Eulogies at the Wall
Click here for Audio: https://vimeo.com/421628288
In the early evening of Thursday, September 26, 2019, 50th Company members, spouses, and guests met at the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. to honor classmates Tom Edgren and Jim DuPont, both killed in action in Vietnam. This was the first event of 50th Company’s fiftieth reunion. The ceremony at the wall was a moving tribute, back-lit by a setting sun. Mike Thornton spoke on behalf of Jim DuPont, whose widow and sister were in attendance. Brooke Pearson gave remarks to help us remember Tom Edgren. Mike Eberhardt, the 50thCompany Padre, offered prayers. This page has a video that includes a recording of the remarks made at the ceremony.
Remembrance of James Camil DuPont by Mike Thornton
The first memory I have of Jim DuPont was early on in the OCS program, when he walked around the mess hall and shouted for all to hear; “Take a look at my haircut. This is how CPT Smith wants everyone’s haircut to look.” Now since Jimmy had blond hair, the buzz cut we all wore then made him look, well, bald. It was later that I got to know him personally, we talked often and he became my friend.
Jim DuPont died on September 18, 1970 while serving in Vietnam. At the time he was a platoon leader, as I was, with the First Cavalry Division. The enemy unit opposite us was the 33d North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regiment which had been pushed deep into Cambodia by the American incursion a few months earlier. Following that incursion, the NVA did not seek out units of the First Cav, but when they did encountered us, it was to distract us from something else, or most likely, to inflict casualties and then melt away into the jungle. That I recall the date and circumstance so well has made me a believer in the observation that, “The past is never dead, it is not even past.”
James Camil DuPont grew up in North Canton, Ohio the first child and only son of Henry and Mary Alice DuPont. Their second child, Jim’s younger sister, Jill, is with us tonight. In 1965, while still in college, Jim met and married Adele Kellogg who also has joined us tonight. Jim graduated from Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio, in 1968. His father, who was “Hank” to everyone, had served in both North Africa and Italy during World War II. For Jim, and for many of us, military service was a requirement of citizenship.
After OCS, Jim was assigned to Ft. Lewis, WA as range officer in a Basic Training unit. He returned to Ft. Benning in April 1970 and joined myself and other OCS classmates in airborne school and then we all went on to the Army’s Jungle Training Center in the Panama Canal Zone.
When we departed Panama, after that two week course, we had to wait in the small terminal for the plane that would take us back to the States. Shortly after that plane arrived, and much to our surprise, the flight crew walked off the plane, through the terminal, out the doors and did not return for 12 hours. For that entire time, we made ourselves as comfortable as possible in a waiting area with squeaky, uncomfortable plastic seats. While we waited, Jim and I talked all night and into the next day. By the time the plane at last departed Panama, we had made plans for our lives after we came home. After Vietnam. After the Army.
I can still recall the outlines of the plans we made, and with the perspective that only age and experience can bring, I can assure you that success was highly unlikely. But that night and that morning, a sunny optimism enveloped us, and we were sure we would not just succeed, but triumph.
In just a twinkling of the eye, in June 1970, we found ourselves together once again in Vietnam. Several of us from 50thCompany, Jim, me, Ken Knudsen, and David Doe hung out together for several days at a reception center. We filled out forms, took orientation classes and waited for our “in-country” assignments. We had all decided to put the First Cavalry Division on our “dream sheets.” We thought it was great good luck when we were indeed assigned to the First Cav.
Then June became July and July became August. Since you came here tonight you know what happened next, so rather than revisit the shock and grief of September 1970, let me fast forward through nearly 50 years to today, to Washington, DC, in September 2019. Though all those years, most of my time on this earth, I have cherished Jim’s memory and I am both proud and grateful that he was my friend.
Remembrance of Thomas Gordon Edgren by Brooke Pearson
October 4, 1945 was the auspicious day on which both Tom Edgren and I made our entrances into the world. Tom grew up with his parents and two older sisters in Libertyville, Illinois where, at Libertyville High, he sang, was the lead in a number of musicals, and managed the football team. Later, at the University of Wisconsin, he sang in the Glee Club and a barbershop quartet and rowed on the crew team.
Like so many of us, Tom entered the Army after graduating from college, signing up to become an officer and joining us in 50th Company at Fort Benning in February, 1969. According to one of his 2nd Platoon classmates, Tom was "a dedicated, enthusiastic candidate, who often helped to pull along others who were struggling."
I first met Tom as we rehearsed Simon and Garfunkel's Scarborough Fair for our performance at our Intermediate Status (turning black) party in late April. Later, at Fort Hood, Texas, where as 4.2 mortar platoon leaders in mechanized infantry battalions in the same brigade we often trained together, I came to know Tom and respect his leadership and his commitment to the soldiers in his platoon. We became friends, and Tom joined Betty and me for many laughter filled dinners at our apartment in Copperas Cove. He was always positive and fun, his smile radiating good will and joy.
Tom arrived in Vietnam in early June, 1970. Less than two months in country and only several weeks as a platoon leader with the Americal Division in I Corps, Tom led his platoon off LZ Mary Ann as part of a company patrol on July 31st. I believe it was his first mission. On August 5th, the company was ambushed and suffered numerous casualties, including three or four from Tom's platoon. Three days later, on August 8th, it was ambushed again. Among the KIAs that day was our classmate Tom.
Here is what Jimmy Morrison, one of Tom's squad leaders in Vietnam, said about him: "Tom was exposed to more in eight days than a lot of us were exposed to in a year. This was most likely the worst four days we had and the sad thing is he was in charge so quickly that he did not have time to get his feet wet."
Jimmy had been in country eleven months and was trying to get out of the field, but, with mostly new guys in the platoon, Tom had told him that he needed him on this mission. After the August 5th ambush, Tom tried (unsuccessfully) to arrange for Jimmy to get out of the field by escorting the body of one of the platoon's KIAs back home. When his machine gunner was killed during the August 8th ambush, Tom picked up the gun and started firing, and that was when he was hit.
Jimmy Morrison again: "Once he realized on August 5th how it was, he tried to help get me out of the field and when on August 8th he was laying there waiting for a dust off, he called for me and told me he was sorry, that he did not understand, but he was doing his job and doing it to the best of his ability. I only knew him a short time, maybe fourteen days, but in that short time, he did two amazing unselfish things I would like his family to know about. He had a tough job and he was a HERO." (caps in Jimmy's email)
To leap into action as his men were under siege; to console one of his men as he (Tom) lay dying - these were actions that typified our friend and comrade.
Tom's sister, Sue Logan, relates that, when Tom was in college, he would occasionally show up for dinner. Her husband, Fred, was still a student at UW with a $1,000 tuition bill while Sue was a new teacher making $4,900 a year. In Sue's words, "Tom could really put away the food! He had no idea how tight our food budget was so after a couple of visits I clued him in. After that, he over killed with a whole bag of groceries - eggs, bacon, bread, etc. Jim Morrison’s recollection of Tom in Vietnam reminded me of my memory. Tom might not have seen the big picture at first, but once he did, he would always try to rectify the situation."
To everything he did, Tom brought enthusiasm, joy, and dedication. I don't know what his goal in life was or what his plans for the future were, but I like to think of him as a teacher, whose warmth and smile and thoughtfulness, along with his voracious appetite for life and living would have delighted and inspired his students just as they did me.
Tom, we miss you and your big, beaming smile; we remember you and your infectious enthusiasm; we honor you and your selfless dedication. And we thank you, Tom, for being, albeit way too briefly, a part of our lives.