And then there were four
It's been nearly 46 years since Army Spc. Terryl Glenn Partsafas died in Thua Thien, Vietnam, at the age of 20.
Memories of the era are vivid for his widow, Linda Fitzsimmons, who had given birth five months before Partsafas was killed on Nov. 29, 1968.
When a call went out two weeks ago for photos of Jackson County servicemen who died during the Vietnam War, Fitzsimmons pulled pictures from her files to send to the Faces Never Forgotten website that will be displayed at the Education Center near the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
"It brought back a lot of memories," Fitzsimmons said. "I think it was something that needed to be done."
In the months and years after her husband died, Fitzsimmons consoled other women who had lost husbands.
"After Terry died, when I would see something in the paper, I would write to let them know they weren't alone," Fitzsimmons said. "There were others of us going through the same thing. It not only helped me, but it made me realize I wasn't the only one going through it."
When Partsafas' son, Dan, was born on July 6, 1968, Partsafas got leave from Fort Lewis, Wash., before shipping out to Vietnam.
"He left when Dan was 10 days old," Fitzsimmons said. "The thing that saved me at the time was that I had a baby to take care of."
The photos she forwarded went to Janna Hoehn, a volunteer with the Faces Never Forgotten project, an effort to put a face and a story to every name that appears on the Vietnam Wall. When the Mail Tribune featured the project on Jan. 18, Hoehn was still missing 16 photos of local servicemen who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Eleven of those have now come in.
The five for whom no photos have been attained are:
- Army Staff Sgt. Samuel Betz
- Army Capt. Barry Alan Bowman
- Navy machinist David Lloyd Dixon
- Army Pfc. Keith Leroy Shipp
- Army Spc. Michael Stephen Collins
(see correction, below)
"I received 97 photos for the whole state of Oregon within two weeks, with a lot more promises of photos," said Hoehn, whose ambition to unearth missing photos began in 2011.
"I have completed five counties in Oregon 100 percent and have five more where I'm needing only one or two more photos."
Along with Partsafas' photo, digital likenesses of varying quality flowed to Hoehn of Marine Corps Lance Cpl. John Merton Boyce, Navy storekeeper Glen Wayne Bradley, Army Sgt. Johnny Lee Fulton, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Austin Clifford Lane, Army Pfc. Michael Lester Lawson, Army Spc. Perry Andre Le Clerc, Army Spc. John Henry O'Brien, Army Cpl. Larry Freeman Ott, Marine Corps Pfc. Darrell Vernon Peck and Marine Corps Pfc. James Carl Whisnan.
Boyce's widow, Roseanna Boyce, was 17 when they married Jan. 1, 1968. A month later, he left for Vietnam, and he died March 2 during the Tet Offensive in Quang Tri province. Back home, Roseanna Boyce had the couple's baby girl later that year.
"It still seems like it happened not that long ago," said Boyce, who moved outside Dallas, Texas, three years ago. "It's still painful and something you live with every day. Your heart goes out to those going through it now. Back then I didn't know what to do. I realize now how lost I was, and I feel for these younger women."
Boyce remarried, but the relationship didn't last.
"He was the love of my life," she said of John Boyce. "I tried to replace him, but you can't replace someone like that. No one will ever fill those shoes."
While the 58,300 servicemen and women who died in Vietnam may have known the war was tearing America apart, the comrades in arms who returned stateside discovered a bitter reality.
Alfred Glen Fitzsimmons, who later married Partsafas' widow and adopted his son, drove the ambulance that carried the lance corporal's body en route to its return to the U.S., although he didn't know it at the time.
Now retired and living in Medford, Fitzsimmons was wounded but returned to action and served a total of 27 months in Vietnam.
"While he was waiting for the plane with other soldiers in San Francisco, people spit on them, called them baby killers, and treated them terribly," Linda Fitzsimmons said. "After he got home, he had a really hard time with nightmares and the way people treated him."
Projects such as Faces Never Forgotten have done their part to heal the deep hurt.
"I've chatted with a lot of people about it, and Alfred was really thrilled when it came out, because he knew several of the guys," Fitzsimmons said. "I told Janna about it on the phone, and she said to give him a hug and kiss from her, because he's a real hero."
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.
Note: The photo of Michael Stephen Collins that ran with this story was actually a photo of Michael Rex Collins, who lives in Cave Creek, Ariz. The picture was submitted to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund organization and posted on the website but will be removed, organizers say. A photo of Michael Stephen Collins is still needed.