By Peter Levine
I was a senior at Malden High when the news hit. President Gerald Ford issued the orders – out of Vietnam! We all breathed a sigh of relief as locals picked up the Malden Evening News on April 29, 1975; “All Americans Out of Vietnam; Saigon Falling Without Fight.” A ceasefire was called. Although the draft stopped in January of 1973, the conflict raged on. The agreement meant no more Maldonians/Americans would be killed or wounded (emotionally or physically) in this senseless “conflict,” half a world away.
The Malden Evening News was an invaluable source of information in 1975 Malden. Publisher and Editor-in Chief David Brickman (whom I have mentioned in the past) was a well-respected newsman not only in the Greater Boston area but across the country. He brought integrity, honesty and news that you could trust into our homes; think Walter Cronkite of Malden.
The news of the ceasefire received extensive coverage in this edition of the Malden Evening News. Leading off on the front page was this vital Malden time capsule; I am reprinting it for historical purposes and have asked current City of Malden Veterans’ Services Officer (VSO) Kevin Jarvis (who was in the Marines in 1974) for a helping hand. As always, he was right there for me. For that, I thank you, sir:
“In Malden: Agony of War Lingers for Many.”
“Fourteen years of United States participation in a frustrating war in Southeast Asia ended today but for many in this community, the agony of that futile struggle will linger on forever.
“Frustration, regret, pain, bitterness and sorrow.
“These are the feelings of local residents who fought with the U.S. military forces in Vietnam. These, too, are the feelings of the families of those whose loved ones gave their lives for South Vietnam.
“James M. Fee of 185 Main St., a totally disabled veteran, suffered wounds all over his body when he was hit by Communist gunfire outside of Da Nang.
“‘I was a victim of circumstances, along with hundreds of thousands of other guys that went over there,’ Fee said this morning, as Red troops launched a massive assault on Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam.
“‘No matter how bad a time,’ he and hundreds of others had in Vietnam, ‘we thought we were fighting for something that was worthwhile, only because the system told us it was worthwhile.’
“‘Thirteen friends of mine from Malden were killed in Vietnam, I saw friends of mine get their legs blown off…these are things that will be in your head for the rest of your life, and the whole thing winds up not even worth it’ Fee said.
“Fee feels that if the United States ‘went there to fight a war, we should have fought a war and pushed the Viet Cong right back to Hanoi.’ He said the military was prevented from mounting a full-scale war effort, and ‘part of the blame has to be put on the politicians.’
“Fee, a five-year Marine veteran, served one-half year in Vietnam before being severely wounded outside of Da Nang, which is now in Communist hands. ‘It’s hard to believe today,’ said Fee, ‘but I left Da Nang itself, it was as safe as Malden is.’
“‘The whole thing…it’s just very hard to believe,’ said Fee, who is deputy director of Veteran’s Services for the City of Malden.
“‘Since the day he was killed, I’ve never been the same,’ said Mrs. Angela Sestito, of 346 Medford St., whose son, 1st Lt Anthony Sestito, was killed June 5, 1969.
“‘I get sick when I hear on the news that Communists have now taken over territory where my son fought,’ she said. ‘I have photos of him on places like Bien Hoa, Da Nang and the demilitarized zone. To think that their army lost those places in less than three weeks is tragic. When I see Vietnam news on the television, Anthony’s death hits me again and I have to turn away.’
“‘We never belonged there,’ Mrs. Sestito added, her voice filled with anger.
“Mrs. Darlene Sullivan, of 870 Salem St., sister of Samuel J. Rumson, Jr., who was killed in action March 8, 1968, termed America’s long involvement in Southeast Asia as ‘a waste, a total waste.’
“‘All our boys who were killed died for nothing,’ Mrs. Sullivan said. ‘I’m definitely opposed to sending our troops into another war like that at any time.’
“Mrs. Winifred Gignac, of 1428 Salem St., mother of Raymond Gignac, who was killed June 19, 1968, said that she hasn’t ‘kept up’ on the latest news from Vietnam ‘because it just makes me angry and discouraged.’
“‘It’s a hopeless situation, there’s nothing anybody can do,’ she said.
