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© 2002 by Stephen A. Judycki.  All Rights Reserved.

Donald Constande
by Stephen Judycki

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 decades.

          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, South Carolina.

          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 service.

China Marine

          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 Carrier.

          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 Medal.

Home Again

          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 Forces Institute. 

          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 placed first.

          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 youth.

          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 Company Course.”

          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 individual Marine.

          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:


          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 answered.

          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 shredded.

          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 that clear?"

          The people in the cave refused to come out.  The interpreter screamed at them.  They came out.

          "Check it."

          "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.

Posthumous Memoranda

My dear Mrs. Constande,

          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.

Sincerely yours,

Richard D. Hughes

Captain, U.S. Marine Corps


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

Casualty Status

DD Form 1300 

17 August 1966


Message from Naval Dispensary San Francisco

19 August 1966

Dear Mrs. Constande:

          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

Dear Mrs. Constande:

          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, Jr.

General, U. S. Marine Corps

Commandant of the Marine Corps

25 August 1966

Post Script

          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 library acquired.

          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.

Principal Sources:

Constande, Frances Virginia:  telephone interviews with the author in June and August  2001.

Constande, George:  telephone interview with the author in August 2001.

Constande, Stephen:  telephone interviews with the author in September 2001.

Department of the Navy, Headquarters United States Marine Corps:  releasable information from the Official Military Personnel File of GySgt Donald Constande.

Department of Veterans Affairs, National Cemetery Administration:  burial information for Donald Constande.

Hammond’s World Atlas, Classics Edition, (New York: C. S. Hammond & Company, 1955).

Pannell, Clifton W., “BEIJING, China,” (, August 8, 2001).

Parker, William D., Captain, USMCR, A Concise History of the UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS 1775 – 1969, (Washington: Historical Division, Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1970).

Rabideau, Stella (Constande):  telephone interview and meeting with the author in August 2001.

Selective Service System:  Registration Card and Classification Record for Donald Constande. 

[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.

West, Francis J. Jr., Captain, USMCR, “A Hot Walk In The Sun” (Washington: History and Museums Division, HQMC, 1967).


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