Buddy of local Vietnam KIA plants seed that becomes monument to 17 locals who died

Emily Goedesky (left) and her sister, Rachel Zahm, both of Huntington, hold up a banner with the photos of the 17 Huntington County men killed in the Vietnam War, including their father. The sisters have been trying to reach family members of the men to invite them to the unveiling and dedication of a memorial to the Vietnam veterans during ceremonies to be held Nov. 11 at Memorial Park.
Emily Goedesky (left) and her sister, Rachel Zahm, both of Huntington, hold up a banner with the photos of the 17 Huntington County men killed in the Vietnam War, including their father. The sisters have been trying to reach family members of the men to invite them to the unveiling and dedication of a memorial to the Vietnam veterans during ceremonies to be held Nov. 11 at Memorial Park. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Originally published Oct. 12, 2017.

It was 50 years ago that Thomas Aquinas Parker, a United States Navy corpsman, lost his life in Vietnam.

He never came home, but for two of his daughters, Parker’s story is vividly alive, even if memory of him has faded since the women gave him up to war while they were but young children.

Parker was 29 on April 5, 1967, when he was killed during Operation Desoto, in the Đức Phổ District, a coastal region located south of Da Nang.
He was stationed with the Marines at the time, a medic riding in the back end of a Huey helicopter. He was pulling wounded soldiers into the hovering aircraft when a 500-pound bomb detonated, blowing up the helicopter Parker was on.

A tank crewman on the ground witnessed the event and said the explosion disintegrated the tail end of the Huey.

Parker’s body was never recovered.

Operation Desoto concluded just two days later, April 7, 1967. The Marines had suffered 76 dead and 573 wounded, and 383 Vietcong were killed.

Emily Parker Goedesky and her sister, Rachel Parker Zahm, both of Huntington, wanted to memorialize their father, whom Emily barely remembers; Rachel, who was only 9 months old when Parker left for Vietnam, was too young to remember him.

“I went online when I first started searching for information on our own father,” Zahm says. “I was looking for KIAs, and how many were from Indiana, and there was this huge list.”

Zahm found the names of 16 men from Huntington County who were killed in action in Vietnam.

Her father, who was born and raised in Huntington County, was not listed with them because at the time he joined the Navy, he gave his residence as Oxford.

She then contacted Bruce Stanton, then the Huntington County veterans service officer, about getting a headstone monument to remember her father. The sisters wanted to place it in Mt. Calvary Cemetery next to her mother’s grave plot.

“Bruce helped me get that together about four years ago,” she said.

But a buddy of her dad’s, Don Campbell, of Chester, NJ, who was stationed with him in Vietnam, planted a seed that became a monument for all 17 local soldiers who died during the war.

“When we got the headstone I decided to do a celebration of life memorial for my dad with our family, when we put the headstone in at the cemetery,” Zahm says. “He (Campbell) came to me with this idea that he had, that he wanted to bring my dad home to us.”

When she visited Campbell in his hometown, he showed her a statue of a medic that stands in front of the volunteer fire department in Chester. He told her he wanted to do something like that for her father.

To the sisters, it seemed like a good idea to not only erect a monument to honor Thomas Aquinas Parker, but also the other Huntington County men killed in Vietnam.

Goedesky and Zahm raised around $54,000 in private donations to pay for the monument. They also received donations in kind, with Foil Die International storing the statue, IMI donating the limestone base and E&B Paving pitching in its services to haul and set up the monument at Memorial Park, adding up to donations worth a total of about $70,000, including the cash donations.
The monument will be unveiled and dedicated to the county’s Vietnam KIAs and those who survived during the Veterans Day celebration on Saturday, Nov. 11.

The memorial is made of a limestone base with a six-foot, life-sized bronze statue of Parker. Attached to the side is a large piece of granite with a bronze plaque showing images of soldiers and Huey helicopters. A story about the veterans is also inscribed.

“It is to honor all men who served in Vietnam,” Zahm says. “It really represents all those men and women who did not come home.”

