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Cecil County Life

Collecting war stories

Jan 01, 2015 03:21PM ● By Kerigan Butt

Skip Miller participates in the Vietnam War 'History That is Not Past' project.

By Carla Lucas


The files on the Vietnam War at the Cecil County Historical Society include one small folder full of  newspaper clippings about ten Cecil County men who lost their lives during the war, and a story about the traveling Vietnam Memorial that came to the area a few years ago.

That's it. But not for long.

The Vietnam Veterans Listening Station, part of the “History That is not Past” project, is now open. The Historical Society wants to capture the stories of Cecil residents involved in the Vietnam era and preserve the stories for future generations.

“We have community members who have historical experiences that have not been recognized or recorded,” said Cecil County historian Mike Dixon. “Their stories have not made it into the public record. Think about how much we are missing.”

According to Dixon, the citizens of Cecil County were largely supportive of the war in the early 1960s. They were proud of the the men and women who served. The Bainbridge Naval Training Center, in Port Deposit, employed county residents. There was a draft board in Elkton, and as young men came of age, they would be sent for medical exams. Many young men were drafted or volunteered to serve.

Dixon said the Listening Station will record the experiences of a wide range of people, including those who were drafted or volunteered, who were on the front lines, families of those who were lost in the war, those who supported the war, and anyone who wants to share their thoughts.

Vietnam is the second oral history project done at Cecil County Historical Society. Last year, a  program was focused on the 50th anniversary of the 1963 crash of a Pam-Am flight on a farm off Delancy Road in Elkton. Stories were collected from many family members of the 73 passengers and eight crew members who died, as well as from locals who witnessed the crash or responded in the aftermath. Part of the presentation is on YouTube and can be accessed by searching “Pan Am Flight 214” online.

The sister of George Robinson, one of the firemen at the scene of the Pan Am crash, contacted the Chester County Historical Society about the program and mentioned that her brother was drafted in 1966 and died in Vietnam on April 25, 1969 at the age of 22. For Mike Dixon, the conversation led to the decision to focus on the stories of the Vietnam war.

Upcoming Listening Station topics include: Cecil area women who worked in the area during World War II, school integration, and “Cecil Remembers 9/11” on the 15-year anniversary of the attacks.

Each listening session takes about an hour. The visitor is prompted by a Historical Society volunteer with a couple of basic questions to get the process started. At times, the volunteer may ask additional questions to keep the person moving through his or her story.

Modern technology is making this project possible. Digital recordings are easy to make and preserve. They are also easy to edit, access and share.  Each of the recordings will be indexed and archived by University of Delaware graduate students. The students will listen to each tape and note various subjects. Future scholars will then be able to access the information easily by searching the index by topic.

To enhance the society's Vietnam era collection, it is also seeking letters, photographs and tapes from home to document how the war affected life in Cecil County. Ken Broomell, a research historian with the Historical Society, is combing through the Whig and Democrat for Vietnam articles.

Currently, there is no single document counting how many people from Cecil County actually served in the military during the Vietnam War. The project may lead to an official count.

After all the stories are told and the research is complete, Dixon will present a public program about Cecil County and the Vietnam War. He also plans to produce a short video highlighting what was learned.

To share your stories, contact the Cecil County Historical Society at 410-398-1790.

Cecil's Vietnam soldiers in memorium

SP5 David N. Clayton, 22

Died in Vietnam on February 17, 1965 when the Army Barracks at Qui Nhon was destroyed by an enemy attack. He was a helicopter mechanic.

PFC Laurence P. White, 19

Killed in Vietnam on June 24, 1966 when the helicopter he was in crashed and exploded under hostile fire.

PFC Thomas Ruff, Jr., 18

Killed May 8, 1967 after being hit by enemy fire near Quang Tri, Vietnam

PFC Marshall Freng, 21

Killed November 22, 1967 after only being in Vietnam five days. The aircraft transporting him to his new unit crashed on take-off at Long Binh, Vietnam.

Corporal Michael Rolfe, 20

Killed March 8, 1968 when the amphibious tank in which he was riding struck a min while crossing a river near the Demilitarized Zone. He had only been in Vietnam for 17 days.

Warrant Officer Levi Ray Reynolds

Killed July 4, 1968 when the engine on the helicopter he was flying failed. On June 22 of the same year he was injured when the helicopter he was flying crash landed. He had only returned to service a week before this accident. He was a 1957 graduate of Rising Sun High School.

Corporal Marion Tapp, 21

Killed July 12, 1968 when the helicopter in which he was a gunner was shot down by enemy fire and burned. It was his second tour of duty.

PFC Donald C. McCallister, Jr., 18

Died August 16, 1968 at the Third Medical Battalion Hospital in Quang Tri Province, Vietnam of mortar wounds suffered in battle on July 7.

Sergeant George Robinson, 22

Killed April 25, 1969 when a jeep he was operating near Nha Trang ran over a land mine.

Marine Private Gregory S. Copenhaver, 19

Was first reported missing in action on May 14, 1975 in the invasion of Koh Tang Island in the Gulf of Siam near Cambodia. On May 14 he was listed among the dead. May 14, 197

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