• colonia
  • Middlesex
  • October 13, 1948
  • October 18, 1969
  • Army
  • RANK:
  • SGT
  • KIA
  • South Vietnam


Ralph Custode was born on October 13, 1948, to Joseph and Margaret Custode. His home of record is Colonia, NJ. He had one brother, John, and a sister, Betty. He graduated from Roselle Catholic High School in 1966. In high school, Ralph did well academically. He was most interested in music, band, drama club and the arts. He played the guitar and was a member of the Coral and Aqua string band. When it came to academics, he was mainly interested in languages and music. He also enjoyed history class and loved to read history books. He enjoyed gardening and camping. He served as an altar boy and was a member of St. John Vianney CYO.

Custode entered the US Army in April 1967, and was assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. Custode's tour of duty in Vietnam began on March 13, 1969. He achieved the rank of Sergeant (SGT) and he earned an E5 pay grade.

Many people described Ralph as a popular, friendly and outgoing person.
While in Vietnam, Ralph sent letters home on a regular basis. Sometimes he would send pictures with those letters. Although he was drafted, Ralph never complained about being in Vietnam.

A man that served with Ralph in Vietnam, Robert E. Sphar, remembers Ralph: "On some evenings, where the platoon was in the NDP (Night Defense Position), Ralph would take out his banjo and the platoon would sit together with about 8 to 10 GI's singing protest songs, making the officers unhappy with them." The platoon thought, "What was the worst the officers could do to them, send the entire platoon to Vietnam?"

Custode became ill with meningitis after returning from R&R in Japan. On October 18, 1969, he died of an illness while in South Vietnam, five days after his 21st birthday.

Throughout his two years of service, Custode was awarded the Bronze Star, the Army Commendation Medal, the Air Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with one Bronze Service Star, the Vietnam Campaign Medal and the Combat Infantryman Badge.

His Air Medal (with Numeral Device One) citation reads:
For distinguishing himself by meritorious achievement while participating in sustained aerial flight in support of combat ground forces of the Republic of Vietnam during the period 18 July 1969 to 29 August 1969. During this time he actively participated in more than twenty-five aerial missions over hostile territory in support of counterinsurgency operations. During all of these missions he displayed the highest order of air discipline and acted in accordance with the best traditions of the service. By his determination to accomplish his mission in spite of the hazards inherent in repeated aerial flights over hostile territory and by his outstanding degree of professionalism and devotion to duty, he has brought credit upon himself, his organization, and the military service.

His Bronze Star Medal citation reads:
The Bronze Star Medal presented posthumously to Sergeant Ralph Custode for distinguishing himself by outstanding meritorious service in connection with ground operations against a hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam during the period March 1969 to October 1969 through his untiring efforts and professional ability, he consistently obtained outstanding results. He was quick to grasp the implications of new problems with which he was faced as a result of the ever changing situations inherent in a counterinsurgency operation and to find ways and means to solve those problems. The energetic application of his extensive knowledge has materially contributed to the efforts of the United States mission to the Republic of Vietnam to assist that country in ridding itself of the communist threat to its freedom. His initiative, zeal, sound judgment and devotion to duty have been in the highest tradition of the United States Army and reflects great credit on himself, his unit and the military service.

His Army Commendation Medal citation reads:
The Army Commendation Medal presented posthumously to Sergeant Ralph Custode for the performance of exceptionally meritorious service in support of the United States objectives in the counterinsurgency effort in the Republic of Vietnam during the period 1 August 1969 to 18 October 1969 through his outstanding professional competence and devotion to duty he consistently obtained superior results. Working long and arduous hours, he set an example that inspired his associates to strive for maximum achievement. The loyalty, initiative and will to succeed that he demonstrated at all times materially contributed to the successful accomplishment of the mission of this command.

His performance was in keeping with the best traditions of the United States Army and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit and the military service.

On Saturday, October, 27, 2001, a monument was dedicated to Sergeant Ralph Custode in Colonia, NJ. Sergeant Custode was the only resident of Colonia (Woodbridge Township, Middlesex County), NJ, to lose his life in Vietnam.

Ralph loved outdoor work, planting a garden and taking care of pets. At an early age, he raised hamsters and sold them to a neighbor who bred such animals for research labs. Ralph also helped this person care for the animals.

In high school, Ralph acted as assistant to the director of the drama club and participated in the folk group.

Ralph loved to play the banjo and played as much and as often as possible. When he was in Vietnam he wrote how much he missed his banjo playing. A good friend, who was in the shipping business, was kind enough to offer to pack and send him his beloved banjo at no charge. We were very grateful for this great act of kindness.

Ralph wrote once that he wished he could have a New Jersey State flag to mount outside his quarters. The State Senator who represented our town at the time, John Fay, Jr., arranged to have one sent to him. He was so happy and proud to receive this flag.

Written by Margaret Custode, Mother
March 21, 2000

Sources: Margaret Custode (mother), John F. Kennedy Memorial High School and NJVVMF.


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