“Domenic Marcellino, son of Mr. and Mrs. Vincent A. Marcellino, 34 Dwyer Circle., Medford who served four months in Vietnam before losing three limbs in combat, today commented that the situation ‘was a farce from the beginning,’ but added that he was ‘shocked’ by the recent developments.
“‘The whole thing is a huge waste,’ the veteran said, ‘the government pulled the wool over the American people’s eyes. It wasn’t the domino theory; it was big business that got us into the war. It cost 50,000 American lives and billions of dollars, and the Vietnamese own the place anyway,’ he said.”
My notes: As stated in the article, 1st LT Anthony J. Sestito of the U.S. Army was KIA on June 5, 1969, in Vietnam at age 26. He was assigned to the Advance Team 42 with the U.S. Military Assistance Command Advisors attached to the 82 Airborne Division as a military advisor, directing a team of South Vietnamese troops when he was killed in Binh Dinh, Vietnam. He died the same day as PFC Kevin Crowe and their bodies were sent home together. They are buried next to each other in Forest Dale cemetery. Anthony has a Memorial Square dedicated to him across the street from the old Forgione’s Market on Medford Street. PFC Crowe has a Memorial Stone at the corner of Russell and Whitman where he grew up.
PFC Samuel J. Rumson was KIA in Vietnam on March 8, 1968, age 19. He was assigned to A Company, 32nd Artillery Battalion 1st Logistical Command when he was hit by sniper fire at Phu Yen, Vietnam. His family had just published a poem in the Malden Evening News that he had written in Vietnam when they were notified, three days later, that he was killed. He is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery. There is a Memorial Square dedicated to Sam across the street from “Steve’s Corner” near Salem and Broadway.
MSGT Raymond A. Gignac – U.S. Army – (actually) died of a heart attack in Vietnam on January 19, 1968, at age 45, serving in his third war, having previously served in World War II and Korea. He is buried near the pond in Forest Dale Cemetery. He was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in Korea. He had already retired after 22 years in the Army and reenlisted to fight in Vietnam.
VSO Jarvis’ cousin Captain Thomas Morris of Malden – U.S. Army – was KIA on June 25, 1968, at Phu Yen, Vietnam. He studied at Harvard University and was a graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts, where he received his master’s. He was assigned to the Advance Team 22, HQ and MACV Advisors and was the recipient of the Silver Star for Heroism. He married Janice Lee Bradford, who had just graduated from the Malden Hospital School of Nursing; they had an 18-month-old daughter, Loren.
As Peter Falk’s iconic TV character Columbo would say, “Just one more thing, sir” – sunshine and blue skies brought happy, smiling pilgrims out of hibernation by the thousands for the 93rd Annual San Rock Festa. Fine weather will do that. A spectacular weekend of music and food made folks forget the daily grind for a brief moment in time. The homemade Italian food brought back memories of Sunday family dinners of yesteryear: a time in life when you’d stroll down Pearl on Sunday morning and smell the bread baking at Pearl Bakery; when you’d walk by any house on Malden Street or Thacher or Oakland and breathe in the Sunday gravy simmering on the stove – the meatballs, eggplant and chicken cutlets frying – and know instinctively whose mom was cooking which feast. The friends and family lining the street all weekend long brought back these memories “lost to the sands of time” – recaptured for this brief moment – on this brief weekend. Truly a spectacular weekend.
Postscript 1: Ghosts of Saint Rocco Feast past – memories trapped in time; on Sunday afternoon I swear I could see Gloria Disano, Joe Teta, Eleanor & Frank Molinari, Dommy DiSario, Richie Cremone, Jimmy Palermo, Tony & Joan Pisaturo, Pat Chiachi, Phil Longo, Laura & Jimmy Damiano, John & Mary Gamby and Donna & Hank Pitts dancing the tarantella as Steve Savio and Sea Breeze played on.
Postscript 2: Stay tuned in the coming weeks for additional San Rock Feast ramblings and meanderings directly through the tired, old eyes of an original Devir Dawg and 56-year San Rock veteran …
—Peter is a longtime Malden resident and a regular contributor to The Malden Advocate. He can be reached at PeteL39@aol.com for comments, compliments or criticisms.