Vietnam War: A heartbreaking casualty — #AtoZChallenge 2023

V is for Vietnam War: A heartbreaking casualty. Dedicated to my friend Marilyn whose older brother Pfc. Howard Snitchler died in Vietnam in 1968.

In 1965, when I was fifteen, the U.S. sent the first combat troops to Vietnam – and a war that once seemed far away was suddenly a matter of life and death to my male classmates, their families and others who cared about them.

There was frequent discussion in my high school about available deferments, enlisting in “safer” services like the National Guard or the Navy, or even moving to Canada. Imagine weighing these difficult life decisions as a teenager! Meanwhile, youth opposition to the Vietnam War — which I was part of — also began to grow.

A heartbreaking casualty

Then the unthinkable happened: the first heartbreaking casualty of a Maine-Endwell Senior High graduate in Vietnam. My best friend Marylin’s older brother — Pfc. Howard Snitchler, 11th Infantry Light Brigade, Co. B, Americal Div. — died there on April 28, 1968. He was 21.

Vietnam War memorial plaque at Maine-Endwell High School. Howard was the first Vietnam War casualty from my high school. He is listed with four others on a memorial near the school entrance. Photo:

The shock of Howard’s death most profoundly affected his immediate and extended family — but as the news of his passing spread through our school, the sense of loss was widely shared.

I was speechless when Marilyn called to tell me. She had moved with her family to Florida the year before and we mainly wrote newsy letters back and forth — but this was a truly catastrophic event.

A student outpouring

Because Endwell, N.Y., had been Howard’s home, his wake and funeral were held in the area. This meant I got to see Marilyn again, but it was a bittersweet experience — we were happy to be together, yet the circumstances were so sad there was just a jumble of emotions.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C. Photo: Steve Wilson/Pixabay

My most vivid memory, though, is of the tremendous turnout by Maine-Endwell students at both the wake and the funeral — and how moving both gatherings were. Howard’s untimely death had touched us deeply, and we showed up en masse to let his family know.

Honoring the fallen

Howard was the first casualty from my high school — but sadly, not the last. Four more Maine-Endwell graduates died or went missing in Vietnam — including one of my classmates, Craig Swagler.

Today they are remembered on a memorial plaque outside the high school and on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, D.C.

General view of the Vietnam War Moratorium Day in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 15, 1969. Witnessing the devastating impact of Howard’s death on Marilyn and her family moved me to become more deeply involved in the anti-war movement during college — to bring the troops home and end the Vietnam War, so no more families would suffer. (AP Photo)

And they were remembered in other ways, too.

Witnessing, at eighteen, the devastating impact of Howard’s death on Marilyn and her family moved me to become more deeply involved in the anti-war movement during college.

For me, the most lasting tribute I could offer was to work with millions of others to bring the troops home and end the Vietnam War — so no more families would suffer.

Up next, W is for Work: My odd jobs in high school. Please stop back.

© 2023 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

14 thoughts on “Vietnam War: A heartbreaking casualty — #AtoZChallenge 2023”

  1. It was such a formative part of our teenage years. Being at a girls school and not having lots of male friends I was somewhat isolated from it until university. My husband already knew boys who’d been killed before then. Protests were illegal but there were some big ones regardless. Special branch police attended protest talks at the Uni and put names on files. Strangely we now have friends who were regular servicemen and there during Vietnam.

    1. Protests were illegal? Surprised to hear that. We had our share of arrests at protests, and here and there “parading without a permit” was used to clamp down on demonstrations — but like Australia, there were massive turnouts regardless.

  2. I can only imagine the fear all the students in high school felt at that time…and the fear families felt. We should always honor the fallen, and this post was a lovely way to do it.

    1. Thanks so much, Chrys. There definitely was a great deal of fear but eventually that turned to resistance, which played a part in ending the war.

  3. One of my husband’s cousins fought in Vietnam, was exposed to Agent Orange, and is also a cancer survivor. Both my next door neighbor’s sons fought in Vietnam (and came home). I have never been on the M-E campus so I have never seen this particular monument but I visit war memorials in towns I visit if I run across them. I have been to the Vietnam memorial in DC – it is an emotional experience for all of us from that generation. I also worked, at one time, with two mothers of children serving in Iraq/Afghanistan, so I’ve since seen the struggle of war veterans returning home through their mothers.

    1. I also have friends with health issues stemming from Agent Orange exposure. The Vietnam War took a toll in so many ways. Glad to learn you also visited the memorial in D.C. — indeed an emotional experience for our generation.

  4. My husband’s tour of duty in the Coast Guard was finished at the beginning of 1965. We certainly had interest in how the Vietnam war was developing. I couldn’t believe how long it lasted, and the devestation of so many American lives. As a young mother/wife I didn’t actively demonstrate against it. Yet when a jury was being impounded for a trial of some demonstrators, I was hoping I could get on it so I could vote to aquit them. I never had the chance.

  5. Thanks for sharing this story. I’ve been writing about the home front of WWII all month, frequently aware that I’m tapping into romanticism that should never have existed about war.

    1. It’s always a difficult balance, writing about war years. The Sixties were such an exuberant time, yet the cloud that was the Vietnam War often blotted out our sun.

  6. Those were some times. I was also active in the anti-war movement. I didn’t know anyone who died, I did know people who refused to go. And several who went and still suffer the health consequences today.

    1. I also knew people who resisted, but that came later — during my college years — as the military draft became so relentless.

  7. It is important to remember and honour the dead, particularly those who have been called to service in the armed forces. It’s not their choice to fight – they have to obey orders whether they agree or not.

    1. It was precisely those orders, along with the involuntary nature of the military draft, that so many of us young people objected to — eventually including veterans themselves, who participated in increasing numbers in peace protests as the war dragged on.

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