The World War I and II memorials across from Town Hall are impressive. This weekend — as we honor our veterans — they’ll get their well-deserved share of attention.
But nearby lies a smaller, less-noticed plaque. This one salutes 5 Westporters killed in Vietnam. Timothy M. Barmmer (Marine Corps), Michael B. Paquin and Stephen A. Shortall (Army) and Frederick M. Rader III and Francis A. Walsh (Air Force) are cited for their “honorable service in Southeast Asia, in the face of uncommon adversity.”
In January 1968 — more than a year after arriving in Vietman — Tim Barmmer wrote to his parents in Westport:
Listen, I’m sorry I’ve waited so long, but I went to Bangkok for 7 days, and when I got back we were pretty busy.
I guess you’ve heard a lot about Khe Sanh on the news & stuff, but DON’T WORRY! I’ll be honest, we’ve been getting hit with rocket & artillery every day, & they’ve surrounded us, but if you’ve seen the support we get, you’d feel as good as I do.
We have built a bunker so good, NOTHING could get through it — believe me.
We have jets bombing the area every 15 minutes, gunships, & B52 bombers every day. Feel a little better? I have not been SCRATCHED. The American flag flies atop our hole, unscathed!
We call ourselves the “glorious untouchables” and we’ve been put in for two more medals. How about that?
I’m pretty sure they’ll be pulling us out after all this is over, ’cause we’ve lost about 40 in a month — maybe we’ll go to Okinawa or something!
Bangkok was REALLY GREAT! I’m gonna go back there some day — met some really good people there. Thailand people are really friendly & good to Americans. It was terrific R&R!
I have a lot of work to do. Take care of yourself, and remember – I AM FINE — morale is terrific, and the guys are fighting their hearts out. Keep praying as I am, and we’ll keep fighting for you.
I made TV carrying a wounded News Coresspondent down the street — look for me on CBS! How about that?
Don’t worry, please. Give my love to all, and I’ll see you in 4 1/2 months. Love you all,
Two days later — on January 30, 1968 — Lance Corporal Timothy M. Barmmer was killed by enemy fire. He was 20 years old.
A recon corpsman said, “He died in my arms. He died trying to get someone else in the bunker during incoming… Tim was literally throwing people in (the bunker). Shrapnel got to him.”
Later, Tim’s parents received a letter from a woman named Viola Howes. Her son Roger had often written about Tim — his best friend, and someone who “made this place bearable.”
This time, Roger wrote about his best friend’s death. Viola wanted another mother to read Roger’s words:
Yesterday evening we were sitting in our bunker eating C rations and a rocket came in about 3 feet from it. Huck (Tim’s nickname), Doc, Mac and Zeke were outside heating chow. Huck tried to push them in like the big stupid loveable guy he was and took the blast and was killed instantly. The other 3 are in serious condition and sent back to the States.
My God, what a dear friend we’ve lost, Huck was big and big hearted, he could be gruff yet gentle. We loved him like a brother and he left an impression that could never be forgotten. Everyone in our company could not help but like him. He was first to help a new guy coming in. He was the first one to welcome me here. This place can never be the same without him.
God has some purpose in it I know, but Oh God, we will miss him. Could you do me a very great favor and have a Mass said for Huck. His name is Timothy Barmmer. Thanks Mom, so much.”
Timothy Barmmer’s name is engraved on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, DC. It’s panel 35E, Row 65.
His name lives forever, too, in the much smaller — but no less significant — Vietnam veterans’ plaque opposite Town Hall, right here in Tim Barmmer’s hometown.
What a meaningful and touching story
Nice story, Dan, about this sorrowful loss. Just over three years later, I went into Khe Sanh as part of a big US Army operation to set up a staging area for an ARVN incursion into Laos. I still remember walking through the remnants of the siege in which Cpl.Barmmer died, the craters from the rocket and mortar fire, and the shards of shrapnel and flèchettes kicked up with every step. The saddest thing was that we were coming into an empty Khe Sanh that had been abandoned not long after the siege ended, raising the still-unanswered question of what was the point of that battle — and so many others?
Nice story Dan.
I am curious about two names on the plaque.
Michael Paquin and Stephen Shortall
They don’t have a branch of the miltary next to their names like the other three, just “USA”.
I was just wondering in what capacity they were serving over in Vietnam.
Wrecker, they were most likely US Army (USA) personnel.
