This Memorial Day, we honored the fallen men who died to protect our freedom. I have a special place in my heart for one such hero. Corporal Harry Everett Theriault, 92 Field Force, of Mexico, Maine. Terry to his friends, to differentiate him from his father, also named Harry. Died in 1969 in Long Am, South Vietnam. Just one more casualty of the Vietnam War, worthy of our highest honors and accolades. But to me, a beloved uncle I never met who died a hero’s death to save the rest of his troop from an ambush.
He wasn’t really my uncle. He was actually my father’s cousin. But when my dad speaks of Terry it is as someone who was a brother. They grew up together in the same town, running the same beat around Rumford, Maine. Cousins at first who saw each other at family gatherings but attended different schools, but inseparable once they hit ninth grade and found themselves together at Rumford High School, home of the Mighty Panthers. My father likes to commiserate that his mom loved Terry more than her own son. And indeed, once they were both in the service, there were many weekends that my dad came home on leave looking for the car keys to go out on a date only to have his mom laugh and say, “Sorry, Terry got here first. He’s got the car for the night.”
Terry enlisted in the army when he was eighteen, not waiting for the draft, ready to do his duty as an American. He left a pretty steady girlfriend behind, put his plans of traveling the country with my dad on hold. My mother told me of seeing him just before he left to go to war. He was standing alone on the bridge overlooking the River Valley that encompassed Rumford. She said it seemed like he was trying to take it all in before he left and things changed forever.
During his second year of serving in the army his troop was stationed in Long Am. In the early hours just two days shy of his twentieth birthday, Terry woke in the dark to discover enemy soldiers rushing towards their camp. He made it to the guns, sounding the alarm and firing rounds into the night at the enemy until he was killed by an incoming mortar shell.
Because of his selfless bravery that night the rest of his troop mustered in time and survived to tell his tale. There were no other casualties on our side in what might have been a blood bath. He died that night to save his brothers in arms, and in doing so left behind his family and best friend to remember him in stories and memorial services each year honoring our fallen veterans. But to me, the greatest memorial is the gift of his name, given to me by my father in honor of a hero. I will cherish his memory until I can join him and hug him and thank him for sacrificing so much for our freedom.