During the late part of 1987 I phoned a woman who was a complete stranger to me and I to her. We had had no previous contact and to say the least I was about to ask her to do me a colossal favor and I was very uncomfortable about it. She is the sister of Vinny Sciarretti who was killed from an exploding mortar shell on L.Z. Candy on April fools day (April 1, 1970).
I explained to her that I was compiling facts on stories, events and incidents that took place when I was with Delta company. I knew no story would be complete with out hearing from the other group of people whose pain and suffering equaled or surpassed that of the survivors and witnesses of any battle. The story of the families who lost their loved ones.
I don't exactly know what to say or where to begin to express on paper what happened that day when two Army captains arrived at our home. Before I tell about that day, I want to go back to the last few days of March 1970, which seemed very strange to me. My mother, who very seldom recalls her dreams, remembers dreaming about my brother. She could only remember waking up with "Vinny" on her mind. The next night, she had a dream about my dad holding up a black suit and asking her if it was okay. She didn't know what the suit was for. My dad had a dream about my brother. He was helping my brother dig a hole. My brother had on white gloves. In dad's dream, my brother was very tired and dad kept saying, "you rest and I'll dig." When my brother's casket arrived in the States he was wearing white gloves.
The dreams became reality.
On April 1, 1970, the day Vinny died, we had a bad storm where winds were between 50 to 60 miles per hour. The sky was black and dreary. A roof blew off a third floor building and landed four houses across our street. It reminded me of "The Wizard of Oz". To this day, I've never remembered another storm like that.
Also on that day, my mother was telling one of our neighbors that she was worried because she hadn't received a letter from my brother that week. To me, everything seemed to relate--the dreams and storm. Vinny was in everyone's thoughts. I think God was trying to prepare us in His own way. They say God works in mysterious ways.
The night before the captains came, I had a dream about Vinny. In my dream, I was over in Vietnam. I could see him in this big hole. I tried for his hand to help him out but I couldn't reach him. I awoke in a cold sweat. Also that night, a dog in our neighborhood howled all night long. I remember my dad coming down the steps in the morning stating that he didn't like the way the dog howled during the night. I believe the saying goes that when a dog howls, death is near.
My younger sister and I were getting ready for school. My other sister had left for work. For some reason that morning, I had a bad feeling inside as if something terrible was going to happen. I didn't know what, but I just wanted to stay home. I went to a neighbor and asked her to write me an excuse to get out of school early that day. I told her about the bad feelings I had, and for some reason she did it for me.
I will try to express the emotions and feelings on that day the captains arrived at our home to notify my parents that their son was killed in action in Vietnam. My parents were in the basement that morning. Mother was washing clothes and dad was cleaning the garage. The captains arrived at 9:30 that morning. They rang the front door bell but no one answered. They went around to the back door. The door was open and they could see in the screen door. They knocked at the back door and again no answer. My parents never heard the knocks at the door.
A neighbor happened to look out her bedroom window and noticed a jeep that read "U.S. Army". and an ambulance parked behind it. She didn't see anyone, thought it strange, yet never figured that they were there to see my parents. She then saw them standing at the back door, opened the window and asked if anything was wrong. At first, they didn't answer. Again, she called out and they told her they wanted to speak to Mr and Mrs Sciarretti. She told them that she would be right over. Before entering the house, they informed her not to say who was there, but only that someone wanted to speak to Mr and Mrs Sciarretti. She entered the kitchen and called for my mother without realizing the captains were right behind her. My mother came to the bottom of the steps and our neighbor told her that there was someone here who wanted to speak to her. The look on her neighbor's face told mother that something was wrong. When she reached the top of the stairs she saw two young Army captains standing in the doorway. The stood erect and motionless in their dress uniforms. The looks on their faces told her what had happened. Seeing them mother became hysterical and screamed, "don't you tell me anything is wrong". She realized she was screaming, but they didn't tell her anything. They just stood at attention. As our neighbor watched this take place she thought to herself, "come on guys, loosen up for God's sake and tell her something or go to her". But they didn't move. Mother moved across the room to where they were standing. She approached on captain, held on to his shoulder saying, "what are you trying to tell me?" The captain, still standing erect and tall, took her hand and said, "Mrs. Sciarretti, I am sorry to inform you that your son was killed in action on April 1, 1970 in the line of duty in Vietnam." Mother fell on the floor saying, "don't tell me that".