Tim was in my class at Staples — 1966 — and in my homeroom for three years. A very kind and quiet kid. Like our football captain Steve Doig he was one of many classmates who found themselves in the jungles of Vietnam just a year or two — or even sooner — after high school. It was a different and difficult time in a very different Westport. As Memorial Day approaches I’ll be thinking of Timmy, Steve and all of our classmates who served in Vietnam during that era, and of our fathers, nearly all of whom were WWII and/or Korean War vets. Steve’s question remains unanswered.
USA is commonly used on memorial plaques to denote “United States Army.”
Michael Paquin was a staff sergeant with the 25th Infantry Division. He was killed in December 1967. Lt. Stephen Shortall, Army fixed wing aviation, was killed in February 1969 when the Spectre gunship he was plloting was shot down. His remains were not recovered until 1980. Sgt. Paquin was 22 years old at the time of his death, Lt. Shortall was 23.
Tom.. my husband was E-4 Thomas Beeb Chambers, he died 12/16/67 from wounds received 12/15/67 in the same incident with SSGT Michael Bradley Paquin. There were a total of 7 men wounded 4 died including my husband and Michael. After all these years, I am FINALLY in contact with some people who was there on this dreadful day of 12/15/67 45 years ago. I do not know if Michael Paquin has any relatives still in the area…but if there are, I would love to be in contact with them. Sincerely, Dorothy Chambers
Thanks for this great post!
After 40 years, It’s my opinion that the “collective guilt” of a nation over how it treated returning Vietnam veterans, allowed those of us returning to Iraq from our two weeks of leave to walk in two lines through the Atlanta airport to thunderous, almost embarrassing applause, from virtually every citizen in the terminal.
At that time, Iraq was no more popular than Vietnam.
As cliché as it sounds, the American people no longer routinely “mistake the war with the warrior”, but sadly, we only got there on the back of Vietnam veterans.
I was offered a first-class seat by the airline when I flew from Atlanta to Florida to meet my family on that same leave. I felt too out of place to do anything but thank the guy, and hustle back to coach!
My experience and those of returning Vietnam veterans was night and day.
I couldn’t help but think of a story told by Dennis Mannion, who has visited Staples High School on numerous occasions to talk about his year in Vietnam as a Marine Forward Observer.
Dennis was an English teacher at Sheehan HS in Wallingford for a number of years, and just recently retired. He survived the entire horrible siege at Khe Sanh, receiving two Purple Hearts during this time.
He tells the story of returning from Vietnam, when he flew out of San Francisco back to New York, hoping to be at Yale Bowl that coming weekend for a football game with his old high school friends. He sat next to a man in a suit with a briefcase on his lap, the 1968 equivalent of an iPad.
As they buckled in, the man turned toward Dennis who was in uniform. He politely asked: “Where are you coming from?” Dennis replied “Vietnam”.
The man then asked: “Did you see any action?” to which Dennis responded humbly: “Yeah. A little”.
The flight was uneventful until the plane rose to cruising altitude, when the “man in the suit” turned on the flight attendant light. When the flight attendant responded, she asked: “Can I help you?”
The “man in the suit” responded: “Yeah. Get me a seat as far away from this guy as you possible can!”
I hope as this Memorial Day weekend approaches, the generation who at best turned their backs on Vietnam Veterans, and at worst treated them with utter contempt will take a moment to reflect on the service of those incredible service members. Forty years later, please reflect on the bravery of these Warriors who did nothing except what the politicians of the day asked them to do for this nation.
To all Vietnam Veterans, thank you for your service. You paved the way for those of us who came after you, and this generation of Soldiers will never forget your sacrifice.
Thanks for all your years of service, Rich, and for your memorable remarks at the Sportsmen of Westport dinner two nights ago (where my sister, Suzy, was among the honorees). Almost all of my friends who served in Vietnam can echo your friend’s airplane experience and share your sentiments. I clearly recall seeing servicemen walking through airports in those years. : Navy and Air Force uniforms were plentiful, and soldiers, of course, including Green Berets and paratroopers with their trousers tucked into jump boots — and those distrinctive Marine uniforms that never change from war to war. All these guys appeared to go about their business in a vacuum, speaking to no one and not being spoken to, lost in their thoughts and isolation. It was a shameful — and noble — time.
