Cameron was one of the 58,220 Americans to die in Vietnam. Think about this for a moment: The population of Elyria, as recorded in the 2010 census, was 54,533.
Lorain County sacrificed 98 servicemen; 18 of them, including Bo Cameron, were from Elyria.
Some were only 18, the youngest to die: Army Spc. 4 Charles Dale Flood, of North Ridgeville; Army Pfc. David Allen Fowler and Marine Cpl. Carris Michael Francis, both of Elyria; Marine Lance Cpl. James Timothy Taylor, of Grafton; Marine Lance Cpl. Bruce Bernard Livingston and Marine Pvt. Peter William Shagovac Jr., both of Lorain; and Marine Pfc. Robert William Witty, of South Amherst.
The first local family to receive shattering news was that of Army 1st Lt. Raymond Ellsworth Rupcic, of Lorain. He was 23 when he was killed April 6, 1965. The terrible knock at the door was delivered for the last time from this war when Air Force 2nd. Lt. Richard Van De Geer, of Sheffield Lake, 27, was killed May 15, 1975.
Army Staff Sgt. Charles Douglas Sawyers, of Sheffield Township, died on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 1967. He was 25, and it was his birthday.
Imagine the grief of the Cottrell family of Wellington. Two of their sons died while in the Army. Sgt. Timothy James Cottrell was 19 when he was killed in action Aug. 27, 1968. His brother, Spc. 4 Sidney Allen Cottrell, was 21 when his half-track struck a land mine Oct. 4, 1971, near the Cambodian border.
Behind each devastating number and fact is a face, a family, a life. The stories featured here are about two women, native Elyrians whose lives were irrevocably changed by the Vietnam War. One suffered a tremendous loss; the other found an abiding love.
A boy called ‘Bubby’
Mary Ella Jones Mauldin takes me into the kitchen of her blue split-level home in Oberlin to show me an old photo album, the kind with thick, black paper sheets. There aren’t many filled-in pages in the album because there aren’t many pictures — just a handful of school photos, each one secured by layers of clear tape, as if to protect the wide-eyed boy with the engaging grin from harm. But here the metaphor fails, for also taped into the album are news clippings that tell how the boy’s story ends.
Mary, the oldest of seven, grew up on Elyria’s west side. Her younger brother, Norman Jr., nicknamed “Bubby,” was born a scant nine months later, so for a brief time each year, they were the same age. He would tease her after every birthday: “I’m as old as you are now.” Mary loved her brother, but this didn’t sit well. “I liked being the oldest,” she said.
She remembers Bubby as “a hustler in a good sense.” His mother, she said, would wonder where her son was when he was out riding his red Murray bike around their Bell Avenue neighborhood; she thought he might be goofing off, but of course he wasn’t.
“He was working little odd jobs to bring money home to Mama and the family,” said Mary. “He’d collect pop bottles and cash ’em in.”
She said he could often be seen helping an older neighbor — washing their windows, sweeping, raking their leaves — or keeping them company on their porch.
So responsible was Bubby that when he was old enough, he was allowed to drive his father’s car. He loved dancing and would drive his sisters and friends to dances at Marcell Hall on the south side. (Full disclosure — my father once owned Marcell Hall.) There was, however, one thing that Bubby avoided.
“He didn’t do the street,” Mary said. “Back in the day, you could do the street just like you do it now, but he didn’t. He was a good boy. It was always about family with him. That’s what was just so devastating.”
By the time he got to Elyria High, Bubby recognized that he “wasn’t a pencil and paper guy,” and he quit school. His hopes of getting a job at the Ford Motor Co. were about to be realized when the draft notice came.
‘Starry-eyed,’ with dreams of travel
Around the time Norman Jones Jr. was figuring out that school wasn’t for him, Cynthia Mason was enrolled at the M.B. Johnson School of Nursing. In a phone interview from her home in McAllen, Texas, she described her younger self as “starry-eyed” and in search of travel and adventure. In 1967, while still in nursing school and just two years out of Elyria High, she enlisted in the U.S. Army Nurse Program.
Cindy came from an Army background; her father, Donald “Jack” Mason, served in the South Pacific during World War II. Jack became an electrician’s helper at Harshaw Chemical and Cindy’s mother, Thelma, stayed at home, caring for her and her three younger brothers. The family’s first house was a rear second-floor apartment in the Nichols Block on Broad Street; relatives lived in a front apartment with “a beautiful bay window in an alcove, where we would watch the Halloween parades,” Cindy recalled.
