On July 2nd, Leigh Freeman, Rolland Christiansen, his wife, Pam, Ken Pitetti, my wife, Cheryl and myself, Tom Weides met in Belleville, Kansas. We were there to visit the gravesite of Captain Thomas Hewitt. Leigh Freeman had suggested July 2nd as it would be the 46th anniversary of the day Capt. Hewitt was killed on Hill 902 near Ripcord.
We wanted to make contact with family, if possible, to let them know why we were coming and would be leaving some items. We also wanted invite family/anyone who may want to attend. We originally contacted the Belleville Chamber of Commerce simply to locate the cemetery as it is listed as St. Katharine’s cemetery, Republic County, Ks. In about a day, Melinda Pearson at the Chamber had located the old family cemetery caretaker/owner, Vince Pachta (somewhat of a local historian) and Sandy, who was the Maid of Honor in Thomas and Diane’s wedding. We then received calls from both and also Captain Hewitts widow. Then was contacted by Deb Hatacheck, the Editor of the Belleville Telescope. Things expanded at that point.
On July 2nd, we met in Belleville with Diane and her husband of 44 years, Joe McCarville. Joe was an officer with the 1/506th and was in country after Ripcord also. Diane say she and Joe were each others support group. As we all know, vets were not treated very well in the 60’s and 70’s. Joe is now a District judge in Reno County Kansas.
We were met at the cemetery by about a dozen people under a small tent. It was drizzling and the predicted weather forecast for that Saturday was 3.85 inches, up to 6 inches. Monsoon weather. Ken introduced himself and us to the group. We all then spoke with the crowd on who we were and our Vietnam role. We shared stories from you, our Brothers, who were there and information we had. I found out that Lt. Bob Leibecke and Chuck Van Cleave, with others, carried Capt. Hewitt’s body to the L.Z. Then Lt (?) Randy House was piloting the bird that carried the Capt. out of the jungle on his huey.
Rolland and Ken arrived at the Company just shortly after Capt. Hewitt was killed. Leigh was just getting back and was at Camp Evans on July 2nd. He had been to a Cam Rahn Bay hospital with severe jungle rot on his leg. I wasn’t in Company until late November.
Ken gave the group a short history speech about the situation in the Ripcord area. Leigh had brought a beautiful red, white and blue flower arrangement with Company/Division logos and that he placed that near the headstone. We also left a 5×7 inch curved glass plaque. I read the etched inscription as Rolland held for the group to see. Rolland then placed the plaque on Captain Hewitt’s tombstone. Lt. Pitetti then called us to attention and we preformed a ‘held’ salute. The salute ended our Ceremony. We then left coins on his gravestone, signifying our visit.
At this point, Diane wanted to address those in attendance. She gave a synopsis of her meeting and life with Tom Hewitt. July 4th, the day she was notified of his death. Life as a 21 year old widow along with the hardships from being attached to a Vietnam soldier. She spoke of meeting/marrying Joe McCarville and where she is now in life. She was filling in a lot of the blanks the community likely had, due to family moving from the area.
We continued talking with those attending for another ~ten minutes and they were appreciative for doing this. We had no contact with Tom’s family but learned from Diane that Tom had a twin brother. The brother was a Marine in Vietnam and suffered a head injury about 30 days before Tom’s death. The brother has moved to Alaska. Vince Pachta, the owner/caretaker of the cemetery said someone was there from Alaska a few weeks ago. Since the cemetery is in the country and Vince lives close and looks after it, he went to see what they were needing. It was a nephew of Tom’s from Alaska visiting his uncles grave. As Diane’s family had also moved to Hutchinson, Ks., I think those that attended had limited knowledge of who Tom was or the story behind him and Diane. Diane also thought it was so nice we did this on the day Tom was killed.
Joe and Diane (Hewitt) McCarville and our group then met for lunch to continue exchanging . As we were just leaving town, the heavy Monsoon rains opened up making it difficult to drive. A very fitting ending for the day.
I want to thank Leigh, Ken, Rolland and Pam for making this all work. It was about a 5 hr round trip for everyone but the Pam and Rolland. They made a 12 hour round trip. Pam said Rolland really want to make this ceremony.
It was a memorable day.
Doug Stephen was in on the planning from the beginning but suffered a serious cut to his leg and had to cancel on friday.
Anyone wanting to contact Diane, her number is 620-474-9610. Currahee,
Please go to the Belleville Telescope newspaper website to see the article