Thomas Deitemeyer was a quiet young man who loved hunting and fishing.
He worked at the Kemper Cabinet plant in Richmond before joining the U.S. Army in 1966.
He didn’t want to go to Vietnam, his mother Evelyn Deitemeyer said in 1990, but he tried to calm her fears by telling her, “I’ll only be over there for a year.”
He died there Feb. 12, 1967, 11 days short of his 21st birthday. He was a platoon leader, walking patrol in the Mekong Delta when one of the men walking behind him stepped on a land mine. Deitemeyer and several other soldiers were killed.
Today, his name is listed on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., Panel 15E Line 019, and on The Wall That Heals that opens Wednesday in Richmond.
Deitemeyer was one of the 40 men from Wayne County killed in Vietnam. He, in many ways, is representative of those who died in that far away war in that far away land.
They were young, good looking men, trusted sons, loving brothers, husbands, cousins and classmates, full of energy and purpose. Futures were bright in those days as young men thought of cars and girls, high school graduation and landing good jobs.
Clothing was going mod, music morphing from Motown and surf tunes to psychedelic. Manufacturing was still booming and factory jobs were plentiful, but there was this distant war and a chance to serve and see the world.
Most understood little of the politics that surrounded Vietnam. Many could not find it on a map. But they knew this war was expanding, communism must be stopped, and they knew their country needed them.
Most were just anxious and proud to serve.
PFC Darrell Lee Covington attended Short High School in Liberty and was a 1968 Richmond High School graduate. He worked at Johns-Manville after graduation until he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He was killed in fighting near An Hoa in South Vietnam June 9, 1969. He was 19 years old.
These men had many things in common. One was that their parents really never got over the loss. Covington’s father, Lee Covington of Richmond, wrote a poem to his son, which was published in a Johns-Manville newsletter.
In a short excerpt, his father wrote
“He was full of life and he lived it well,
But he loved his country more than tongue can tell.
Yes, his life was short with its laughter and pain
But I know that someday we will meet again.”
Covington’s name is at Panel 23W Line 188.
Robert Person worked as a machine operator at NATCO before being drafted into the U.S. Army. He was walking patrol when he stepped on a land mine. He died three days later, Sept. 11, 1969.
“He was a very good son,” his mother, Mary Louise Person, said in 1990. “But he never talked about his experiences over there in his letters. In his last letter he said he was going out in the field for a couple of days and he would be right back. But he never came back.”
Person’s name is at Panel 18W Line 084.
Most didn’t talk about it in their letters, the awful things they saw and did. They did their jobs until the day they died. Most of those returning also didn’t talk about it. That’s why bringing the Wall back to Richmond every five years or so is so important.
They served, and died, as young men, fearless and full of enthusiasm, brimming with patriotism. Twenty-six of them died during the war’s most brutal years, 1967-1969. Most were 21 or younger.
David Downing was a standout football and basketball player and wrestler at Centerville High School. A trophy honoring the school’s best all around student athlete is still given in his name. It honors on-field heroics as well as classroom performance and citizenship.
Downing was killed by a booby trap during Operation Junction City, a massive U.S. operation near the Vietnamese-Cambodian border March 11, 1967. It was the largest U.S. airborne operation since World War 2. He was 21 years old.
In 1990, his father, Raymond Downing, said he felt it the instant his son was killed. He said he felt it in his heart. David Downing’s name is at Panel 16E Line 057.
Former Palladium-Item photographer Steve Koger served in Vietnam in 1969. So did his friend Danny Sinnott. Both had worked in the PI mailroom before joining the military.
Koger was wounded in fighting near Chu Lai on June 13, 1969. He was sent to a hospital in the rear for a month to recuperate. When he returned his company commander told him they had lost one man in Koger’s absence.
It wasn’t until weeks later when Koger received a back copy of the Palladium that he learned that that one soldier was Sinnott.
“It was real hard,” Koger said in 1990. “For a while after that I thought maybe if I hadn’t been hit or if I had come back a couple of weeks early maybe he wouldn’t be dead. Maybe something else would have happened.
“But in reality there’s probably nothing I could have done,” he said.