There were many strategies over the years. Search & Destroy was the main battle plan and meant go out looking for VC (Viet Cong), the local bad guys, or the NVA (North Vietnam Army) and kill ’em. There were “Clearing Operations” designed to simply get the bad guys to leave an area. All these operations required both air and artillery support. Bad weather meant no air cause pilots could not see the targets, so artillery was the only backup. Bases such as Khe Sanh were strategically placed to provide this artillery whenever needed. They were constantly under both harassing intermittent direct and artillery fire and occasional full frontal assaults. The first incoming round was the most dangerous because you only had seconds to dive (literally) for cover into a bunker or under something. As he said, his bunker could take a direct hit. But you had to be in it.
We needed those bases to support offensive operations and get outnumbered forces out of a fire fight. They were sitting ducks, but a necessary component of the military strategy.
We had B-52s, helicopter gunships, tanks, naval gunfire, Agent Orange, napalm, and jet planes. They had rifles and flip flops. We shoulda seen the writing on the wall early on that they had the greater will to win.
As Mao Tse-Tung said: “The guerilla is the fish that swims in the sea of the people.” The VC were supported by the people and we were the interlopers. SOUND FAMILIAR?
God bless our warriors.
God forgive our politicians.
When Tim was killed, several members of the Westport Police Department volunteered to provide an honor guard at his funeral service in Westport. I was proud and honored to be a member of that group. – Dick Alley
I remember Tim well. We went through Assumption School together. The story made me cry and remember that he was a very kind, gentle man. So young and so idealistic. I’m happy to have read the whole story – I had never heard it before. Thanks Dan.
As a teacher of English at Staples for past 9 years, I have had the honor of reading, discussing, analyzing, thinking, and writing about Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” with students of Westport. The focus of the book is Vietnam and all its associated complexities.
One chapter, “How to Tell a True War Story,” focuses on a soldier coping with the loss of a close friend by telling and retelling the lost friend’s story. As the chapter ends, O’Brien shares that each time he tells his stories, people often wonder why he tells “war stories.”
“It wasn’t a war story. It was a love story.”
For me, this statement defines Memorial Day.
Great story. Kinda sums it up 🙂
This is a tough one to read, especially when you have a 20 year-old son asleep upstairs. He’s another big, strong, gentle soul who would do for somebody else before thinking about the consequences. Now more than ever, as I grow older, I see that these ‘heroes’ were just kids who would have rather been playing their music and hanging with their friends in the afternoon. They were forced to put on enormous shoes and fill them like the magnificent warriors that they became.
I pray for them; I pray, especially, for their parents who lost the luxury of knowing that their darlings are slumbering peacefully nearby. These boys – these great men – have helped to make that peace a reality and, for that I say “thank you.”
My parents knew the Barmers, they lived on Daybreak Lane, .. I’ve always wondered about him so thanks for this story, Dan. Also, during the vietnam era, a 19 year old Westporter was killed over the Mediterannian in a helicopter crash. His name was Paul Adinolfi and he was a kind soul, friend and classmate. I wonder what other towns have done in that situation. It was wartime.. he lost his life in the line of duty… does that qualify? Just wondering. His parents are gone but his three siblings are around.
Thank you for putting a soul behind the name on the plaque. And many, many thanks to all our military and their families who sacrifice more than I can ever imagine.
Awesome reporting, Dan. These stories need to be told, especially at this time of year.
This is such a special story, Dan, and it will make our Memorial Day even more poignant. When we go to the parade on Monday morning, I will walk over to see this plaque. I believe that Tim must have been the younger brother of the late Roger Barmmer, a member of the Staples class of 1960. Both good guys!
Very grateful to get the background on Tim’s mission and final hours ….. to read his words (hear his voice) …. and the words of his friend in arms. The Joneses and Barmers were good friends …. many kids in each family; siblings matching ages of each other. We mustn’t forget prayers of intention for our fallen heroes and classmates and friends ………… no matter how long it has been. Thanks again. Jeremy Jones – Staples ’66
Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. You words give meaning to the word “sacrifice” and define the true purpose of Memorial Day. Memorial Day is not about hamburgers and cookouts; Memorial Day is about remembering those who have come before and have sacrificed so that we can have what we have today. Thank you.
Joe is right…Memorial Day is for remembering those who lost their lives so that we may continue to enjoy Freedom.
Through Tim”s brother Russ, I feel I have got to know why Tim was loved so much. May he rest in Peace.
Don Morrison WWII Combat Corpsman Marines