GUY L SCHAEFFER - PFC
- DATE OF BIRTH:
- July 09, 1947
- DATE OF CASUALTY:
- November 17, 1965
- BRANCH OF SERVICE:
- South Vietnam
Guy L. Schaeffer was born on July 9, 1947. His home of record is Deptford, NJ. He served in the US Army and attained the rank of Private First Class (PFC).
Schaeffer was killed in action on November 17, 1965.
Guy was born in Hartford, CT on July 9, 1947. We moved to New Jersey as grade-school kids when our parents broke up because my mother's parents lived there, and I suppose she needed help in raising the three of us. We lived near my grandparents in Camden, NJ for a short time, then moved to Berlin, NJ and finally settled in Blackwood Terrace, NJ. Guy attended Blackwood Terrace Elementary School and then, Deptford High School. There was no middle or junior high school at that time. We grew up with Chrissie Daniels, Gussie Ponto, Johnny Rankin, and Stevie Kirschner as friends and neighbors. Guy and my younger brother Al played baseball, football, basketball, etc. with all of those boys. It was very sad to watch them leave, one by one, never to return. I heard of Chris and Stevie's deaths through mutual friends as they had moved away from Blackwood Terrace prior to going into the service. My mother and Gus's mother were friends, and my mother spent days and days worrying with Gus's mom about his condition prior to his death. My brother died before Gus, and my mom understood well what Cass Ponto was going through in the days and weeks she waited to hear of Gus's progress.
Guy dropped out of high school in the 10th or 11th grade to get a job in order to help my mom out financially. He was also a volunteer at the Blackwood Terrace Fire Dept. He decided to join the Army in order to be able to finish his education and get some sort of job skills, while earning some money to help my mom out. He was the "man" of the family for my mom, and continued to send her money after his enlistment. He met a girl while training at Fort Dix, Nancy Van Pelt of Pt. Pleasant, NJ, with whom he fell in love and was planning to marry her as soon as he returned from Vietnam. She did come to the funeral, and we heard some time later that she married a young man who looked very much like Guy. Then, as the story goes, we lost contact with her. I could go on and on forever, but I would most like Guy to be remembered as a loving son and brother who cared deeply for his family, and was brave enough to go out, as a teenager with little worldly experience, on his own to provide for them. He made the ultimate sacrifice for his family and his country, and will always be a hero to me.
Written by Nancy Schaeffer, Sister
September 24, 2003
July 9,1947 - November 17,1965
PFC, Army Deptford, NJ
"I have been quiet for thirty-one years," says Dale Nelson of Barberton, Ohio. "Today is the first time in thirty-one years a tear fell from my eyes." It is with no small measure of honor and respect that Nelson recalls the memory of one of the best friends he ever had. He and Guy Schaeffer had not grown up together as boys, but they grew together as men, as soldiers, and with a bond as strong as any two young men could share.
Dale Nelson joined the Army in 1963 and was eighteen when he found himself stationed at Fort Benning, GA. He was training with the 11th Air Assault Division that was about to become the standard bearer for the still new concept of air mobility, incorporating the use of helicopters for the insertion and extraction of combat troops in the jungles, rice paddies and mountains of Vietnam.
"I first met Guy in 1965 when he came to Fort Benning," Nelson says. "He was a small kid with brown hair and kind of quiet. We hit it off right away. We started hanging around together, going to the Enlisted Men's club, a movie once in a while and to Columbus when we had some time off. He never joked a lot but always stood up for himself. He may have been small but he never let anyone push him around. I liked that quality in him."
Nancy Gibson, of Woodbury, NJ, remembers her cherished role as little sister. "He was strong, handsome, smart and very popular with girls," she says. "I sometimes thought that my girlfriends hung around with me just to get close to him. But who could blame them? He had good looks, hazel eyes, dark wavy hair and a strong, lean body. There was an Elvis Presley quality to his voice that made the girls go wild. He was definitely his little sister's idol as well."
"Guy was an average student in high school," Nancy continues. "He was more interested in exploring life than in reading books. He dropped out of school and went to work so that he could help Mom a little. She was a single parent working menial jobs. But Guy liked being out in the world and being the man of the family."
Guy was working as a carpenter's apprentice as he approached his eighteenth birthday. The idea of joining the Army appealed to him and he enlisted.
"This was more for practical reasons like completing his education and earning other benefits for the future," Nancy says. "He didn't join for personal glory or to become a hero in the war. He was proud to be accepted by the Army and even more proud when he graduated from basic training. He was looking forward to seeing the world. Unfortunately, he saw precious little of it. Fort Dix, NJ, Fort Benning, GA, and Vietnam."
"We were going through a lot of training in the summer of '65." Dale Nelson continues. "They were trying to give us as much combat training as they could in preparation of our upcoming tour in Vietnam. We knew we were going and we trained heavily until the day they loaded us onto buses for the ride to Charleston, SC, where we boarded the troop carrier, USNS Rose."