She and her brothers walked to Gates School, taking a short-cut out their tall, back kitchen window, down a fire escape, through a parking lot, down an alley, past a beer joint and over to Lodi Street, which she recalls as lined with big houses.
“That’s also how we got to Cascade Park,” Cindy said.
The Masons later moved to 508 Denison Ave.
Cindy’s enlistment in the service set an example for her brothers; each of them signed up, too, although none were sent to Vietnam.
“I really felt strongly as a nurse about going to participate in a helpful way,” she said. “I’ve told many people that if I had been a guy, knowing I was going to be in hand-to-hand combat, I probably wouldn’t have joined. But it was a very different perspective for me; I knew it would be not only a helpfulness to someone, but that I would learn a lot, personally and professionally.”
The plan was straightforward: Cindy pledged to go on active duty as a commissioned officer for two years, and initially would be paid as a private first class. The salary would cover the remaining cost of her tuition at nursing school. She graduated in 1968, passed her state board exams in Columbus, and by September she was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps.
After six weeks of basic training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, she was assigned to the Letterman General Hospital at The Presidio, the U.S. Army fort in San Francisco. In the hospital’s intensive care ward, she gained valuable experience in the neurosurgery-neurology-maxillofacial unit. Following a brief leave at home with her family in Elyria, Lt. Cynthia Mason shipped out in March 1969 to the 24th Evacuation Hospital at Long Binh, about 18 miles northeast of Saigon, in the Republic of Vietnam.
To mail letters and packages to her daughter, Thelma Mason, who didn’t drive, walked every week from their home on Denison to the post office on Broad Street.
Mary Jones Mauldin doesn’t remember exactly when Bubby’s draft notice arrived, but she recalls that it was around the time he heard from Ford with a job offer.
“We were so upset that he was drafted,” she said. “We knew there was a war. There’s always the possibility that the person wouldn’t make it back home. That was always the fear — that Bubby wouldn’t come back.” She also recalled friends whose lives were destroyed by the war.
“I had a friend who went to ’Nam and when he came home, he was just done.” Another was “totally crushed” in Vietnam. As for Bubby’s draft notice, despite hating the idea of war and casualties, Mary knew that going was his “civic duty, an honorable thing to do.” This was partly because of the family’s history of service: their maternal grandfather fought in World War I; two uncles also served, one in World War II and the other in Korea.
Still, she said, “there was the fear of what would happen. Would they come (home) standing up? Or would they be carried home in a coffin? Dealing with that is what shook me so much. My brother would never have run (to Canada). He said, ‘I got no choice. I gotta go.,” The Chronicle-Telegram quoted her mother, Hattie Mary, in an article from the era: “The other boys were there and he felt that he should be there, too.”
A press clipping in Mary’s album shows a smiling Pvt. Norman Jones Jr., neat and trim in his Army uniform. By September 1967, the family had moved to 244 West River Road N., and Bubby spent his 26-day leave there with his parents. He had completed basic training at Fort Knox, Ky., was assigned to Fort Gordon, Ga., for advanced infantry airborne training, and from there would go to jump school at Fort Benning, Ga.
Bubby arrived in Vietnam on March 6, 1968, a few weeks after Mary’s birthday. Their ages no longer evened out. She was officially older.
Wards 5 and 6
“It is like a tonic to many Vietnam vets to have someone interested in asking (questions),” Cindy Mason Young wrote me in a text. “Many people are afraid they will upset us, and it can be painful, but it can also be therapeutic to have it acknowledged that we went through a very tough experience.”
Cindy was assigned to post-operative recovery in Wards 5 and 6 of the 24th Evacuation Hospital’s 40-bed neurosurgery unit, treating soldiers with head and spinal wounds. With roughly 20 patient beds categorized as critical care, the wards were typically full.
Spinal or head wounds, including those from “minor frag” with no penetration of the brain covering, were routinely explored in surgery. These were, Cindy explained, “million-dollar injuries. Once you’ve gone and had your brain dabbed with a scalpel to see if anything was left in the wound, you’ve increased the possibility of infection.”
That being the case, the soldier was not eligible to return to combat. “Those were the best patients to wake up from anesthesia,” she said. “You could tell them: ‘You’re safe. No one’s trying to kill you anymore. You’re wounded but not badly and you’re going home. You don’t have to go back out there again.’” Such was the lot of patients in Ward 6.
Only two types of patients occupied Ward 5: those who had sustained head wounds — some were in comas — and those with severed spinal cords. All were immobile. All required intensive care.
“In addition to neurological injuries,” Cindy wrote in an email, “these patients typically had multiple other problems — amputations, fractures, traction, chest tubes, drains of all sorts and many other wounds to be cared for.”
