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
Ryan Kules

Editor's note: A combat wounded veteran, Ryan served in the U.S. Army as an armor officer assigned to 1st Battalion, 13th Armor Regiment. While deployed to Iraq in 2005, his vehicle was hit with an improvised explosive device buried in the road. He works as the Wounded Warrior Project's national Combat Stress Recovery Program director.

On Nov. 29, 2005, my life changed forever. I was a 24-year-old U.S. Army armor captain deployed to Taji, Iraq, when my vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device. On that day, I lost two of my soldiers, Sgts. Jerry Mills and Donald Hasse, and I lost my right arm and left leg.

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(U.S. Marine Corps photo)

CAMP PENDLETON — Susan and Michael McDowell attended a memorial in June for their son, 1st Lt. Conor McDowell. Kathleen Isabel Bourque, the love of Conor's life, joined them. None of them had anticipated what they would be going through.

Conor, the McDowells' only child, was killed during a vehicle rollover accident in the Las Pulgas area of Camp Pendleton during routine Marine training on May 9. He was 24.

Just weeks before that emotional ceremony, Alexandrina Braica, her husband and five children attended a similar memorial at the same military base, this to honor Staff Sgt. Joshua Braica, a member of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion who also was killed in a rollover accident, April 13, at age 29.

Braica, of Sacramento, was married and had a 4 1/2-month-old son.

"To see the love they had for Josh and to see the respect and appreciation was very emotional," Alexandrina Braica said of the battalion. "They spoke very highly of him and what a great leader he was. One of his commanders said, 'He was already the man he was because of the way he was raised.' As parents, we were given some credit."

While the tributes helped the McDowells and Braicas process their grief, the families remain unclear about what caused the training fatalities. They expected their sons eventually would deploy and put their lives at risk, but they didn't expect either would die while training on base.

"We're all still in denial, 'Did this really happen? Is he really gone?' Braica said. "When I got the phone call, Josh was not on my mind. That's why we were at peace. He was always in training and I never felt that it would happen at Camp Pendleton."

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(Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

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The United States' pattern of "unilaterally reneging on its commitments" is leading Pyongyang to reconsider its own commitments to discontinue tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the ministry said in a pair of statements released through state news agency KCNA.

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A deported Marine Corps veteran who has been unable to come back to the U.S. for more than a decade was denied entry to the country Monday morning when he asked to be let in for a scheduled citizenship interview.

Roman Sabal, 58, originally from Belize, came to the San Ysidro Port of Entry around 7:30 on Monday morning with an attorney to ask for "parole" to attend his naturalization interview scheduled for a little before noon in downtown San Diego. Border officials have the authority to temporarily allow people into the country on parole for "humanitarian or significant public benefit" reasons.

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Jeff Schogol

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer took the reins at the Pentagon on Monday, becoming the third acting defense secretary since January.

Spencer is expected to temporarily lead the Pentagon while the Senate considers Army Secretary Mark Esper's nomination to succeed James Mattis as defense secretary. The Senate officially received Esper's nomination on Monday.

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