In August of 1965, The 11th Air Assault Division became the Army's newly re-designated 1st Cavalry Division and was loaded onto troop ships for the long voyage to Vietnam. The U.S. military role until then had been one of defensive activity and advisor to the South Vietnamese military. The American losses had been limited at first but then an increasing number of Marines and soldiers were casualties in sporadic fighting along the eastern coast of South Vietnam.
The 1st Cavalry's mission was to seek out and engage the enemy, destroy his will to fight and prevent the southern part of the country from being divided in two. A few weeks later, the division became embroiled in the first major battle of the war. The foe was three regiments of trained North Vietnamese Army regulars. The place, a valley called the Ia Drang, in the central highlands of South Vietnam.
"The only time I ever heard Guy complain was when we first got to Vietnam," says Nelson. "They flew us out to a place called An Khe in the middle of the jungle and said, 'Here is your base camp. Now build it.' So, of course, the food supply had been left behind and for a week or so, all we had to eat were dry corn flakes and one can each of peaches and tuna. Guy really complained about that but then again, we all did. One day, I tried to tell Guy that since I was so much bigger than him, he should give me his peaches and tuna. He gave me this weird grin and said, 'No way! I'm still growing!'"
"All the men in our unit were proud of what we were doing and never questioned why we were there," Nelson continues. "I was in the mortar platoon of A Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment and Guy was a rifleman in Sergeant Fisher's 1st platoon. We always talked about how lucky we were to have qualified leaders who had experience from Korea and World War II. It gave us some reassurance, since we had no idea of what we were in for."
"Guy went from a kid to a man in a few short months. He never questioned Sergeant Fisher's orders. He did his job and did it well. You could always depend on him, whether it was on an ambush, patrols, guard duty or as the dreaded point man. It was always a comfort to know your buddy was dependable. When we were in base camp, which was not very often, Guy, Tony Davida and myself hung out together. We would drink a few beers or go into the town of An Khe and party a little...it wasn't all bad. We managed to get a few laughs and joke around, but the job at hand was always in the back of your mind. We knew we had a serious and dangerous job."
The little sister at home did what she could for Guy and a couple of his buddies. "I wrote to him all the time," Nancy says. "I also wrote to two of his friends there because Guy told me they had no one to write to at home and that my writing would really cheer them up. We never discussed any deep subjects. I kept them informed on what was happening, what new music was hot. When his letters stopped, his friends' letter stopped also. I assumed they were on the move and had no time to write for awhile."
When elements of the 1st Cavalry Division were given the mission of establishing operations, the idea was to gain control of the central portion of the country. Sections of the now famous Ho Chi Minh trail were within a few miles up river of the Ia Drang valley. It was there where the 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry was ordered to set up a base and where two regiments of North Vietnamese Regular Army troops lay in wait for the chance to engage the Americans in battle, to see how they fought and to learn their tendencies under fire.
The 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry, (Schaeffer's and Nelson's unit), was to secure landing zones and set up a base camp fourteen miles east of their camp at An Khe. The North Vietnamese wasted little time in drawing the Americans into what was to become the bloodiest, most savagely fought and costliest four days of the war. In and around places called Landing Zone X-Ray and Landing Zone Albany, two hundred thirty-four American troops and over fifteen hundred North Vietnamese lost their lives.
Dale Nelson writes:
On the 12th of November, we left our base camp and flew to a tea plantation owned by the French, where our brigade headquarters were located. We only stayed there half a day, then we flew 30 miles south to a special forces camp and established Landing Zone Atlanta. We set up ambushes and patrols there on the 13th and 14th. On the 15th, B Company was en route back to brigade headquarters to provide security when it was diverted in flight to LZ X-Ray where the 1st of the 7th came under heavy attack. We were still providing security at LZ Atlanta. Later that day, we were ordered to LZ X-Ray, which at the time, was the hottest LZ we ever flew into. We landed with a few guys wounded and set up a defensive perimeter. All day and night, we were continuously attacked by the North Vietnamese at all our positions.
The initial fighting at Landing Zone X-Ray consisted of overwhelming charges by hundreds of North Vietnamese, sometimes over running American positions before being driven back. Almost one hundred Americans were lost and it was soon decided to call in massive air strikes on the whole area.
On November 16th, all of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cav assembled at LZ X-Ray. We fought off attacks and tried to strengthen our positions. On the morning of the 17th, we were ordered to go over land and secure a new LZ, about three miles away. This was to be known as LZ Albany. We were to secure it and be picked up and flown back to base camp. We had to move out by ten because the B52s were going to bomb X-Ray and all the surrounding jungle. This was to be the last time I would see Guy. We told each other we would meet back at base camp, that we were lucky to be alive, to be careful and that the worst was over.
The 2nd Battalion hacked their way through the jungle in a singular column as they approached the clearing. They slowed to a stop when the company commanders were called to the headquarters element at the front of the column after two prisoners were taken. Everyone else stayed in place, in one long line and exhausted. They considered the break well deserved. Another North Vietnamese regiment, already in a flanking position and hardly believing the good fortune, attacked at once. Splitting the battalion into several small and indefensible units, the North Vietnamese again overran positions and caused heavy casualties. In little more than six hours, over one hundred and fifty more Americans were killed. Air strikes were again called in. Dale Nelson concludes his recollection of the day his life changed.
