Tisbury memorial honors Island's Vietnam veterans
This year marks 40 years since the death of the first of four servicemen from Martha's Vineyard who died in Vietnam. In a Memorial Day observance Monday in Tisbury's Oak Grove cemetery, a grateful Island community paid them tribute, ensuring that no matter how many years have passed, their service and sacrifice will not be forgotten.
Family members representing the honored men - Daniel Stephen Bettencourt, Jon L. Grimmett, William Thomas Hagerty, and John Robert Painter, Jr. - helped dedicate a new Vietnam veterans' monument in a ceremony at the cemetery at the conclusion of Tisbury's parade.
The new monument, made by an Island company, showcases a plaque on the front of a beautiful piece of rough-hewn, dark blue granite from Quincy. It is dedicated to the men and women of Martha's Vineyard who served in the armed forces during the Vietnam War from 1964 to 1973.
A bronze plaque set in blue granite honors the Island's men and women who served in Vietnam and the four who lost their lives there. Photo by J. W. Smith
Under the words, "All gave some, some gave all," the plaque lists the names of the four Islanders who died in Vietnam. The stone rests in the forefront of a memorial area on the Avenue of Flags where a directory lists veterans of all wars who are buried in the cemetery.
"Those among us who served in Vietnam were the best of their time," said guest speaker Richard Earley, who represents Massachusetts veterans whose cases are processed at the Providence veterans administration regional office.
As a past president of the Massachusetts Vietnam Veterans Memorial who also served on the National Board of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Mr. Earley reminded everyone, "The four special heroes we honor with a new memorial today reflect the reality of service during the longest war in U.S. history....They served when service was not appreciated or understood."
At the conclusion of his speech, Renee Ortiz, Mr. Grimmett's widow, placed a wreath by the new monument as American Legion member Edson Rodgers played "Amazing Grace" on his trumpet. Mr. Bettencourt's sister Noreen, Mr. Painter's sister Jenny Seward, and Mr. Hagerty's sisters Jean Francis and Joan Duggan stood by.
A few minutes later, a Blackhawk helicopter from Otis Air National Guard Base piloted by Warrant Officer Jim McCabe flew overhead in tribute, with cheers and waves from many in the crowd of about 150.
Daniel S. Bettencourt
Daniel S. Bettencourt was born on Martha's Vineyard on April 3, 1945. He attended Edgartown School and enjoyed membership in the Island's Boy's Club while growing up. As a teenager, he made the decision to quit school and enlist in the Marine Corps. His two older brothers who were already in the Marine Corps tried to talk him into going into another branch of service, but he wanted to be a Marine, his sister Noreen said.
Anxious to enlist but underage at 17, Daniel had to get his parents' signed permission on his enlistment papers. When his first tour of duty was ending, he reenlisted so that he could join the escalating war effort in Vietnam. Ms. Bettencourt recalled that their father thought he should have been asked for his consent again. However, this time around, his son could sign the papers for himself.
On May 9, 1967, a few days before Mother's Day, 21-year-old Corporal Bettencourt was killed in Quang Tri, South Vietnam, a casualty of small arms fire in his fourth year of service.
The Island's first soldier to die in Vietnam, his body was brought home for burial in the family plot in Edgartown cemetery. Ms. Bettencourt and her brothers Peter, John, and Michael still live in Edgartown. Their brother Bruce lives in Florida.
Following Monday's ceremony, Ms. Bettencourt remarked on how wonderful it was to see so many people from the Island community there.
William Thomas Hagerty
William (Bill) Thomas Hagerty, born on Martha's Vineyard on March 24, 1946, grew up in Vineyard Haven and attended Tisbury School. After graduating from Martha's Vineyard Regional High School in 1963, he attended Wentworth College. He wanted to be a draftsman, and also was studying for his real estate license.
Facing the possibility of being drafted, Bill decided to enlist in the Army, where he became a medic and paratrooper in the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
On November 20, 1967, in his second year of service, 21-year-old Specialist 4th Class Hagerty died while saving his fellow soldiers in a terrible battle on a hill in Kontum, South Vietnam. Although reported missing at first, his body was recovered and returned to Martha's Vineyard for a funeral service. His parents, William and Anna Hagerty, thinking they would move someday from Martha's Vineyard, decided he should be buried at Fort Devens' cemetery with his fellow soldiers. However, his mother Anna still lives in Vineyard Haven, where his dad and sister Janet are buried.
Bill's sister Jean Francis of West Tisbury, a nurse at Martha's Vineyard Hospital in the dialysis unit, shared fond memories of him this week. When he got into high school and started playing football, she recalled, he blossomed into someone "very well-liked, with a good sense of humor and fun, not a pesky kid."
She said that before learning of Bill's death, her mother sensed something might have happened to him. Ms. Francis reassured her that they would have been notified - and shortly afterwards, they were.