Danny Sinnott’s name can be found at Panel 21W Line 049.
That’s war. Nothing is fair. The good die young. Every one of the 40 has a story, all sad. Young men fighting the good fight, chewed up by the meat grinder of a distant war.
Regernaild Webster was not from Richmond, but he lived here for several years while working at Richmond Perfect Circle Division of Dana Corporation. He was murdered in Phuoc Long Province in South Vietnam Dec. 27, 1969. Military records do not indicate if his murderer was ever caught.
But Webster’s image lives on in Richmond history. He is pictured in a famous photograph as one of several young men who volunteered and fought fires in downtown Richmond after a massive explosion April 6, 1968. His name is at Pane 15W Line 100.
Steven Wright of Centerville was a conscientious objector and served as a medic in the war. His father was a CO in World War II as was his grandfather in World War I. In a letter home, he wrote “I personally dragged my platoon sergeant’s body through 50 feet of water so he could be sent home. He was dead from a bullet hole in the back of his head. I know I would not want to be left behind for the VC, dead or alive.”
Wright died from small arms fire while aiding comrades during combat operations in Dinh Tuong Province July 9, 1968. His name can be found on Panel 52W Line 005.
*Tommy Hofer (Panel 27W Line 049) of Richmond enlisted in the Marine Corps in August 1968. He was shot and killed by a sniper only three weeks after arriving Vietnam and was buried the day before his 19th birthday.
*Karl Klute (Panel 06E Line 007), a pilot and daredevil type, volunteered for Vietnam in the hopes of one day qualifying for the astronaut program. He died piloting his F-100 jet during a strafing run against the Viet Cong March 14, 1966.
*Kenneth Musselman tried to talk his son Harold (Panel 30W Line 021) out of going to Vietnam. Harold planned to follow his brother Robert (Panel 28E Line 069) to Southeast Asia. “I tried to talk him out of it but it didn’t pan out,” Kenneth said in 1990. “They were darn good boys and I think about ‘em every day.”
Robert Musselman was 25 when he died Oct. 25, 1967. Harold Musselman was 19 when he died March 3, 1969.
*Cary Miller died Oct. 6, 1969. In August, eight members of his former unit in Vietnam, returned to Richmond for the sixth time to honor his memory. “He will never be forgotten,” said Linda Retter, the woman Cary planned to wed when he came back from overseas.
Long wars yield long lists of war dead and tear apart towns like Richmond. They kill young men and leave long lines of grieving parents, relatives and friends.
Still, a country that honors its fallen is a great nation, one that will remember and learn from its past. When these 40 men died, a little piece of the community died with them. We rebuild our lives and rebuild our community by honoring that tragic loss.
They are gone now but, thanks to the veterans who live on, who build memorials in Washington and Richmond, they are remembered. And thanks to those veterans and their families, The Wall That Heals will let us remember again.
Wayne County casualties included:
- Curtis Lamarr Foster
- Jon David Vannatta
- Karl Edwin Klute
- Jesse Floyd Wages
- Burnie Harris
- Terry Lee Wiles
- Thomas Paul Deitemeyer
- David Allen Downing
- Donald Ray Rybolt
- Herman Ray Cull
- Thomas Clayton Benge
- Teri Leigh Hines
- Eddie James Allen
- Robert Eugene Musselman
- Terry Richard Clark
- Jack Wayne Miller
- Conrad E. Ross
- Larry Robert McKinney
- Ronald Lloyd Frazer
- Stephen Louis Wright
- Charles Vernon Firth
- Raymond T. Conway
- Thomas Herschal Schneider
- David Joe Stansbury
- Robert John Kuhlman, Jr.
- Harold Earl Musselman
- Joseph Walter Wysong
- Thomas Edward Hofer
- Darrell Lee Covington
- Regernaild Webster
- Daniel Bernard Sinnott
- Billy Joe Caudill
- Robert Lee Person
- Cary Duane Miller
- David Allen Hockett
- Robert Kenneth Cole
- Harry Thomas Henthorn
- Gerald Vincent VanWinkle
- Robert Lee Sowers
- Jerry Duane Vance