BRATTLEBORO—Fifty years ago, in 1965, the first sizable contingent of U.S. combat forces was deployed to Vietnam.
That was “the year the Vietnam war really got going,” said Brattleboro attorney Tom Costello, a Marine officer from 1968 to 1971, with a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart among his combat decorations from his service.
American Legion Post 5 in Brattleboro is planning a ceremony at the post home on Linden Street on Saturday, Nov. 21, at 5 p.m., to honor the 11 area men who were killed in action in Vietnam: Stanley M. Baker, William K. Bassignani. John C. Blake, Paul R. Dartt, Darwin James Delano, Fred C.H. Frappiea Jr., Howard W. Kaiser, Joseph R. LaRose, William W. O’Neil, Ernie Sanville, and Jan Alan Ulmer.
“We’re trying to bring together as many of the family members of each of these men as we can locate,” said Costello. “And we’d like to gather as many of the area Vietnam vets as possible for this ceremony.”
The 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade arrived in Da Nang on March 8, 1965. A few months later, the first major conventional battle of the war took place in the Ia Drang Valley on Nov. 14-18, 1965. It pitted two brigades from the U.S. Army’s 1st Cavalry Division against two regiments of the North Vietnamese Army.
By year’s end, more than 200,000 U.S. service personnel found themselves in Vietnam, including several from southeast Vermont and southwest New Hampshire. In Brattleboro Union High School’s class of 1964 alone, 24 men served in the war.
Similar to the Memorial Day ceremony that Costello helped to organize earlier this year to mark the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, a group of Brattleboro Union High School students will read the names and a brief biography of each of the 11 men.
Costello said BUHS social studies teacher Bill Holiday led the student effort, which involved interviews with surviving members of the families of the fallen service members as well as historical research.
Afterward, a brief address will be given by Dr. Robert Tortolani, a combat battalion surgeon during the Vietnam War.
The toastmaster of the event will be retired Navy vice-admiral Barry M. Costello, who served in the Navy from 1973 to 2007. A decorated veteran of the Persian Gulf War, he was the commanding officer of the Navy’s Third Fleet from 2005 to 2007.
Both brothers are Rutland natives. Tom Costello said his brother, who now lives in Seattle, is coming back to Vermont at his own expense to participate in this event.
Costello said his motivation for helping to organize this memorial event is twofold.
First, “we want to recognize these people, and what our country owes them,” he said.
But he also wants “to connect the Vietnam guys and help them to reach out to the younger vets” who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And to “help them out in any way we can,” he said.