On Monday, Ms. Francis linked arms with her sister Joan Duggan of Pomfret, Conn., as they represented Bill's family at the dedication ceremony. Their
mother, Anna Hagerty, now 91, watched from the sidelines with their other family members.
At her home later that day, Ms. Hagerty proudly pointed out a framed photo of a memorial for her son at the end of Wm. T. Hagerty Drive, a street named in his honor off Franklin Avenue in Vineyard Haven. Arthur Silva and Fred Ferro donated the land, and White Brothers donated granite.
The long history of their family's military service continues, Ms. Hagerty noted. Her son Robert Hagerty of Edgartown has a son, James, who is serving as a lieutenant in the Marine Corps, stationed in Iraq until November.
Jon L. Grimmett
Born on Jan. 9, 1947, in Corsicana, Tex., Jon spent many happy summers on Martha's Vineyard with his brothers Barry and Hall, and sister Sue, where their mother Marjorie Santos was born and raised. Clamming in the Lagoon and hanging around Owen Park in Vineyard Haven, one of the Island kids Jon met would turn out to be his future wife, Renee Ortiz.
After graduating from high school in Texas, Jon promptly enlisted in the Army. One day Renee thought she spotted him driving by Cronig's on Main Street in Vineyard Haven. After confirming it was Jon with his uncle George Santos, Renee called him and their courtship began, continuing through letters and visits after he returned to Fort Bragg.
They got engaged in North Carolina when Renee was on her way to college in San Antonio. They planned to wait awhile to get married since she was 18 and Jon not quite 21. However, when he received his orders to go to Vietnam, they quickly planned a wedding July 1, 1967, which gave them about a month together before his tour began on July 22.
That January, Renee and her mother-in-law traveled to Hong Kong to meet up with Jon and his father, also serving in Vietnam, for a week's leave. Shortly after arriving, they were notified that Jon had been killed on Jan. 24, 1968.
A sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division, Jon took his responsibility as the point squad leader seriously. That day, his company was hit by enemy fire from automatic weapons and machine guns near Song Be, South Vietnam. When the squad's machine gunner fell wounded, Sergeant Grimmett crawled back to secure the machine gun. Realizing two bunkers in front of him were firing on his squad, he rose from a prone position and began firing continuously on both bunkers, drawing fire on himself and away from his men until he was killed. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, one of the nation's highest military honors, for his gallantry in action.
Before Jon left for Vietnam, Renee said they spent Memorial Day together, watching the parade go by as they stood near Oak Grove cemetery in Vineyard Haven. If anything happens to me, he told her, I want to be buried there. The spot by the stone wall where they stood that day lies almost directly across from where Jon is buried.
John Robert Painter Jr.
Born on March 15, 1945, John grew up in Vineyard Haven where he attended Tisbury School from kindergarten through 8th grade, before heading to Millbrook School in upstate New York. He learned to ride a bike with the help of his older friend, Denys Wortman, who is now a Tisbury selectman, and loved to surf.
His sister and only sibling, Jenny Seward of Vineyard Haven, remembers that he "liked living on the edge, whether it was surfing, piloting a plane, or parachute jumping." John joined ROTC while attending Colgate University, and after graduation in 1966, became a pilot in the U. S. Navy Reserve. He also was trained as a jumpmaster.
After serving his first two-year tour in Vietnam, he signed up for a second. Ms. Seward's former husband, Dan, recalled this week that during his career as a pilot, John held a record for the number of hours he flew in an A-3 Skywarrior.
Reaching the end of his second tour, with only two weeks left to go, 26-year-old Lieutenant Painter was preparing for civilian life. Engaged to be married, he had bought some land in Aquinnah and lined up a job as a commercial pilot with American Airlines.
On the day of his final flight on June 18, 1971, the plane Lieutenant Painter was piloting with two others on board exploded on impact in the Gulf of Tonkin, South Vietnam. Mr. Seward said he later talked to one of the lieutenant's friends who witnessed the accident and thought it looked as though the plane experienced mechanical failure.
Lieutenant Painter's body was not recovered and he remains listed as missing in action. His family erected a memorial stone for him at their burial plot at Abel's Hill, not far from one of his favorite surfing spots.
Family members (from left) Jean Francis and her sister Joan Duggan, Renee Ortiz, Jenny Seward, and Noreen Bettencourt, share a proud moment at the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Two weeks after notification of her brother's death, Ms. Seward said their father collapsed in grief at the post office when a letter written by John shortly before his death arrived. Mr. Painter sold the land John bought in Aquinnah and donated the money to Colgate.
No matter how many years have passed, Ms. Seward said, "Every time I see the contrail from a jet, I think of my brother," Ms. Seward said.
A monument, at last
Dukes County Veterans Agent Jo Ann Murphy began working on the Vietnam veterans' memorial project about a year ago. She said that several years ago, some of the Island's Vietnam veterans raised money towards a memorial but had not agreed on a design. With no objections raised, Ms. Murphy decided to move forward on the project and bring it to fruition.