My father had just reached the top of the stairs when mother fell to the floor. In shock, father stood there saying, "dear God, no". Our neighbor ran outside and called for another neighbor across the way. The captains stayed for about two hours. The neighbors took care of calling the priest and family doctor to come to our home.
I was still sitting in the classroom with the bad feeling in my gut, waiting for the clock to hit 10:30 so I could leave school. Over the intercom I heard, "will Judy and Susan Sciarretti please come to the office". I walked out of the classroom with that bad feeling inside me. I entered the office to see a blank look on the principal's face. Susan was already there. The principal looked at both of us and said, "you are wanted at home, your brother was hurt in Vietnam." I could feel something happening inside of me that I've never felt before. I just stood there for a minute trying to absorb what this person just said about my brother. I came out of my trance when she asked if I was alright. When I looked up, Susan was gone. I was in the school hallway when my cousin Gloria approached me and asked what was wrong with Susan. She passed her on the steps and out the door with tears in her eyes. Gloria tried to stop her but she kept going. When I looked up at her she noticed the tears rolling down my eyes. I kept saying to her, "he better not be dead". When she realized who I was talking about she took me by the arm and we left the school.
As I walked in the front door of my home there were people crying everywhere. Our neighbor, who wrote me the excuse to get out of school early, was waiting for me. I asked my aunt, "how bad was he hurt?" and with tears in her eyes, she turned and walked away. Anther neighbor came face to face with me and said, "Judy, Vinny is dead". I kept saying "no". I told her I had a bad feeling inside me. I kept telling her they made a mistake, that she was wrong. I suppose I was hysterical. I remember she slapped me in the face. After that, she hugged and held me tight. I felt as if I couldn't breathe.
I realized that I hadn't seen Susan anywhere and I asked if she had made it home. They told me that she was upstairs in Vinny's room. I went to his room and found her crying on the bed. I picked up a picture of Vinny and his girl friend, Sue. It was a special picture and I noticed the way the looked at one another. I could see in their faces the love they had for each other. Their love grew from being together and talking about the dreams they were going to share when Vinny got back for Nam.
I heard Susan crying again and came out of my trance. I went to her and sat down on the bed. We both cried and held each other. I realized that I didn't even see my mother or father or my sister Teresa. I went downstairs looking for them. With people around her, mother was sitting at the dining room table holding his letters in one hand. Dad was sitting in the kitchen with our priest and a few of his brothers. As I passed through the living room I saw Teresa sitting in the corner on the floor. As she held onto something that belonged to Vinny I thought to myself. "How did they tell her? Was she told the same way that we were, or did she come home and find out in a different way?" Later, I learned that they notified my cousin, who works with Teresa and told her first. Teresa was only told that her cousin Carol was sick and Teresa was to take her home. When Teresa entered the house, she called out for my mother telling her that she brought Carol home. She realized something was wrong when she saw the priest, my dad, and my uncle in the kitchen. Her eyes searched for my mother. As she turned to go into the dining room, she saw mother sitting at the table holding some of Vinny's letters. Mother looked up at her and said, "don't you know"?
Oh, God, how it hurts to write this! But I must face it and put it to rest. I know after talking to Vinny's friends that they too, must have relived it all over again.
For two weeks we waited for Vinny's body to return to the States. We received film from him to be developed along with some letters. The letters kept coming, and it was really hard to believe that he was dead while reading his letters telling us everything was okay, that he was okay, and not to worry about him. Picking up the film and seeing him in the pictures made it hard to believe that he was dead.
