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© 2002 by Stephen A. Judycki.  All Rights Reserved.
Bernard James Lovett Jr.
by Stephen Judycki


Preface

 

           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 after 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 story's factual aspects provided for some.  

 

           "The End" 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

Wilbraham, Massachusetts

January 19, 2003

 


Table of Contents

 

1.  The End 10.  Trang Bang District
2.  The Beginning 11.  Operations
3.  The Lovett Family 12.  Together Again
4.  The Neighborhood 13.  October 16, 1970
5.  Growing Up 14.  Final Journey
6.  Young Man 15.  Awards and Decorations
7.  Greenfield 16.  Requiescat In Pace
8.  The Army 17.  Published Sources
9. Vietnam 18.  Unpublished Sources
   

 

The End

 

           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 Dothan, Alabama.

           

           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 5:57pm.

 

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 Beginning

 

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.

 

 The Lovett Family

 

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 Neighborhood

 

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.  

 

Growing Up

 

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.

 

Young Man

 

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 study.”

 

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.

 

Greenfield

 

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.

 

The Army

 

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 Fort Lewis.

 

          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.”

 

Vietnam

 

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 VietnamLocated northeast of Saigon, Di An was the former home of the 1st 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 through 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.

 

MAT-21's 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 Benning, Georgia.

 

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, the desk 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!”

 

Operations

 

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.  

 

In 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 helicopter.  

 

After several 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 forever breaking.

 

Together Again

 

            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.

 

October 16, 1970

 

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.

 

Final Journey

 

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.

 

Awards and Decorations

 

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.

 

Requiescat In Pace

 

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 Washington, DC.

Published Sources:

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):  information 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 in Vietnam.

 

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 System).

 

Wheal, Elizabeth-Anne, Pope, Stephen, Taylor, James, The Meridian Encyclopedia of the Second World War, (New York: Penguin Publishing, 1992):  information on D-Day invasion.

 

Unpublished Sources:

 

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 2002.

 

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.

 


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