Pier Dedicated to Bruce Brown
By Nancy Rineman
Hampton Union, Tuesday, May 1, 2007
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Almost 40 years after his death in Vietnam, 1st Lt. Bruce W. Brown of Hampton was honored on Sunday by family and friends and a host of others who now know his story.
About 100 people, including Brown's widow, Beverly, gathered at the Marine Pier at Hampton Harbor on Sunday afternoon to attend a dedication ceremony for Brown and to witness the unveiling of a plaque bearing his name.
Ralph Fatello, commander of American Legion Post 35 in Hampton, addressed the crowd from a podium with the pier and harbor in the background. Fatello told the significance of the day's date, the very day 32 years ago that "Operation Frequent Wind," the evacuation of Saigon, took place, followed by the last Americans leaving Vietnam the very next day.
"Over 58,000 Americans lost their lives in Vietnam," Fatello said. "One of those 58,000 killed was Hampton's own Bruce W. Brown, a 1st lieutenant in the U.S. Army."
Post 35 earlier in the day held a ceremony naming Marston School's athletic field in the name of fellow veteran Mark Brown, who was killed in action in Vietnam. The men, while both from Hampton, were not related. They were honored together as part of the Brown Memorial Vietnam Veterans Weekend.
Bruce Brown was a tank commander who lost his life near the sandy beaches of the coastal town of Chu Lai. Brown received both the Bronze Star with a V Device for Valor and the Silver Star for Gallantry in Action.
"For the record, they do not just hand those medals out to anyone," Fatello said.
Fatello recounted how Brown's Bronze Star came in recognition of heroic action on Aug. 17, 1968, while serving as a platoon leader near the village of An Phuong. Ten days later, on Aug. 27, 1968, Lt. Brown was awarded the Silver Star for Gallantry. Under intense hostile fire, Brown maneuvered his tank, directing well-placed suppressive fire into enemy fortifications. His tank then sustained two direct hits from enemy fire, disabling it and seriously wounding Brown, who nevertheless remained in command.
Brown returned to the United States and died a week later from his wounds. He left behind his wife, Beverly; son, Bruce W. Brown Jr.; and a brother, Kim Brown, all of Hampton.
Honoring Bruce Brown on Sunday were his friends, former Hampton selectman Cliff Pratt and Sgt. Paul Fitzgerald of Hampton Falls.
With a voice choked with emotion, Pratt talked about his friend.
"Bruce was a tinkerer," Pratt said. "I think it was in their (family's) blood."
Pratt said Brown introduced him to the world of motorbikes and his ability to fix them. With no noise ordinances in place, Pratt said Brown would take off every noise-muffling device and roar away from his house.
"Every time I hear a motorcycle go down Locke Road, I think of Bruce," Pratt said. "God bless you, Bruce, and God bless America."
Fitzgerald said he and Brown were good friends in high school and "even better after."
"We both bought motorcycles; Bruce talked me into that," Fitzgerald said. He remembers their evening rides, often ending up at Whyte's Lane "in the mud."
Fitzgerald said they had to think of the military obligations that were fast approaching. That Brown received the Bronze Star and the Silver Star came as no surprise to Fitzgerald, who praised Brown's mechanical ability, his leadership, and his ability to fix things.
Years ago, on a trip to Washington, D.C., Fitzgerald said he and his wife found the names of several people they knew on the Vietnam Wall. They etched these names, including Bruce's, and gave it to Bruce's mother when they returned to Hampton.
"You boys are getting older, and Bruce is still young," Fitzgerald remembers Brown's mother saying.
"Bruce paid a tremendous price," Fitzgerald said. "I'll put my hand on this rock and I will feel his presence; how gifted, how likeable, how brave and courageous he was ...; wonderful memories of a wonderful friend."
Hampton Fire Chief Hank Lipe spoke of the newest completed project in Hampton and the appropriateness of the ceremony and dedication for Brown.
"I'd like everyone to think of this pier as a symbol of service," Lipe said.
"That day in 1968, Lt. Brown and his troops went on a mission. They transited their "pier," or safe ground, knowing the hazards they faced," Lipe said. "He died a young man with the American spirit from Hampton, New Hampshire. His actions of courage, pride, and professionalism will now be perpetually remembered as we dedicate this pier in his name.
"When you look down this pier, please think of Lt. Brown leaving his post that day in 1968."
Fatello credited Post 35 Chaplain John Holman for pointing out the omission of the names of Bruce Brown and Mark Brown for recognition for losing their lives in Vietnam. Fatello said the observation was made at a monthly meeting in April last year. An immediate unanimous decision "to do something" was made that night, followed by positive meetings with Hampton selectmen.
"Bruce will never be forgotten," Fatello told the somber crowd. "This plaque that bears his name seems a fitting place of honor, where men will go and rescue those in need of help. Indeed a fitting place for a true American Vietnam War hero."
Lt. Bruce Brown had been married just two years when he was killed. His wife, Beverly, who lives in Atlanta, was at Sunday's event. She has been a kindergarten teacher in Atlanta for 26 years. Their son, Bruce Jr., who also lives in Atlanta, is now 39, with two children of his own, Stephanie, 5, and Matthew, 4.
Despite the years that have passed, Beverly said, "You never forget."