A VA plate brackets a soldier’s lost life

Nicholas L. Venditti

Nicky Venditti at home in Malvern, Pa., in June 1969 while on leave before deploying to Vietnam. He was dead within a couple of weeks.

My cousin Nicky’s grave marker at Philadelphia Memorial Park, near his hometown of Malvern, Pa., is the standard Veterans Administration plate, 2 feet long by 1 foot wide. Oxidation has crusted it to a greenish blue. A cross is centered at the top and stands out from the surface in relief. Below it, also in relief, is the following:

NOV. 26, 1948     JULY 15, 1969

Nicky was an Army helicopter pilot. WO was his rank – warrant officer, which put him above enlisted men and below commissioned officers. Soldiers of other rank had to address warrant officers as “mister.” SPT COMD AMERICAL DIV was Support Command, Americal Division. Under the Support Command organization, new arrivals at Chu Lai, Vietnam, were processed through a replacement company and trained at the Americal  Combat Center. Nicky hadn’t yet been assigned to an assault helicopter company. If he had been, the unit might have been listed on the marker instead of Support Command.

He hadn’t yet been assigned because the 20-year-old didn’t survive his Americal Division orientation. He had arrived in Vietnam on the Fourth of July 1969 and was dead in 11 days. An Army instructor had unwittingly set off a grenade in a classroom while addressing Nicky and a few dozen other newly arrived soldiers. Nicky lost a leg and died on July 15, 1969, at Chu Lai’s 312th/91st Evacuation Hospital. I was 15 years old when he came home in a silver metal casket.

Forty-two years have passed. I have framed photos of Nicky on my desks at home and at work, and I’m working on a book about him, Quiet Man Rising: A Soldier’s Life and Death in Vietnam, http://www.davidvenditta.com/. It’s my way of remembering his sacrifice.

On this Memorial Day, he is on my mind.

There was yet another funeral last week for a veteran whose story I got into The Morning Call – Horace Rehrig of Lower Macungie.

Horace was my buddy. We would meet for breakfast at the Trivet diner on Tilghman Street outside Allentown, where he wore his cap identifying
him as a World War II crewman on the carrier USS Ticonderoga. His account of
kamikazes crashing into the ship while he was on deck ran on Memorial Day 2007. http://www.mcall.com/news/all-horacerehrig2,0,1596930.story

I met Horace in the spring of 1999 while working on the first article in my series, War Stories: In Their Own Words. The story was about Horace’s brother Laird, and the man telling it was Laird’s high school German teacher, Bill Haas. Bill and Laird were 9th Infantry Division soldiers who met up in Normandy after D-Day. Shortly after their chance meeting, a German shell killed Laird. I went to Horace’s home – he was living in Allentown then – and borrowed a picture of his brother to run with Bill’s story. Horace and I chatted briefly; he mentioned serving on the Ticonderoga. I made a mental note that I might want to interview him someday.

It took me eight years to get around to that, and I was glad I did. His moment-by-moment account of the Japanese attacks on the Ticonderoga was riveting.

Horace died May 21. I went to the funeral Thursday in Ashfield, Carbon County,
and grieved with his family and friends. A copy of The Morning Call with his story, and a large photo of Horace on the front page, was buried with him. His son, Rick, told me the article was a highlight of his dad’s life.

It was heartwarming to hear my friend Bob Kauffman of Emmaus tell hundreds of people Sunday about his brushes with death during World War II and how he survived by the grace of God. Too many of his fellow soldiers were not so fortunate, he said with great emotion during the veterans appreciation service at Cedar  Crest Bible  Fellowship Church. They were robbed of a future, he said, and the rest of us were robbed of their promise.

Afterward, Bob signed copies of his book, The Replacement. His account of his
experiences in Europe with the 36th Armored Infantry Regiment ran in three parts in 2004 as part of The Call’s War Stories: In Their Own Words series. http://www.mcall.com/news/all-robertkauffman1,0,1872991.story,

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