GARRY M COYLE - PFC
- DATE OF BIRTH:
- July 13, 1946
- DATE OF CASUALTY:
- February 14, 1966
- BRANCH OF SERVICE:
- South Vietnam
Garry Coyle was born on July 13, 1946. His home of record is Clayton, NJ. He was a 1964 graduate of Clayton High School. He enjoyed tennis, baseball and music.
Coyle entered the US Army in August 1964 and served in the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division. He attained the rank of Private First Class (PFC).
Coyle was a medic and sent to Vietnam from Hawaii. In an attack just 25 miles northwest of Saigon, Coyle rushed forward to help a wounded buddy, SGT Gambrell. While Coyle was leaning over him, he was hit. He was brought back into the lines but never regained consciousness. He died on February 14, 1966. He had been in Vietnam less than a month.
Coyle received the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award for heroism, the Purple Heart, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Medal, Vietnam Service Medal and many other medals and badges.
July 14, 1946-February 14, 1966
PFC, Army Clayton, NJ
His dream was to be a pediatrician. After all, he loved kids, had a passion for helping people, and was fascinated with biology. He saw the military as a means to an end and enlisted with the full intention of using his GI benefits to attend college, and then medical school. After the Army trained him as a combat medic, he volunteered for duty in Vietnam when he realized it was there that he could do the most good.
He loved sports, music (Al Jolson and Judy Garland were his favorite artists) and clowning around, according to his siblings. Whether at church, scouting, family events or home, he was always looking for a way to make people laugh.
Linda (Lynn) Robinson of Sunnyvale, CA, remembers her brother the way an adoring younger sister would. "He watched over me and allowed me to play sports with him and his friends," she says. "He was there for me in every way a big brother could be. I was the goalie on his ice hockey team. He used to call me Lynn for short. So I took Lynn later because of that."
Lynn remembers Garry's enthusiasm for medicine. "He wanted to be a doctor in the worst way," she says. "He used to bring animals home from biology class and care for them. Hamsters, white mice, lizards, turtles, you name it, he had it in his room. It looked like an ICU for animals."
"He wanted to be a veterinarian then," she continues. "But he decided to be a doctor from the time he volunteered to be a medic in the Army. We had long talks and I remember him wanting to become a pediatrician rather than a family doctor because he enjoyed working with young children. He was very compassionate and sensitive to people around him."
Garry was the second youngest of the five children Edwin and Margaret Coyle raised in Clayton, NJ. He had a slender build, was about six feet tall, and had blue eyes. He graduated from Clayton High School in 1964 and played tennis all four years. He was all set to join the Air Force when a paperwork snafu resulted in Garry storming out of the recruiter's office and going next door to enlist in the Army.
After basic training, he was sent to Fort Hood, Texas for advanced medical training. His first duty assignment was with the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii. The troop levels and the intensity of the fighting in Vietnam were increasing rapidly in late 1965, and in January of 1966, Garry, along with the rest of the division, left for Vietnam.
The older Coyle children had already set out on their own by the time Garry graduated from high school. Garry and Lynn literally grew up together and were the only two living at home when Garry enlisted.
"I missed him from the time he went into the service," remembers Lynn. "He always protected me. And he always had this reassuring smirk on his face that said, 'Everything's going to be okay.' He kept me out of a lot of trouble. And he was a great practical joker and was always playing some sort of prank on someone. But all that disappeared when he went away. He had been everything to me."
Gary was assigned to A Company, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division. They were known as "The Wolfhounds," a history rich regiment that served and fought from Siberia throughout the Pacific in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. The regiment operated about thirty miles northwest of Saigon, in the Cu Chi area, which was heavily infested with Viet Cong units. The area was laden with abandoned rubber plantations and a thick, strangling underbrush. The regiment's base camp became known as "Hell's Half Acre."
In an effort to clear the immediate area of cover for the Viet Cong, the regiment struck out in a westerly direction with the intention of leveling plenty of space between the base camp and the trees. The unit encountered immediate, and stiff, resistance.
At nineteen years of age, Garry Michael Coyle gave his life trying to prevent another soldier from losing his. The dream of being a pediatrician became a casualty after Coyle ran through a hail of gunfire to reach a wounded sergeant on Valentines Day of 1966. The Army posthumously awarded him the nation's second highest honor, the Distinguished Service Cross. Fifteen months later, Bobby Monahon, of Swedesboro, would join Coyle in becoming Gloucester County's most highly decorated veterans of the Vietnam War.
The Coyle family and the town of Clayton were devastated, yet stood immensely proud of Garry's dedication to his country and his desire to help others half way around the world.
Peter Behr, a reporter on assignment with the Gannett News Service, was attached to Garry's unit and witnessed the fighting of February 14th. In a Courier-Post article dated February 25th, he wrote of the hero from Clayton. The article read, in part:
In the past week, the 27th had sent smaller groups of men into the area west of camp again and again, with the same results.
