“My Gentlemen” – Ann Margret

Richard, (my husband), never really talked a lot about his time in Viet Nam, other than he had been shot by a sniper.  However, he had a rather grainy, 8 x 10 black and white photo he had taken at a USO show of Ann Margret with Bob Hope in the background that was one of his treasures.A few years ago, Ann Margret was doing a book signing at a local bookstore. Richard wanted to see if he could get her to Sign the treasured photo so he arrived at the bookstore at 12 o’clock for the 7:30 signing.

When I got there after work, the line went all the way around the bookstore, circled the parking lot, and disappeared behind a parking garage.  Before her appearance, bookstore employees announced that she would sign only her book and no memorabilia would be permitted.Ann Margaret
Richard was disappointed, but wanted to show her the photo and let her know how much those shows meant to lonely GI’s so far from home.. Ann Margret came out looking as beautiful as ever and, as second in line, it was soon Richard’s turn.

He presented the book for her signature and then took out the photo.  When he did, there were many shouts from the employees that she would not sign it.  Richard said, “I understand. I just wanted her to see it.”

She took one look at the photo, tears welled up in her eyes and she said, “This is one of my gentlemen from Viet Nam and I most certainly will sign his photo. I know what these men did for their country and I always have time for ‘my gentlemen.”

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With that, she pulled Richard across the table and planted a big kiss on him.  She then made quite a to-do about the bravery of the young men she met over the years, how much she admired them, and how much she appreciated them.  There weren’t too many dry eyes among those close enough to hear.  She then posed for pictures and acted as if he were the only one  there.

Later at dinner, Richard was very quiet.  When I asked if he’d like to talk about it, my big, strong husband broke down in tears.. ”That’s the first time anyone ever thanked me for my time in  the Army,” he said.

That night was a turning point for him. He walked a little straighter and, for the first time in years, was proud to have been a Vet. I’ll never forget Ann Margret for her graciousness and how much that small act of kindness meant to my husband.

I now make it a point to say ‘Thank you’ to every person I come across who served in our Armed Forces.  Freedom does not come cheap and I am grateful for all those who have served their country.

If you’d like to pass on this story, feel free to do so. Perhaps it will help others to become aware of how important it is to acknowledge the  contribution our service people make.

“The country is behind you 50 percent”         – Bob Hope to the troops, Christmas Tour Vietnam 1966

Stay tuned for more about Bob Hope and the USO Tours in Vietnam.  – J. Barry

Hill Street

By Karen Nugent TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF

LEOMINSTER —  Throughout Helen Hill’s apartment, there are reminders of the handsome young soldier with the sparkling blue eyes.  Framed portraits hang on the wall and sit on tables. A teddy bear on the sofa plays electronic patriotic songs.

There’s the official letter from the Army offering condolences and describing her son as a “courageous soldier in this vast and most cruel of wars,” and Mrs. Hill, 89, has a yellow star designating her a Gold Star Mother — meaning a child was killed in action — on her clothing and in her front window.

Yet when her son, Pfc. David A. Hill, was killed in Vietnam in 1969, she and her husband, now deceased, had to keep their shades drawn to avoid hurtful, insensitive comments about his military service.

“We were getting calls from people saying, ‘Are you happy now that you got your son killed?’ It was so hard,” she said.

Her husband suggested leaving their hometown.

“We were just left to ourselves, but I did not get bitter. I just thought I would try and help the other veterans, and give of ourselves and work with them,” she said.

Despite the turmoil surrounding that war, Mrs. Hill at the time attempted to get city officials to name a street near where they lived in his honor. It wouldn’t have been much of a change: from Hill Street to David A. Hill Street. The earlier “Hill” name has no connection to the family.

They were refused, Mrs. Hill said.

“They called it a conflict not a war,” she said.

A renewed effort is under way, with the help of City Councilor Claire M. Freda, whose late husband also served in Vietnam.

Mrs. Hill

Helen Hill, 89, holds a photograph of her late son, Pfc. David A. Hill, as she stands on Hill Street. (T&G Staff/TOM RETTIG)

Mrs. Freda recently submitted a petition to the council to change the name of the street, near Pleasant Street, to David A. Hill Street. So far, it has not been acted on.

“It is simply a step to start the process, not to cause any hardships,” she said.

Mrs. Freda said some residents have already questioned if a name change would cause problems with mail delivery and property deeds.

“If a legal opinion says it would be difficult then I would ask that the street be dedicated with a sign on the street sign itself in David’s memory,” she said.

The street naming request was partially prompted by the recent naming of a park and a bridge in memory of Pfc. Jonathan Roberge, a Leominster native killed in Iraq in 2009 at age 22. Ceremonies and fundraisers for Pfc. Roberge have drawn hundreds, including state and local officials.

“That made me live my own heartache all over again, since it was the first military death in a long time,” Mrs. Hill said. “I am not envious — my heart goes out to the family — but I thought ‘shame on me for not doing something sooner for my son.’ I find some people still resent Vietnam veterans.”

According to the Leominster Veterans Services agency, Pfc. Hill, a Leominster High School graduate, was killed in action on Feb. 13, 1969, near Duc Pho, Vietnam. He was 21, and served with the Army Company C, 3rd Battalion, 1st Infantry, 11th Infantry Brigade. He was one of nine Leominster soldiers killed in action in Vietnam.

Richard N. Voutour, director of veterans services, said that besides Pfc. Roberge and the 10 fallen Vietnam War soldiers, one died in service in 1969 on a training mission in Virginia, and two men died while on active duty in the Gulf War in 2001.

Mrs. Hill said her son had just finished broadcasting school when he was drafted in June 1968. He went to Army training for a few months, came home in December and was sent to Vietnam in January 1969. He was shot in the arm a few weeks later, and the family thought he would be discharged.

He was sent back into combat and killed three weeks later.

“We got the news at 7 a.m. on Valentine’s Day,” Mrs. Hill said. “A very young minister who said it was his first time informing a family of a military death came with the Army car.”

Mrs. Freda said she wants to raise awareness of how Vietnam War veterans were treated.

“Other veterans did not acknowledge them. The support mechanisms are so much different now, maybe because 9-11 brought patriotism back. I had thought about getting that street name changed for a long time, and I watched Helen’s pain come back through the Roberge’s suffering.”