Veterans remember, honor hero
War is filled with major feats of bravery but also small acts of heroism that often pass quietly and unrecognized.
By JILL SCHRAMM, Staff Writer
12 November 2007
Forty years after a Minot soldier was killed in action in South Vietnam, the U.S. Marines saluted his nearly forgotten valor by flying a flag in his honor over the 3rd Marine Division Command Post in Okinawa, Japan, last July 11.
Leon Lochthowe, a Marine private first class, is credited with pulling another wounded Marine to safety during fierce fighting near the Khe Sanh Combat Base in April 1967. Lochthowe, at age 22, later died from an artillery rocket on Sept. 22, 1967.
Today, which follows the official Veterans Day on Sunday, also has been set aside to honor veterans this year. There are nearly 24 million living American veterans, of which about a third served in Vietnam between 1964 and 1975.
Vietnam veteran Gerald Loretta, who recovered from his wounds after Lochthowe�s rescue and now lives in New York state, said he sought out Lochthowe in 2004 after finally discovering his identity.
"I was wondering for all these years. I knew once I got wounded, I couldn�t move myself so somebody had to pull me to safety," Loretta said.
After he learned he would be unable to thank Lochthowe personally, he honored him by putting a memorial on (www.VirtualWall.org).
"A true hero," Loretta wrote. "I will never forget your act of bravery."
Loretta never knew Lochthowe personally, although they both served in Mike Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines.
Another writer on The Virtual Wall noted several instances of heroism in the engagement of Mike 3/9 on the hills near the Khe Sanh Combat Base. The "hill battles" at Khe Sanh began in early 1967 and peaked in April. Mike 3/9 came into the battle on April 26, 1967.
On the morning of April 29, Mike 3/9 and two other companies began their assault toward Hill 881 South. Mike 3/9 led the way, developing a heavy engagement on the hillside. It was during this fighting that Loretta was wounded.
Loretta recalled the lead squadron getting ambushed. As machine gun squad leader, he called up his squadron and laid down covering file while they pulled the wounded and killed Marines off the crest of the hill.
He was shot and had a grenade thrown at him. Fading in and out, he wasn�t aware of Lochthowe�s presence at the time. Evacuated, Loretta spent four months in the hospital.
Meanwhile, through April 29 and into the night, the well-positioned Vietnamese army inserted fresh troops against the battered Marines. By the end of the next day when the Vietnamese withdrew from the hill, the Marines had lost 43 men and saw 109 men wounded.
The National Archives indicate more than 58,000 Americans died during the Vietnam War from 1964 to 1973, including 198 North Dakota soldiers. One of every four Marines in Vietnam was wounded or killed, compared to one in 10 for the military overall.
The death rate was similar to that of World War II, although the rate of serious injury was much higher, according to military accounts. Also, unlike fighting in the Pacific in World War II, where soldiers typically saw 40 days of combat in four years, Vietnam soldiers averaged 240 days of combat a year, thanks to the mobility of the helicopter.
Lochthowe�s death in Vietnam was one in a series of tragedies for his family.
Lochthowe, at age 20, had been the sole survivor of a two vehicle-crash that killed his wife, their two young children and the driver of a second vehicle traveling in the wrong lane of a divided U.S. Highway 83 near the Minot airport in October 1965.
Not long afterwards, Lochthowe received a draft notice into the Army. He decided if he was to enlist, his preference was the Marines, according his brother, Ron, of Minot. Leon Lochthowe completed his training with the Marines in July 1966.
He had been an assistant manager at the Valley Street Super Valu and previously worked for Sears, Roebuck & Co.
Ron Lochthowe said Leon was a quiet person who let his actions speak louder than words. He�s sure Leon looked at rescuing a fellow Marine as his responsibility to his comrades.
Lochthowe died in a foxhole while on patrol. Ronald Lochthowe said the soldiers hurried to put on their flak vests on that hot day when they heard the incoming artillery, but his brother apparently didn�t get his protection fully secured because a fragment of a shell penetrated under his vest.
At the time of Leon�s death in Vietnam, another brother, Gary, 18, lay critically ill in California, stricken with spinal meningitis three days after starting basic training with the Marines.
Ron Lochthowe said Leon was a role model whose example likely prompted Gary to enter the Marines.
Gary never had a chance to fully emulate his older brother�s Marine service, though. As Donald and Donna Lochthowe awaited a flight from Minot to San Diego following one son�s funeral, they learned of their other son�s death.
The day before Leon was buried, the family also buried Donna Lochthowe�s father, Ted Schram. Schram had operated Schram Ambulance in Minot for many years, quitting shortly after responding to the car accident that killed his grandson�s family in 1965.
Leon Lochthowe posthumously received the Purple Heart, the Military Merit Medal, Gallantry Cross with palm, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. His parents also were presented with two Gold Star lapel pins.
The Minot Daily News, Minot, North Dakota
By Jill Schramm, Staff Writer
Used with permission