The tributes to Rocky Versace during the long weekend after 4 July were glorious. Our classmates and Rocky’s high school classmates were joined by family and friends to celebrate a life devoted to duty, honor, and country; and to thank the “Friends of Rocky Versace” for their relentless efforts finally to obtain the recognition due one of the true heroes of Vietnam. At the dedication of the Rocky Versace Memorial on Saturday, 6 July, in the Alexandria, VA, neighborhood where Rocky grew up, several hundred people turned out to honor him and the other 65 Alexandrians killed in the war.
Rocky Versace memorial in Alexandria with John Cox and the sculptor.
Pete Dawkins gave the keynote address and said, “Rocky was our friend. He was a soldier. He was killed because duty, honor and country meant more to him than life.” Steve Versace, Rocky’s brother, noted with amazement how the idea caused so much energy to be expended by the “friends.” “People have actually put their lives on hold to make this happen,” he said. This has been evident in John Gurr’s descriptions of the “friends’” activities over the last several years, in his outstanding devotion to keeping us informed.
John Gurr, new honorary classmate Mike Faber, and Pete Dawkins.
At the Class Committee meeting that afternoon, we inducted two of the “friends” as honorary members into the Class of 1959. They are Mike Faber, whom John Gurr called “the low-key but extraordinarily dedicated leader of this amorphous group;” and Duane Frederic, a tireless researcher who took it upon himself to document and seek nomination for Rocky’s MOH in 1996. Duane, a postal worker in Cleveland, labored alone out in Ohio until he heard of and joined the “friends” in 1999. John detailed for us in an e-mail the roles played by all of the “friends,” and if you are out of that loop I will gladly send you a copy. The details are inspirational.
Pete Dawkins reads citation making Duane Frederic an honorary classmate, with Bill Luther as a sponsor.
Truly the high point of the weekend was at the White House on Monday, 8 July, when 91 of us (including our new honorary classmates) gathered in the East Room to see President Bush praise Rocky and his heroism and present the medal to his brother, Steve. The President’s laudatory remarks were exceptional and brought a tear to many an eye. “His story echoes across the years,” he said, “reminding us of liberty’s high price, and of the noble passion that caused one good man to pay that price in full.” Several other MOH winners were present, including our Roger Donlon, and the President greeted and shook hands with each of them before leaving the room.
Roger Donlon, first Vietnam MOH winner, with Rocky Versace’s MOH, the last.
On Tuesday, 9 July, the honors moved to the Pentagon, where Rocky was inducted into the Hall of Heroes. GEN Ric Shinseki (’65), Chief of Staff of the Army, made memorable remarks in the presence of the Secretary of the Army, Tom White (’67), the Versace family, and some of our classmates. Rocky’s story, he said, “is of a remarkable, unyielding spirit and an uncompromising fierce defiance – the courage to never submit or yield. It is the story of a soldier who, in the worst of circumstances, demonstrated all that is best about our profession and our values.” Well said, General.
Burba and Franks, our two four-stars, at Rocky’s MOH ceremony.
A tribute to Rocky at Headquarters, United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), MacDill AFB, FL, was scheduled for 7 Nov. It was to be a Medal of Honor Induction Ceremony hosted by the Deputy Commander, USSOCOM, followed by an officers’ club reception affording attendees to visit with the Versace family, the “friends,” classmates and military leaders.
And in a final note, Rush Yelverton reports that Rocky’s name, along with those of six other MOH recipients including Teddy Roosevelt, will be added to the Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial in Indianapolis.
Al, Steve, and Rich Versace at Rocky’s Pentagon ceremony.
And so. Jim & Marigold Abrahamson keep busy with gardening, volunteer work and friends at home in North Carolina and enjoy keeping up with Lou Hightower from time to time. Jim has a new book coming out in November entitled Vanguard of American Atomic Deterrence: The Sandia Pioneers, 1946-1949. It tells the history of a battalion activated at Sandia, NM, in 1946 and ordered by Leslie Groves to take over from the atomic scientists the responsibility for assembly of the early, crude, and virtually hand-crafted Fat Man bombs – and then learn to do it faster, in greater quantities, and at overseas bases not previously prepared for that purpose. That most of the first 60 assigned to the battalion were Engineers – all in their 20s and only a year or two out of USMA, made Jim’s research especially interesting. The special twist was that the man Groves selected to command the battalion was Gil Dorland. No, not our then nine-year-old classmate, but his father (USMA ’36). Jim suggests that we wait for the paperback, because the publisher, Praeger, has priced the hard cover at 60 bucks.
John & Elaine Guthrie joined the US Coast Guard Auxiliary in order to put their airplane, a Cessna P-210, to a useful purpose. They fly low level boating safety missions over Lake Tahoe and several other Sierra Nevada lakes in the greater Reno, NV area. They also fly “Angel Flight” missions, providing free air transportation for needy people who live in remote areas, thus enabling them to receive medical treatment at facilities such as the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, AZ. Last year they flew about 60 hours, taking people to Oregon, Utah, Nevada, California, and Arizona. John also keeps busy as president of the Lake Tahoe chapter of TROA. He and Elaine travel extensively with trips to see family, including three children and five grandchildren on the East Coast, several times a year.
John & Elaine Guthrie back in uniform with the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
A small tragedy for your scribe occurred on 29 June with the retirement of Tom Russell from the AOG. He was a perennial source of information for us and seemed to know things no one else did. At their last AOG supper, Tom & Ann were joined by Bob & Nancy Shapiro and Bill & Sue Breen. The Russells will now make their home at the Wintergreen resort in VA, and will devote their efforts to the eradication of autism, an affliction suffered by a grandchild.
John Meloy died on 11 August at the Fairfax, VA, Hospital after a long battle with pulmonary ailments. The sincere sympathy of the Class is extended to his wife, Irene; to daughters Katy, Kelly, and Sharon; and to all of John’s family and friends. Many of us paid our respects at the funeral home on 15 August; and at this writing a Mass of Christian Burial was scheduled for Arlington on 18 September. To this fine soldier from a fine military family, may it be said, “Well done!”
And a final sad note is the death of Al Houltry on 24 June, apparently by his own hand, after having lived for 10 years with a diagnosis of paranoia. Condolences of the Class are extended to Al’s wife, Roberta, to his daughters, Dawn and Tanya, and to all of his family and friends. May he rest in peace.