We were notified of his death on the third of April, but his body wasn't returned to the States until the eleventh. In the course of that time, I remember mother going through all of his letters to see if he mentioned one guy in particular. But he didn't. They were all his buddies. Mother wanted to request that Vinny's body be escorted home by one the guys in his squad. Vinny came home twenty-five days before he was killed. He had been requested to escort the body of Pfc. Paul Peluso from Vietnam. Paul was a good friend who died from a land mine explosion in Nam. Vinny arrived back in the States and home for two weeks. For the short time that he had already served in Vietnam, we noticed that he was a different person. He was always so happy-go-lucky. For the time that he was home, even though he had a smile on his face, he couldn't hide the fear that we saw in his eyes. He knew he was going back to Vietnam in two weeks. He didn't take much about it, only to say, "we are trying to help these people and their children to live freely again".
Vinny told a neighbor that he wasn't coming back home again. He didn't think he would make it out of the war alive. Our neighbor encouraged him to think positive but Vinny told him, "you have no idea what it is like over there". "The fear of being in the jungle, not knowing when the next mortar was going to hit, it's a real hell hole over there."
He talked about getting back to his buddies. He was worried about leaving them back in the hell hole he called Vietnam.
We took him to the airport the day he left to return to Vietnam. We said our good-byes and cried for the second time. I remember my mother hugging and kissing him as the tears rolled down her face. The hurt she must have felt letting her son go again to that strange place called Vietnam. He had already boarded the plane, but for some reason, I wanted to see him one more time. I ran up to the plane and asked if I could see my brother again who was leaving for Vietnam. The stewardess let me on the plane and I walked down the aisle looking for him. As I approached him, he was looking out the window. When he turned and saw me there I said, "I just wanted to hug and kiss you one more time". He looked at me with tears rolling down his face. I didn't know I was going to be hugging and kissing him for the last time. When we hugged, I asked him why he was crying. He said, "I'm not, I got something in my eye". As I was leaving the plane, I thought, "there wasn't anything in his eye". They were real tears I saw for the first time, coming from my brother. He was always the "tough guy" and could handle anything. But for as tough as he was, his heart was just as big.
We never though that twenty-five days later we would be requesting an escort from his squad to bring him home. For us, it is hard to accept the fact that Vinny will never return home again. But he will never die because he will always be with us. And there is no doubt in my mind that we will see him in the next world on heaven's bright shores. Even though we can't see him, I know Vinny is watching over us.
He told us in his last letter home that he hadn't sat at a table to eat a meal or slept in a bed since he left the States. He told us that the infantry was really something to go through, but when it's all over, your kind of proud you did it.
On this eighteenth anniversary of Vinny's death in Vietnam, the hurt remains for us who knew and loved him. As I talked with men who were with him in Vietnam, men who were with him during his last few moments of life, I can not help but to feel their pain. Yet I find that the pain with losing Vinny is not the only thing we have in common. For we too share the memories of his being, his person, that touched all of us in a very special way. We know that his living had meaning, and his death may also serve to remind us that he died so that others might live. The Silver Star Medal awarded posthumously to Specialist Four Vinture Sciarretti cited:
"For gallantry in action while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam. Specialist Four Sciarretti distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous action on 1 April 1970, while serving as machine gunner in the Republic of Vietnam. When the base came under mortar and rocket attack, Specialist Four Sciarretti exposed himself to incoming rounds to provide medical aid to an injured comrade. After moving the men to a more secure area, he again exposed himself to fire as he aided three more wounded men. While moving to an advantageous position with a machine gun, in case of ground assault, he was mortally wounded by and exploding mortar. His gallant action was in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army."
Many years have passed since those terrible days when we were informed of Vinny's death. May we be confronted by the knowledge that his dying was not in vain, and that we hold within us those memories of Vinny, that shall remain forever.
--- Judy Sciarretti Kanai
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