Given their immobility and the nature of their injuries, patients in Ward 5 needed to be very carefully repositioned, their arms and legs gently exercised. They also needed to be turned every two hours to prevent bedsores.
Patients with cervical spinal cord injuries have difficulty breathing, Cindy said. Eventually, their fluids stop circulating properly and collect in the chest. Being on one’s stomach for an extended period of time causes compression that makes it difficult to get enough air, even with a breathing tube. In this case, a patient would signal his discomfort by making a sort of clicking sound with his tongue, indicating he needed to be turned again. Of everything that Cindy experienced while stationed in a combat zone — including times when explosions got “pretty close”— it was that sound, the tongue clicking, that most distressed her.
Years of living dangerously
With the Tet Offensive in 1968, American casualties reached a staggering 16,899. The following year, 11,780 service members died, making 1968 and 1969 the deadliest years of the Vietnam War, with more U.S. lives lost than at any other time during the 19-year conflict.
In each of these years, Lorain County lost two servicemen on the same day. John Lyle Murphy, of Sheffield, and Michael Drennan Milburn, of Elyria — both 20-year-old lance corporals with the Marine Corps — were killed Feb. 6, 1968. Army Sgt. Richard Matthew Logan, 25, of Elyria, and Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Calvin Blanton Jr., 21, of Lorain, each died Oct. 26, 1969.
By 1968, Mary Ella Jones was married to Robert Mauldin and living with their infant son in an apartment at Westway Gardens. That’s why she wasn’t at 244 West River when two uniformed Army officers knocked on the front door. Tears rolled gently down her cheeks while she described how her teenaged sister Jean learned that Bubby was dead.
“She was walking down the street, coming from the store. She saw two officers get out of a parked car and walk up to the porch. She knew when she saw them that something was wrong. And when she got there she found out it was Bubby. She just broke down.”
Pfc. Norman Jones Jr. was shot by enemy fire in Binh Duong Province on June 18, 1968, and died outright. He had been in Vietnam less than four months. Mary’s mother-in-law and sister-in-law broke the news to her at her apartment. A press clipping taped in Mary’s album shows a photograph of her parents receiving their son’s medals, among them the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. Bubby was 20. Mary had turned 21 that February.
Leaving Vietnam, and returning
Lt. Cynthia Mason’s last day in Vietnam was March 5, 1970. A snapshot taken that day shows a young woman in Army fatigues with a relaxed smile on her face. I asked what was going through her mind.
“I was going home,” she said. “I was happy. Everybody was around me; that picture was taken on the ward. It was cheerful but bittersweet — more sweet than bitter. None of us wanted to stay a minute longer.”
Cindy does have a favorite memory from those days: She met her husband, an infantry officer named Douglas Young, during his second tour. Married for 46 years, they have one biological son and two adopted adult Vietnamese daughters; another young Vietnamese man was adopted “unofficially”— such a fixture in the family’s home that he calls Cindy “Mom.”
Douglas Young has written a memoir, “Same River, Different Water: A Veteran’s Journey from Vietnam to Viet Nam.” (The former spelling refers to the war; the latter to the country’s name.) In the book, he describes their journeys in the country that they both came to love while traveling on vacation in a van from Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) to Da Nang. They’ve returned many times to teach and provide medical aid. They even lived there for 18 months, from 2005 to 2006, while teaching English for three semesters at Hue University.
Mary Jones Mauldin said that Bubby’s death broke her mother and father. If she could speak to him today, this is what she would say: “If you were here, things would be a lot different than they are.”
Asked how that might be so, Mary said that because Bubby was a disciplinarian, with leadership values similar to her father, he watched over — and was helpful to — everybody.
“We would never have had to worry about anything if he was here. He was so honorable; you couldn’t help but listen to him. You knew that if he told you something, he knew what he was talking about. He was very wise.”
She would like him to be remembered “as an honest, straight-forward young man” who had a good personality, was kind and “would give you the shirt off his back.”
She adds: “I wish he had been living in this day and age because he would have been such a help to the young men nowadays. He could have taught them so many things. I could imagine, if he had a son, what that boy would turn out to be.”
Cindy Mason Young left active duty in 1975, and serves on the steering committee for a Veterans Association research project. She still returns to Elyria to visit family. She will be 70 this year, on Nov. 23. Mary Jones Mauldin’s husband died in September; they were married for 50 years. She is also 70.
And on Nov. 30, Norman Jones Jr. — “Bubby” — would be 70 as well. Just like Mary.