Most of the men were killed in the first couple of hours of the battle, Guy's platoon was almost completely wiped out. I listened to it on the field radio. SGT James, a forward observer with SGT Fisher, was on the radio crying for help and saying everyone around him was dead. SGT Fisher was gone. Then you could hear the shots around SGT James when they killed him. Later that day, B Company flew in to help us. There was no way they could have come in under those conditions earlier. The survivors were mostly in shock. I felt fear and disbelief.
Nancy remembers the trips to the Post Office with her mother. They were anxious and concerned; they had not heard from Guy in far too long.
"Mom would complain to the clerk," she says. "And the most common answer was, 'No news is good news!' But in this case, that was far from the truth."
"I came home from school one afternoon to find my mother pale and sick with worry," she recalls. "When I asked what was wrong, she just handed me a letter. It was addressed to me from one of Guy's friends. I guess Mom was so desperate to hear something, she was compelled to open it. The letter was consoling me on my brother's death. His friend stated that he was not with him when it happened, but that the news was passed on to him through the ranks. I couldn't believe it. I didn't want to believe it. But I had no other explanation for the loss of contact with him."
"We had to call the Pentagon to try to verify his death," Nancy continues. "It took days before it was confirmed. And it seemed like an eternity to us. A General was sent to our door to deliver the message. Guy was, in fact, gone. We were given his wallet, his Bible and a US flag. He came home in a sealed casket; we never saw him."
Guy Schaeffer was buried on December 9, 1965 in Beverly National Cemetery after funeral services at McCann Home in Blackwood, NJ. Nancy Gibson has few memories of that day, but they are vivid.
"I recall the profound sadness, loneliness and disbelief," she says. "I remember the ceremony, the playing of 'Taps', the gunfire, the tears in my mother's eyes and the shear anger because Guy was taken from us. And I felt the fear of bearing all of this alone. My mother was devastated, barely able to speak. I could neither comfort her nor look to her for comfort. My younger brother, Al, was like myself. Lost, confused, moving about like a robot. We barely spoke to each other for days. And there was always that doubt, that hope, that the person in that box was not, in fact, our brother. That secret hope, kept all to myself, sustained me for years."
Nancy wants Guy to be remembered as, "a tough young guy who wanted to make his mark in this world. He made his mark with his blood, accomplishing his goal in an unexpectedly few short months."
"Thousands of young men and women made their mark there," she concludes. "I only hope they left their mark in our hearts and minds, as well. I also hope that people remember that, although the Vietnam War was controversial, those who served there believed it was their duty to fight and, in many cases, die."
The Battle of the Ia Drang Valley had no winners, although both sides claimed victory. The Vietnam War was serious now; no longer a skirmish with communist backed insurgents. The North Vietnamese Army and the United States Army took their measure of each other and each learned valuable lessons. In the brilliantly written book of the battle, We Were Soldiers Once...And Young, Lt. General Hal Moore (Ret) and Joe Galloway reflect on the time, the soldiers and their bonds.
Just before we shipped out to Vietnam the Army handed us the colors of the historic 1st Cavalry Division and we all proudly sewed on the big yellow-and-black shoulder patches with the horsehead silhouette. We went to war because our country asked us to go, because our new President, Lyndon B. Johnson, ordered us to go, but more importantly because we saw it as our duty to go.
We discovered in that hellish place, where death was our constant companion, that we loved each other. We killed for each other, we died for each other, and we wept for each other. And in time we came to love each other as brothers. In battle our world shrank to the man on our left and to the man on our right and the enemy all around. We held each other's lives in our hands and we learned to share our fears, our hopes, our dreams as readily as we shared what little else came our way.
It was no movie. When it was over, the dead did not get up and dust themselves off and walk away. The wounded did not wash away the red and go on with life unhurt. Those who were, miraculously, unscratched were by no means untouched. Not one of us left Vietnam the same young man he was when he arrived.
The war in Vietnam claimed a Gloucester county resident during its first major battle. He was a spunky little kid from Blackwood Terrace who did what he was asked to do. He served his country, and more importantly, gave his life while defending his buddies in battle. He made a difference to men like Dale Nelson. Guy Schaeffer is listed on the same panel of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington as the other 233 Americans who died during the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley, or as the survivors called it, the "Valley of Death". For Dale Nelson, the battle, and the reconciliation, continue. "What I feel now is still disbelief," he says. "And guilt that I made it, which is an emotion I never show. The nightmares still come and the thoughts are on a daily basis. Maybe I was spared so I can now give comfort to Guy's family, and maybe I can understand what and why it happened. Gloucester County, New Jersey should always be proud of the men they lost in Vietnam and never forget the sacrifices we all made."
Excerpt from They Were Ours: Gloucester County's Loss in Vietnam
by John Campbell
Used with persmission of author
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