3 Fathers And Their Sons Who Made The Ultimate Sacrifice During The Vietnam War

History

From the start of American operations in the Vietnam War in 1961  to to the end of direct U.S. military involvement in 1973, more than 3 million Americans served in the conflict, half of whom saw combat. The deeply divisive war came to define a generation, as did its toll on human life.


During the Vietnam War, 303,644 Americans were wounded and 58,307 killed. While nearly 7,500 women served in Vietnam, the majority of whom were nurses, the overwhelming majority of combat injuries and deaths were men — though not all.

That means that for each casualty, there was one less husband, friend, brother, father, or son; in a few cases, families were forced to endure multiple tragedies.

Here are three fathers and their sons who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country during Vietnam.

Richard B. Fitzgibbon Jr. and his son Richard B. Fitzgibbon III

Richard Fitzgibbon Jr., left, and his son Richard Fitzgibbon III, right.

Tech. Sgt. Richard B. Fitzgibbon Jr., a former Navy veteran who served during World War II and then later joined the Air Force, was the first American killed in the Vietnam War. Fitzgibbon was shot by a fellow airman who had been drinking heavily following an argument between the two, according to a 2012 Boston.com report. Fitzgibbon was handing out candy to a group of children in Saigon when the man walked over, drew his sidearm, and shot him. He died of his wounds days later on June 8, 1956. He was 36 years old.

His son, Lance Cpl. Richard B. Fitzgibbon III, was killed in combat on Sept. 7, 1965, in Quang Tin, Vietnam, at the age of 21. His aunt, Alice DelRossi said that Fitzgibbon followed in his father’s footsteps, joining the Marines after graduating high school, because he wanted to connect to the place where his father had died.

However, it wasn’t until 1999 that the elder Fitzgibbon found his rightful place on the Vietnam Memorial wall. When the Department of Defense began compiling its casualty database for the war, the conflict’s start date was listed Jan. 1, 1961, five years after his death.

With the help of U.S. Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, the Fitzgibbon family succeeded in persuading DoD to recognize that military advisers were in Vietnam as of Nov. 1, 1955, which made Fitzgibbon Jr. the first American casualty of the war.

Leo Hester Sr. and his son Leo Hester Jr.

Leo Hester Sr., left, and his son Leo Hester Jr., right.

On March 10, 1967, Navy pilot Lt. Cmdr. Leo Claude Hester Sr. died in an aircraft crash in Ninh Thuan, Vietnam. He was 43 years old. Tragically, less than two years later his son, an aviator in the Army, would suffer the same fate.

Twenty-year-old Army Warrant Officer Leo Claude Hester Jr. was also killed in an aircraft crash, on Nov. 2, 1969, while serving as a helicopter pilot in Tay Ninh, Vietnam.

According to the website TogetherWeServed.com, both father and son are buried next to each other at Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola, Florida.

Fred C. Jenkins and his son Bert M. Jenkins

Army Spc. 5 Fred C. Jenkins, a welder in the Ordnance Corps, drowned on April 2, 1968, in Hau Nghia, Vietnam, at the age of 49. A year later, his son, Warrant Officer Bert McCree Jenkins was killed in action on April 28, 1969, after the Huey he was piloting was shot down by small arms fire. Jenkins, who served with the Army’s 1st Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, was flying armed reconnaissances in support of a convoy. He was hit during the engagement and succumbed to his wounds in a hospital after he was recovered.

Bert Jenkins was 29 years old when he was killed and is buried at the Louisville Memorial Gardens in Kentucky.

Photo by Austin Kirk
(Photo: CNN/screenshot)

NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO — A Navy SEAL sniper on Wednesday contradicted earlier testimony of fellow SEALs who claimed he had fired warning shots to scare away civilian non-combatants before Chief Eddie Gallagher shot them during their 2017 deployment to Mosul, and said he would not want to deploy again with one of the prosecution's star witnesses.

Special Operator 1st Class Joshua Graffam originally invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege before Navy Judge Capt. Aaron Rugh gave him immunity in order to compel his testimony.

Graffam testified that Gallagher was essentially justified in the shooting of a man he is accused of unlawfully targeting, stating that "based off everything i had seen so far ... in my opinion, they were two shitheads moving from one side of the road to the other."

Spotting for Gallagher in the tower that day, Graffam said, he called out the target to him and he fired. He said the man was hit in the upper torso and ran away.

Graffam, who joined the Navy in 2010 and has been assigned to SEAL Team 7's Alpha Platoon since September 2015, deployed alongside Gallagher to Mosul in 2017, occasionally acting as a spotter for Gallagher when the SEALs were tasked with providing sniper support for Iraqi forces from two towers east of the Tigris River.

Another SEAL, Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Dalton Tolbert, had previously testified under direct examination by prosecutors that, while stationed in the south tower of a bombed-out building in June 2017, he had observed Gallagher shoot and kill an elderly civilian.

"He ran north to south across the road," Tolbert testified on Friday. "That's when I saw the red mark on his back and I saw him fall for the first time. Blood started to pool and I knew it was a square hit in the back." Over the radio, he said he heard Gallagher tell the other snipers, "you guys missed him but I got him."

Former SO1 Dylan Dille, who was also in the south tower that day, testified last week that he watched an old man die from a sniper shot on Father's Day. He said the date stuck out in his mind because he thought the man was probably a father.

Later that day, after the mission, Graffam said he spoke with Dille about the shooting and they disagreed about the circumstances. Dille, he said, believed the man was a noncombatant.

"I, on the other hand, was confident that the right shot was taken," Graffam said, although he said later under cross-examination that the man was unarmed. Dille previously testified that the SEALs were authorized to shoot unarmed personnel if they first received signals intelligence or other targeting information.

Photo: Paul Szoldra/Task & Purpose

Graffam described the man as a male between 40 and 50 years old wearing black clothing, giving him the impression of an ISIS fighter who was moving in a "tactical" manner. He testified that he did not see anything like Dille had described.

Graffam further testified that he didn't see Gallagher take any shots that he shouldn't have on that day or any other.

Although Graffam said he did not hear of allegations that Gallagher had stabbed a wounded ISIS fighter on deployment, he testified that he started to hear rumblings in early 2018. Chief Craig Miller, he said, asked him at one point whether he would "cooperate" with others in reporting him.

When asked whether he would like to serve with Miller again in a SEAL platoon, Graffam said, "I don't feel as confident about it." A member of the jury later asked him why he'd feel uncomfortable deploying with Miller and he responded, "I just wouldn't."

Graffam said he would serve with Gallagher again if given the chance.

Under cross examination by prosecutors, Graffam said he couldn't say whether there were warning shots fired that day, though Dille and Tolbert both said happened. "There were multiple shots throughout the day," Graffam said.

Prosecutors also asked him about his previous statements to NCIS, in which Graffam said of Miller that "he has good character" and was "a good guy." Graffam confirmed he said just that.

Defense attorney Tim Parlatore, however, said those statements were back in January and "a lot had happened since then." Parlatore said Graffam had also said at the time that Gallagher was a good leader.

"That part remains unchanged, correct?" Parlatore asked.

"Yes," Graffam said.

The defense is expected to call more witnesses in the case, which continues on Thursday.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexi Myrick)

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