MARK J STEPHANAC - SP5
- DATE OF BIRTH:
- July 28, 1947
- DATE OF CASUALTY:
- September 14, 1969
- BRANCH OF SERVICE:
- South Vietnam
Mark J. Stephanac was born on July 28, 1947, to Mr. and Mrs. Matthew and Kathryn Stephanac. He had one sister named MaryBeth. He was born in Pittsburgh but his family moved to Garfield, NJ shortly afterwards. His home of record is Garfield, NJ. Mark attended St. Stephen's Parochial School in Passaic, NJ. He graduated from Garfield High School in 1965.
Even as a small child, Mark loved to draw. He would doodle on anything that was close at hand. He drew armies of alligators, turtle paramedics, and more for his sister. He was also mechanically inclined. Mark would find or barter for parts to build bikes. He took great pride in the pinstriping details he added to his creations.
During high school he had four close friends he would spend his time with. They loved to fish and spend weekends at Lake Hopatcong. Towards the end of his senior year in high school, he and two of his friends decided to join the Army. Nothing was discussed with the family beforehand and it came as a surprise to everyone. Within days after graduation, he was in boot camp at Fort Dix, New Jersey. He served in the US Army and attained the rank of Specialist 5 (SP5). He served in Company D, 26th Engineer Bn, APO 96374.
Mark's first assignment was Fort Knox, KY. His next assignment was in Dexheim, Germany. While he was there he learned to operate heavy equipment, and expressed a desire to pursue that line of work when he got out even though he had a Post Office job waiting for him. He spent 22 months in Germany.
He was an expert marksman winning in rifle competitions while in Germany. He quickly grew in rank and was becoming restless. He was excited about being a tank commander and he wanted to participate in the cause although he was not expected to. He spent one month at home with his family before he was shipped out. He was looking forward to going. His family always wrote and sent him packages. Mark volunteered for a second tour of duty. He was put on light duty. He was to leave Chu Lai in three weeks before he was killed.
Stephanac was killed in action on September 14, 1969, when the truck in which he was riding struck a land mine and exploded. He was transporting civilians to and from the camp. The very person that cut his hair days before was responsible for planting the mine that took his life. The family discovered this from his friends in the military. He is buried at George Washington Memorial in Paramus, New Jersey. His parents and sister MaryBeth and his maternal grandmother, Mrs. Elizabeth Botosh of Garfield, survived him.
Stephanac received many medals posthumously. These included the Army Commendation Medal, Vietnam Campaign Ribbon, Purple Heart, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal and the Bronze Medal with "V" Device.
The citation for his Bronze Star Medal states:
"For heroism in connection with ground operations against a hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam. Specialist Five Stephanac distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on 18 June 1969 while serving as Main Gunner aboard a Combat Engineer Vehicle with Company D, 26th Engineer Battalion. On that date, Specialist Stephanac was providing close fire support for friendly elements assigned to clear an enemy bunker complex located north of Duc Pho. During the first assault on the heavily fortified enemy positions, Specialist Stephanac assumed a lead position and fiercely engaged the determined insurgents until he was forced to pull back so that artillery fire missions could begin. During a subsequent assault on the bunker complex, hostile fire caused the Armored Personnel Carriers to halt their advance, but Specialist Stephanac continued forward and succeeded in plowing through enemy lines. After raking the entire area with accurate fire, Specialist Stephanac was forced to momentarily withdraw so that a wounded crewman could be evacuated. He then led his fellow soldiers back to the North Vietnamese Army positions and continued to place effective fire throughout the area until the disorganized insurgents abandoned their defensive positions. His courageous and timely actions were instrumental in the overall success of the mission, and resulted in the capture of several extremely valuable enemy weapons. Specialist Five Stephanac's personal heroism, professional competence, and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflected great credit upon himself, the Americal Division, and the United States Army."
The citation for his Army Commendation Medal states:
"By direction of the secretary of the Army, the Army Commendation Medal is presented posthumously to Specialist Five Mark J. Stephanac 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 October 1968 to September 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 time materially contributed to the successful accomplishment of the mission of this command. His performance was in keeping the best traditions of the United States Army and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit and the military service.
Sources: Newspaper clippings, MaryBeth Valentino (sister) and NJVVMF.
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