The World War I and II memorials across from Town Hall are impressive. Tomorrow — as we honor our veterans — they’ll get their well-deserved share of attention. (In case you’re wondering: At 10:30 in the Town Hall auditorium, the Westport Community Band presents a program of marches and patriotic tunes. At 11 a.m. the ceremony begins. It includes an address by Staples High School senior Brooke Kessler, president of the social studies honor society.)
If you’re ever on Veterans Green — and you should be — you may notice, next to the large memorials, a smaller plaque. This one salutes five 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.”
Here’s one of those veterans’ story.
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 seven 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.
We should all remember his life, and his death, tomorrow on Veterans Day.
And every other day of the year too.
Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His personal blog is www.danwoog06880.com