"The VC would let us get in and blow up a few tunnels. Then about dinner time, when we'd begin pulling back, they'd shoot the hell out of us," a captain said.
Now Coyle's company and another were going back in force, followed by a third company and engineers who would burn and level a 100-yard deep swath through the woods to keep the Viet Cong at arm's length.
"We're going in slowly and methodically. And that land will look like a golf course when we're finished," the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Harley Mooney, had promised.
Coyle squatted with his platoon about 100 yards from where the attack would begin, holding a stretcher in one hand and a rifle in the other.
"Hey Coyle, how about letting me sleep on that stretcher tonight." a soldier called out. "Sure, if nobody needs it, " Coyle answered.
After an artillery barrage, the soldiers entered the woods, all firing low as they ran---an incredible sound. For awhile, the enemy didn't fire back and the first moment's tension eased. Near Coyle, two soldiers kidded a third about his bad aim with a grenade launcher.
Then a soldier next to Coyle was hit in the side. The bullet had spent most of its power and didn't hurt the soldier seriously. "I've got my Purple Heart," he laughed several times--he was crying too. "Shut up," snapped Coyle. "Let me see it," and he dressed the wound.
Now there was a new sound, the sharp pop of incoming rifle fire. A call came down the line for a medic and Coyle, ducking low, ran to the platoon on the far left.
That platoon was getting heavy sniper fire and two of its sergeants were lying in the middle of an open field. The Americans fired back trying to find the enemy but it was like swinging at shadows. The snipers couldn't be seen.
Coyle left his rifle with SGT Richard Rich...and with his friend PFC Walter Schroll of Jersey City, NJ, ran forward.
Soon a soldier, breathing hard, ran back from where Coyle had gone.
"Hey, Sergeant Walt, we need five, six men. We got to get Gambrell out of there when they bring in the mortars. He's been hit twice and he's sitting out there in a crossfire."
The sergeant called out three names. A couple of others volunteered.
"Take it easy when you go out there, damn it," the sergeant said. "How much machine gun ammo you got?" he yelled to a man on his left. "They've got a machine gun up there with no ammo."
Then to the stretcher bearers: "Take your weapons; leave your packs."
The artillery observer was calling over the radio for white phosphorus on the Viet Cong position. He wanted the smoke to cover the evacuation.
When the stretcher bearers appeared long minutes later, they were carrying Coyle. Schroll, who'd run out with Coyle to try to save the sergeant named Grambell, carried the front of the stretcher. Hours later, he told what had happened.
"Coyle asked me to go with him," Schroll said. "When we reached the field we had 50 meters to cross. Rounds were kicking up dirt as we ran but we weren't hit. One of the sergeants out there was dead. Just as Garry was kneeling down over the other one, he was hit. He called my name. I was yelling, 'help me, help me' but there was nobody there but wounded."
Both were pinned down, but Schroll took one of Coyle's dressings out to bind the wound in his side. "Garry was unconscious," Schroll said. He stayed with Coyle despite the sniper fire.
The stretcher bearers fought their way to Coyle and Schroll. One of them was shot, but the others brought their medic, Coyle, out. He never regained consciousness.
"What do you want to know about Coyle?" Schroll said. "He was my best friend here. Garry didn't want to take the Bronze Star...He didn't even know he'd been put up for it, then the sergeant told him and asked him 'Were you scared?' Garry just laughed at him. He told me he had a grandmother in the hospital and if he got the medal, he'd send it to her. He'd kid a lot and say 'I'm too smooth to get hit.' Sometimes you wonder whether you're going to make it. I hope to God I do." Then Schroll, who has at least 10 months ahead of him here, starting walking back to his platoon.
The newspaper article was published the same time Garry's body was finally returned home. Lynn Robinson recalls, "That's when it really hit me. He was my idol and now he was gone. It has been thirty-two years, but sometimes, it is like it was yesterday. I cannot think about my brother without tears coming to my eyes. It was such a waste of an extraordinary person. He was the one person I could count on in my life at that time. When he died, I had no one."
For an internet Vietnam remembrance project, Some Gave All, the Coyle family closes their entry with:
We are luckier than other families who had loved ones killed in the war in that we know more about Garry's last hours. But, we must say that we would rather have Garry than all the news clippings, pictures and awards in the world. He is sadly missed by his two sisters and two brothers.
Garry Coyle was determined to spend his life helping others; his death came doing just that. He gave himself willingly to his country and to his fellow soldiers. He would probably have been a great pediatrician; he was a good medic, a great friend, a loving son and a wonderful brother. And he loved kids. He died trying to save one.
Excerpt from They Were Ours: Gloucester County's Loss in Vietnam
by John Campbell
Used with permission of author
Sources: John Campbell and NJVVMF.
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