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.
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.
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.
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.