Contact Marci Rich at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Casualties of War, Lorain County
CPT Fleming Bukey Brainerd III, Army
Died: 5/26/1965, Age 31
PFC Wayne Stanley Horvath, Marine Corps
Died: 6/301969, Age 19
SP4 Thomas Lynn Snyder, Army
Died: 9/14/1969, Age: 23
CPL David Francis Schneider, Marine Corp
Died: 2/14/1968, Age: 21
SGT Patrick Edward Smith Jr., Army
Died: 11/26/1968, Age: 21
CPL Dennis Paul Bergenstein, Marine Corps
Died: 5/3/1967, Age: 21
2LT Matthew John Pechaitis, Army
Died: 1/10/1966, Age: 23
LCPL Walter Michael Ostapchuk, Marine Corps
Died: 4/5/1968, Age: 22
PFC Roger Dale Lawson, Army
Died: 7/18/1969, Age: 19
CPL Elbert Ford Price Jr., Army
Died: 11/6/1967, Age: 21
PFC Jesse Leonard Ellis, Army
Died: 1/29/1969, Age: 20
PFC James Calvin Whitmore, Army
Died: 11/9/1967, Age: 21
LCPL Michael Drennen Milburn, Marine Corps
Died: 2/6/1968, Age: 20
PFC Troy Tony Threet, Marine Corps
Died: 2/10/1968, Age: 20
SP4 George Wesley De Jarnett, Army
Died: 2/29/1968, Age: 25
PFC Donnie Stanley Kegg, Marine Corps
Died: 5/1/1968, Age: 19
PFC Norman Jones Jr., Army
Died: 6/18/1968, Age: 20
PFC John Lester Began, Army
Died: 8/16/1968, Age: 23
SP4 William Earl Foster Jr., Army
Died: 9/12/1968, Age: 25
LCPL Calvin Kermit Coon, Marine Corps
Died: 9/18/1968, Age: 19
SP4 Joseph George Ambrosio, Army
Died: 9/27/1968, Age: 20
SP4 Raymond Michael Enczi, Army
Died: 10/31/1968, Age: 20
SP4 William Val Springfield, Army
Died: 5/13/1969, Age: 27
SP4 Robert Charles Cameron, Army
Died: 6/26/1969, Age: 20
CPL Glenn Michael Schroeder, Army
Died: 10/21/1969, Age: 20
SGT Richard Matthew Logan, Army
Died: 10/26/1969, Age: 25
PFC David Allen Fowler, Army
Died: 1/18/1970, Age: 18
CPL Carris Michael Francis, Marine Corps
Died: 3/24/1970, Age: 18
PFC John Steven Gentkowski, Army
Died: 4/19/1971, Age: 20
LCPL James Timothy Taylor, Marine Corps
Died: 12/16/1967, Age 18
SFC Kenneth Lawrence Dulley, Army
Died: 5/6/1969, Age: 28
SP4 Dale Andre Gronsky, Army
Died: 4/2/1970, Age: 21
SSG Jake Harold Van Meter Jr., Army
Died: 10/7/1967 Age: 24
1LT Raymond Ellsworth Rupcic, Army
Died: 4/6/1965, Age: 23
CPT Donald Raymond Bonko, Army
Died: 11/26/1965, Age: 28
PFC Ronald Ralich, Marine Corps
Died: 5/29/1966, Age: 19
SSG Thomas Reginald Cowley, Army
Died: 8/28/1966, Age: 31
LCPL Raymond Hodorowski, Marine Corps
Died: 3/6/1967, Age: 21
PFC George William McDaniel, Army
Died: 4/29/1967, Age: 19
PFC Jose Hector Ortiz, Army
Died: 6/28/1967, Age: 19
LCPL Larry Edward Fields, Marine Corps
Died: 7/14/1967, Age: 23
LCPL Bruce Bernard Livingston, Marine Corps
Died: 9/2/1967, Age: 18
PFC Robert Joseph Nagy, Army
Died: 10/17/196, Age: 20
PFC Paul Junior Myers, Marine Corps
Died: 2/5/1968, Age: 26
SP4 Brian Thomas Murray, Army
Died: 3/5/1968, Age: 21
PFC Peter William Shagovac Jr., Marine Corps
Died: 4/1/1968, Age: 18
PFC Angel Luis Sanchez, Army
Died: 5/22/1968, Age: 22
CPL Johnnie Arnold Sheppard, Marine Corps
Died: 5/31/1968, Age: 20
LCPL Jack Gene Enix, Marine Corps
Died: 6/6/1968, Age: 20
PFC Robert James Barry, Army