Another plaque lists the men who were killed from Huntington County. It will be placed on the circle on which the airplane is dis-
played, along with KIA plaques from other wars.

In the meantime, Zahm and Goedesky have been reaching out to the families of the other soldiers on the list and inviting them to come to Huntington, witness the unveiling of the Vietnam KIA monument and march in the parade prior to the ceremony.

“We’re going to have banners in the parade,” Goedesky explains. “We would like a family member to carry or represent those that have fallen. That’s our hope, and that’s why we have gone through these names, trying to find family members. …

“We’ve got nephews that will be walking, brothers that will be walking, a sister that will be walking; we’re hoping in some way that just a representative of the family will come.”

“If we can’t get a member here or the family members are elderly and can’t walk in the parade, someone who went to school with them or someone who is a family friend,” adds Zahm. “And also someone who can be there after the parade for the dedication.”

The sisters have now reached nearly everyone on the KIA list, but they are still searching for family members of Gary Archibald, of Huntington, who was killed April 17, 1968. Goedesky says they found a few leads but are asking for information about his relatives.

“He was military; his dad was military. His dad, at the time of his death, was a major, and that was in ’68,” she says. “At that point they were in Ohio ... and part of the family was from California.”

However, they have found many family members of the fallen soldiers who are planning to attend the parade and ceremony on Nov. 11, such as the son of James Richard Paul, a Marine sergeant who was killed Feb. 5, 1967.

“He was born after his father left for Vietnam, so he never met his father, and he didn’t know very much about him,” Zahm says. “His mother did not live near James’ family, and they were not married, so there wasn’t a lot of connection there. He did not grow up with the kind of stories and reminders that I did.”

The sisters hope their research and the dedication of the monument will provide some cathartic, healing moments, not just for the families of those killed, but all vets who participated in the war.

“It isn’t just the ones who were killed in action; it’s all of these young men who went to war and came home, broken and not able to continue where they were and who they were when they left,” Zahm adds. “I’m not the only one who ‘lost’ my dad in Vietnam.”

The other 16 Huntington County soldiers killed in Vietnam who will have their names included on the monument, along with Parker, are:

Pfc. Gary Michael Archibald, 20, of Huntington, Army, killed April 17, 1968.

Lance Cpl. Gary Ladd Biehl, 20, of Andrews, Marines, killed May 3, 1967.

Cpl. Gregorio C. Bustos, 22, of Warren, Marines, killed July 3, 1968.

Spc. Mike Garcia Bustos, 23, of Huntington, Army, killed June 28, 1965.

Sgt. Robert Franklin Elston, 21, of Huntington, Army, killed April 30, 1970.

Pfc. Gregory Lamar Fleck, 20, of Andrews, Army, killed May 9, 1969.

Lance Cpl. Terry Gene Graft, 19, of Roanoke, Marines, killed Aug. 31, 1969.

Pfc. Daryl Lee Lowery, 19, of Warren, Marines, killed April 19, 1969.

Pfc. Floyd Russell Noe, 19, of Huntington, Army, killed July 12, 1967.

Sgt. James Richard Paul, 20, of Huntington, Marines, killed Feb. 5, 1967.

Sgt. Thomas David Perry, 21, of Warren, Army, killed April 22, 1969.

Pfc. Lloyd D. Pinkerton, 19, of Huntington, Army, killed Jan. 10, 1967.

1st Lt. Ronald Edwin Rogers, 24, of Huntington, Marines, killed June 3, 1970.

Spc. Richard Alan Scheiber, 25, of Huntington, Army, killed Nov. 13, 1967.

Pfc. Thomas Wardrop III, 21, of Huntington, Marines, killed March 4, 1966.

Lance Cpl. Thomas Duane Worrell, 20, of Roanoke, Marines, killed April 23, 1970.

Family members of the KIA soldiers who have not been contacted and would like to be included in the Veterans Day parade and ceremonies are invited to call Zahm at 388-4330 or email zahmrachel@gmail.com.