Donald Ernest Heggan

First Lieutenant
Army of the United States
17 August 1944 - 20 July 1968
Hammonton, New Jersey
Panel 51W Line 019


Silver Star

Combat Infantry

Bronze Star (Merit), Purple Heart, National Defense, Vietnam Service, Vietnam Campaign


The database page for Donald Ernest Heggan

05 Apr 2007

Donald E. Heggan was a friend of mine. I treasured his friendship, and I still remember him today. I wish to pass on some of my thoughts about him. I knew Don during our U.S. Army training. Together we went to Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Fort McClellan, AL, and to Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, GA, the Fort Benning School for Boys, Class #34-67, 61st Co., 6th Student Bn. I have reviewed my old Army paperwork, and Don and I were both taking Basic Training at Fort Dix, N.J., at the same approximate time, although we were in different companies.

The months of training, the months when I knew Don, were peculiar. We were on a course that pointed to Vietnam. The final details of the trip, those details which we could not see, contained an element of suspense and a constant reminder of our mortality. During training we perceived that, perhaps, we could take steps or learn things which would shape our destinies and lead us away from the edge, away from injury or death. After all, we were being trained as infantrymen, as ground pounders, and the message was obvious: you are not being trained to sit behind a desk. You are being trained to carry a rifle and to put yourself in harm's way. This is a sobering monkey to carry on your back. This is a different message than the one we picked up at our last job, which was attending college. Things were starting to get serious.

In addition to trying to learn something from training, other tactics were developed. Some tried branch transfers, to get away from the Infantry, for example. Some dropped out of OCS. I can remember when we were confronted with our "dream sheets," the paperwork where we registered our interests in serving in different theaters and in different countries. We knew those babies were a joke, but we filled them out anyway. For the Pacific Theater, I put down Korea, but I thought it was just wishful thinking. Don, I am sure, put down Vietnam.

Of the three locations Don and I shared, Fort McClellan was the most enjoyable. For one, it was the stop before OCS. Also, we experienced Fort McClellan in the fall months, during October and November, and I remember the weather as being very beautiful. We had our share of rain, but after the endless sand and heat of Fort Dix, Fort McClellan was a paradise. Similarly, Fort McClellan had just been opened up as an AIT training area, a contrast to Fort Dix, which was beaten down and torn up after years of training companies. The Alabama base had last seen heavy use during WW II, I believe, although it may have been used during the Korean War. At Fort McClellan the woods were without paths and there were green lawns and the green hills in the background. I know these favorable impressions were shared by Don, an outdoor type of guy.

Finally, I found Fort McClellan, the WAC training center, was more pleasant than Fort Dix because the personnel, ranging from barbers, PX people, kitchen staff and training officers and enlisted men, were not as jaded as they were at Ft. Dix. They had not been overwhelmed by masses of trainees. They were more friendly, more helpful, more pleasant. It was noticeable.

One good time we had at Fort McClellan was the escape and evasion exercise, a night exercise. Groups of eight or ten were released along a line and the objective was to make our way to a distant hill where the CO awaited us. A really nutty sergeant on the hill popped a flare every 15 or 20 minutes or so, so we could keep our eye on our objective. I think we had a map and a compass. The trip was two to four miles, maybe more, maybe less. I am not sure.

The entire exercise was wonderful. The weather and temperature were perfect. It was a walk (and sometimes a crawl) in the woods with a touch of adventure, since there were members of another unit looking for us to take us to an internment camp. I had swiped some apples and oranges from the kitchen, somehow, and this snack food helped lend a picnic air. We infiltrated through the woods, crossed the road patrolled by the aggressors, and navigated fields and hills, eventually arriving at the objective hill. There we were picked up in trucks and taken back to the barracks. It was just fun - playing soldiers. I do not remember if Don was with my group, but I know he successfully completed the exercise.

Our battalion had a company of reserves from Puerto Rico taking AIT. They saw themselves as a rough, tough bunch. They were all city boys, from San Juan. We sort of got a kick out of them because what we saw as a pleasant, night-time walk through the woods and fields of Fort McClellan was a terror to them. They had never been in woods after dark in their lives. When they made it to the road, all their groups surrendered to the aggressors and were hauled off to do push ups or something. It was a lesson in human nature: you are afraid of what you don't know. I do not think any of them anticipated going to Vietnam.