Died: 9/30/1968, Age: 21
PFC Zeneido Ortiz Jr., Marine Corps
Died: 12/4/1968, Age 20
1LT John Anthony Kocak, Army
Died: 12/19/1968, Age: 23
PVT Ricardo Galvan, Marine Corps
Died: 12/31/1968, Age: 19
PFC Leo Allen George, Army
Died: 1/5/1969, Age: 20
PFC Edward Robert Tolley, Marine Corps
Died: 5/12/1969, Age: 19
CPL William Keneith Word, Army
Died: 5/28/1969, Age: 20
PFC Donald Thomas Laskay, Army
Died: 6/23/1969, Age: 22
SP4 Freddie Laws Daniel, Army
Died: 6/27/1969, Age: 24
PFC Robert Wendell Fletcher, Marine Corps
Died: 7/28/1969, Age: 20
PFC Jose Antonio Carrion, Army
Died: 8/7/1969, Age: 22
CPL Edgardo Rafael La Torre, Army
Died: 8/20/1969, Age: 20
LCPL Eddie Nelson Corsino, Marine Corps
Died: 9/17/1969, Age: 20
SGT Earl Eugene Charles, Marine Corps
Died: 10/9/1969, Age: 25
SGT John Dominick Arquillo, Army
Died: 10/13/1969, Age: 21
LCPL Calvin Blanton Jr., Marine Corps
Died: 10/26/1969, Age: 21
SGT Richard Max Pearl, Air Force
Died: 7/21/1970, Age: 32
AE1 Andrew Joseph Toth Jr., Navy
Died: 3/2/1971, Age: 45
SP4 Henry Dale Adkins, Army
Died: 5/23/1971, Age: 20
CWO James Patrick Delaney, Army
Died: 11/10/1971, Age: 21
PFC James David Smith, Army
Died 9/22/1966, Age: 20
SP4 Charles Dale Flood, Army
Died: 3/10/1968, Age: 18
LCPL Raymond Joseph Baldauf, Marine Corps
Died: 2/14/1969, Age: 20
SSG Gaylord Gerald Kerr, Army
Died: 6/3/1969, Age: 20
SP4 Michael Lester Brundage, Army
Died: 8/14/1969, Age: 25
LCPL Gene Arcaro White, Marine Corps
Died: 7/21/1967, Age: 22
CPL Warren Taylor Scott, Marine Corps
Died: 9/20/1967, Age: 22
LTJG Cody Allen Balisteri, Navy
Died: 10/26/1966, Age: 25
SGT James Patrick Byrne, Marine Corps
Died: 3/8/1967, Age: 22
LCPL John Herbert Snitch, Marine Corps
Died: 3/15/1967, Age: 19
1LT Paul Douglas Strahm, Air Force
Died: 1/14/1968, Age: 24
SP4 Billara Wolford, Army
Died: 5/5/1968, Age: 21
PFC Earl Edward Barnhart Jr., Marine Corps
Died: 5/25/1968, Age: 20
SP4 Michael Joseph Conrady, Army
Died: 6/1/1968, Age: 21
SGT Wayne Edward Benge, Army
Died: 3/16/1969, Age: 21
LCPL Richard Duane Orlando, Marine Corps
Died: 4/27/1969, Age: 21
SP4 Richard Lowell Irvin, Army
Died: 8/5/1969, Age: 20
CPL William John Anderson Jr., Army
Died: 8/24/1969, Age: 21
2LT Richard Van De Geer, Air Force
Died: 5/15/1975, Age: 27
SSG Charles Douglas Sawyers, Army
Died: 11/11/1967,Age: 25
LCPL John Lyle Murphy,Marine Corps
Died: 2/6/1968, Age: 20
PFC Robert William Witty, Marine Corps
Died: 6/17/1969, Age: 18
PFC Hubert Jackson Payne, Army
Died: 11/17/1967, Age: 26
SGT John Lewis Kotora, Army
Died: 5/3/1970,Age: 21
PFC Kenneth Charles Marley, Army
Died: 5/13/1967, Age: 23
LCPL Davis Allen Jones, Marine Corps
Died: 11/2/1967, Age: 20
CPT Gary William Perkins, Army
Died: 3/12/1968,Age: 26
SGT Timothy James Cottrell, Army
Died: 8/27/1968, Age: 19
SP4 Sidney Allen Cottrell, Army
Died: 10/4/197, Age: 21
SOURCES: http://virtualwall.org/istate/istatoh.htm; http://www.chroniclet.com/news/2007/05/28/County-honors-fallen-soldiers.html; Joyce Young, archivist, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial of Lorain County