
Greenfield Public Schools: description of “LT. B. J. LOVETT JR. CITIZENSHIP AWARD,” and copy of
letter from Bernard Lovett to James Fotopulos.
Lovett, Christine: correspondence
with the author from December 2001 to March 2002.
Nee, Elizabeth: conversation and
correspondence with the author in March 2002.
Oyler, Norman: conversations with
the author in March 2002.
Powers, James E.: telephone
interviews and correspondence with the author from January through March
Ropple, John T.:
telephone interview with the author in January 2002.
Tenney, William: conversation with
the author in March 2002.
Welch, Russell: correspondence
with the author in January 2002.