At Fort McClellan I can remember firing the M-60 machine gun, the M-79 grenade launcher, visiting the rifle firing range and some other activities. I can remember inspections and barracks socializing, and even a trip to the EM club, where several WACs were also enjoying an evening off. I know we spent time in classrooms, but I cannot remember any of the lessons we were taught. I can even remember going to the movies one night, although I cannot remember the movie. Marching, exercising, drilling in this and that, really excellent food, and a spectrum of activities filled our days.

Towards the end of the AIT training, we went on an all day hike-patrol. The weather was in our favor, the foliage in the hills was beautiful, and it was just a pleasant experience, a pleasant walk in the country, a dream before the looming trip to OCS and, beyond that: Vietnam.

Eventually, we arrived at Fort Benning and OCS. It wasn't that bad, I guess, except I was always tired and hungry. We ran everywhere and generally worked our tails off. I can remember Don at OCS, always up, always cheerful, always ready for the challenge. Some others were not pleasant, were not helpful. They made the experience more difficult and for no reason.

I talk of my experiences while in training, and yet I think I am talking of Don, too. He was like me. He was not a flashy person. He was an introvert, sticking to his own business, but ever watchful, ever listening, ever thinking, ever aware of what was going on around him. He was not self-centered. He was more social than I am, probably less introverted. His face was clearly readable, and his words were tactful. My remembrance of Don was that he was balanced and happy. He wanted to be an oceanographer when he was out of the U.S. Army and could get back to school. Like most of the people in our OCS battalion, he was not interested in making a career in the Army. Our battalion was almost 100 per cent college graduates, and we were going through OCS because we thought it would give us more control over our destinies. Also, I think many of us wanted to be all we could be. This may sound strange, but we believed in ourselves, and we had some confidence in our skills.

Don told me he was from a small New Jersey town with a name I could not remember when I started to write this. All I could remember was that the town had the word "Goose" in it or maybe a color. However, I checked under Donald E. Heggan, and it brought up that there is a memorial park in Blue Anchor, NJ, the Donald E. Heggan Memorial Park, 6 and acres with a baseball field, a basketball court, two tennis courts and a tot lot. I see from Don's site that his point of entry into the service was Hammonton, NJ. His home town is to the east of Hammonton.

I entered the Army in New Haven, CN in late July, l966. My dad left me at the enlistment station, driving me down from Newtown, CN on the appointed day. I am sure Don had the same somber experience - a ride and a drop-off. I was then bussed to the reception station at Fort Dix, the same as Don.

As an aside, I remember that Don had a phrase that he used: "This is true." It was used as a low-key means of emphasis. If you said something like: "Getting this truck out of the mud is going to be tough and dirty," Don would deadpan: "This is true." He was always relaxed, non-complaining, ready to undertake the job at hand.

Of course, after OCS (we graduated on 9 Jun 1967) Don and I departed for different bases. I went to Fort Sill, OK, where I taught OCS candidates before being shipped to Korea, the result of a build-up there following the capture of Capt. Bucher and the spy ship Pueblo. I do not remember where Don went, and he and I did not share any copies of orders.

I guess what I am trying to say is that U.S. Army training (and life in general) has some high points and some low points. Likewise, there are people who contribute to the experience, while others make things more difficult. The backdrop for the training was ominous: we all knew we were going to Vietnam. Would we stand the test? Very few of us were interested in making a career in the Army. To most of us, Vietnam did not represent an opportunity for advancement in the Army. Instead, it presented the possibility of death or injury. I do not think we dwelled on this subject in our conversations, necessarily, but the thought was there.

To his credit, Don Heggan was one of those who made the experience better for the rest of us, at least for me. This was because of his pleasant personality, his healthy self-image and self-respect, and his common sense. I feel fortunate to have known him, even though it was for a short time. It was during a time of stress, and his calmness and self-control helped steady the boat.

I know nothing of the circumstances of Don's death. In fact, I am not sure how I found out he had died. His name must have been printed in the "Stars and Stripes" and one of our OCS classmates in Korea may have brought it to my attention.

For years, I thought of trying to contact Don's parents, of writing them a letter. Of course, I did not have their address, and I am not sure if it would be appropriate. I know they haven't forgotten their son. Don was obviously raised with care and love. Would contact from me open old wounds? I do not know. His loss is terrible to contemplate.

If anybody has any answers, please do not hesitate to contact me at my email address. I live in St. Louis.

On August 24, 2002 I received an e-mail from Ed Cahill. Among other things, he commented that "Don and I grew up together in Blue Anchor. He was not only my friend, but my cousin, as well. When I read the phrase by Don - 'this is true' - it brought back many memories. He used that way back in high school. I have many memories and stories of Don."

Ed reminded me that another stock phrase in Don's vocabulary was "young," as in "young Ed better hit us a home run." I can remember Don applying the phrase to himself, as in "I better get my young a-- over to the arms room."

Ed noted that Don was an only child and that his parents were both dead. He remembered playing ball with Don and others in the field now called the Donald E. Heggan Memorial Park, which is across the street from the local high school. Ed and I have exchanged several e-mails.

I was very pleased to hear from Ed. I am not exactly sure why I was so pleased, but I guess his response sort of gave Don some roots, some background and history for me. Ed provided connectedness for Don. I needed that, because for me, Don only existed as a fellow Army person, somebody without a life outside the U.S. Army. Now, a voice from the past, Ed's voice, has provided an essential background element which makes me feel more comfortable, and less alone, when I think of Donald Heggan. I hope more people respond to those who have posted remembrances, and thank you, Ed, for taking the time to contact me.

Allen Heggan, a cousin of Donald Heggan, emailed me on Nov. 3, 2005 with some additional and correcting information. Allen noted that Don had died 37 years ago. Allen was a teenager of 14 years of age at the time. Allen said that "he was a brother to me more than a cousin" and that "his death hit our small town of Blue Anchor, N.J. very hard." He added that "my older brother Jerry still has trouble with it and never really accepted it after all these years - they were very close."

Allen also remarked that Donald was a big time hunter and outdoorsman. He had started the first Little League in the township during his summers while attending North Carolina State. That is why the field is named after him.

Allen emailed that "he was a devoted Christian and my Uncle Ernest (Don's dad), who was my Sunday school teacher, told us many times at night he would go in to Don's room, turn out the light, take Don's Bible off the chest and think of his son."

Allen reported that Don's dad had died of a heart condition a number of years ago, but Pearl, his mother, was still alive and living in a nursing home and was being cared for by Jackie, Don's sister.

In an email dated Nov. 28, 2005, Allen said the family was told that Donald was hit with shrapnel that entered his back and penetrated to his lungs. It is Allen's belief that Don died quickly without much pain.

From a friend,
Clark Rowley

15 April 2007

The photo and following article is taken from The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 24, 1968:

The Defense Department announced the death of Army 1st Lt. Donald E. Heggan, 23, of Central Ave., Blue Anchor, Camden County, N.J. He was killed July 20 near the Cambodian border.

Lt. Heggan, a son of Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Heggan, wrote his parents a letter last week in which he said he feared the torrential rains in Vietnam more than he feared being shot.

He commanded a platoon of 19 men which was later increased to 23 but was still far below the original 42 men designated for the unit. Most Army platoons fighting in South Vietnam are understrength.

Lt. Heggan graduated from Edgewood Regional High School in Tansboro in 1962. He received a bachelor's degree in zoology from North Carolina State University in 1966 and entered the Army that year.

After attending officers training school at Fort Benning, Ga., Lt. Heggan was transferred to the Panama Canal Zone for jungle training. He was sent to Vietnam on June 7.

Surviving in addition to his parents, is a sister, Jacqueline, a senior at Glassboro State College.

From a native Philadelphian and Marine,
Jim McIlhenney

A Note from The Virtual Wall

On 20 July 1968 Bravo Company, 1/16th Infantry, lost two men to "fragmentation wounds", which normally implies hand grenades: 1LT Donald E. Heggan and PFC Brian F. LeFevre of Chicago, Illinois.

The following information is taken from the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans' Memorial web site:

Donald Ernest Heggan was born on August 17, 1944. He graduated Edgewood Regional High School in 1962. During his school years he enjoyed football, baseball, water skiing and coaching little league baseball. Heggan went on to North Carolina State University where he was a member of the ROTC.

After college, he went to Vietnam where he served in the US Army, Company B, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry, where he attained the rank of Lieutenant (LT). His home of record is Hammonton, NJ.

After serving in Vietnam just three months, he was killed on July 20, 1968.

He was awarded the Badge of Qualification for Parachutist, Basic Marksmanship, the National Defense Medal, Purple Heart, Silver and Bronze Stars, Combat and Infantryman [sic], Vietnam Service Award.

There is a monument and baseball park named after Heggan in his hometown of Blue Anchor, NJ. The boys he coached raised the money for the monument.

First Lieutenant Heggan is buried in the Greenwood Cemetery, Camden County, New Jersey.

The point-of-contact for this memorial is
a friend,
Clark Rowley

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With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Memorial first published on 05 Apr 2007
Last updated 04/17/2007