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25305 Wilcox,Charles Kirby
June 04, 1942 - January 09, 1968

Charles Kirby Wilcox   

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Personal Eulogy

John Ward's Directory Entry

From the neighborhood of the riverboat gamblers, Kirby has upheld their tradition with constant card games and numerous ideas for "money-making" business schemes. "Fluent" French and a mile-long line conquered almost all the women he met. Enthusiasm and clear thinking spelled success for Kirby at the Academy and will do the same after graduation.

~ USMA 1964 Howitzer

The year 1968 was America’s busiest in Vietnam. Our troop strength would rise to approximately 540,000 early in the year and would stay at that level until early the following year when we started to wind down our efforts. On the ninth day of 1968 the Class of ’64 lost its twelfth warrior, Charles Kirby Wilcox, an All-American young man from the heartland. Like Denis Galloway, he was from Missouri, and was extremely proud of his beloved home state.

At the time of Kirby’s death most Americans believed we had the upper hand in Vietnam, which we did, despite a growing amount of protest. That attitude changed dramatically, however, a short time later when the Tet Offensive began on the 30th of January. As had been customary, a truce was agreed upon to commence that day, the beginning of the lunar new year, so that both sides could celebrate with their families. At dawn the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong coordinated a massive attack on South Vietnam’s seven largest cities and on thirty provincial capitals ranging from the Delta to the DMZ (the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam). For the most part, the defenders of South Vietnam were caught by surprise. Hanoi fully expected to topple South Vietnam with such an all-out effort, but by the tenth of February had suffered a crushing military defeat with over 50,000 killed and hundreds of thousands wounded. Despite the fact that Tet was a significant military victory for the United States and South Vietnam, it turned out to be a disaster for us, psychologically and politically. The enemy's ability to achieve the element of surprise on such a large scale was exploited by the media and the American public became convinced that the war was unwinnable. Even though we continued to make military progress against a weakened enemy, domestic pressure prevailed and our government decided that enough was enough. President Johnson decided not to run for re-election and then later, his successor, Richard Nixon, started bringing the troops home.

Kirby was born on 4 June 1942 in Springfield, Missouri, the son of Betty and Charlie Wilcox. His younger sister, Patti, came along three years later. Father Charlie was not a career military man but he was a veteran of World War II. As a boy Kirby was active in scouting and was a standout Little League baseball player. At Parkview High School, he was known as an all-around athlete, an excellent student, and a model citizen. He lettered in both baseball and football and was the captain of the Parkview American Legion baseball team when it won the state championship.

By the time he finished high school, Kirby had received athletic scholarship offers from the University of Southern California, Arizona State University, and the University of Arizona. He was also offered an academic scholarship to the University of Missouri. But, quite early in life Kirby had expressed a desire to attend West Point and become an army officer. So, when he received a principal appointment from Representative Charles Brown of Missouri’s Seventh Congressional District, he disdained those other offers and headed for the Military Academy to join the Class of '64.

The transition to cadet life was no problem for Kirby, although like most of his classmates who hadn’t had a military background, he found the "Beast Barracks" experience to be a rude introduction to his new world. One of the most dreaded events that occasionally took place during that summer of 1960 was the clothing formation. The first of those formations started out with Kirby and the other new plebes standing in a company formation, awaiting instructions from the company commander while being harassed by the rest of the cadre. Dressed in fatigues and combat boots, they were expecting to be marched off to a lecture when the commander's voice echoed through their ranks, "SMACKHEADS, IT IS NOW 1400 HOURS. YOU HAVE EXACTLY FIVE MINUTES TO BE BACK IN THIS FORMATION IN DRESS GRAY OVER WHITE, UNDER ARMS. NOW, MOVE OUT!" As he ran back to his room, Kirby almost couldn't believe that he was going to have to completely change his uniform. Clothes flew all around the room as Kirby and his roommates rushed into the new outfit, grabbed their rifles, and ran back outside where the upper-classmen descended upon them for a frenzied inspection of their new attire. The latecomers were herded into a separate group and berated unmercifully. Once again, the company commander’s voice bellowed, "THAT WAS A GROSS PERFORMANCE, YOU DULLARDS. IT IS NOW 1410 HOURS. BE BACK HERE BY 1415 IN GYM A UNDER RAINCOAT. MOVE OUT!"

This game continued for almost an hour. By then the new cadets had exhaustively donned every type of clothing combination possible and were dripping with sweat. The conditioning hike that followed was a welcome relief. Even the stressful nightly shower formations seemed tame compared to the clothing formations. However, it was one way to learn what each of the many uniforms entailed. And, it was another of many drills designed to teach the new cadets how to function under pressure.

Kirby had always been able to perform well under pressure, and at the academy he was well known for his calm and efficient approach in overcoming the many obstacles that each cadet faced during the four years. He took academics in stride and found time for numerous extracurricular activities. During plebe year he played baseball but gave it up for the last three years in favor of intramural athletics. Kirby was chosen the Most Valuable Intramural Athlete during his first-class year, and enjoyed the dubious honor of being cadet-in-charge of the Goat-Engineered Football Game. This is an annual event that precedes the Army-Navy game, which Army is supposed to win if the team of academic goats is victorious. The Engineer (hives) team must have won that year.

He was a member of the Debate Council and Forum all four years and served as chairman of the National Debate Tournament during his last year. Twelve of the twenty-four fallen warriors of the class had participated in the Debate Council and Forum. Since its membership was not that large, such a statistic would place it in the same unlucky category as the Parachute Club.

Although French was his weakest subject, that didn’t stop Kirby from being a four-year member of the French Club. During his first-class year he was also selected to be a Rabble-rouser, an Army cheerleader. The selection criteria were the same as for cheerleaders anywhere else: good looks, enthusiasm, popularity, and athleticism. It is little wonder that Kirby was chosen to be the activities officer on the brigade staff during his last year.

June of 1964 brought graduation, and Kirby returned to Springfield to marry his sweetheart, Linda Lou Hanks. In August he reported to Fort Benning for Ranger and Airborne Schools, after which he was assigned to the Second Infantry Division in Korea for a year. While there he served as an infantry platoon leader and as aide to Brigadier General Gleszer (the father of classmate Pete Gleszer), who was then assistant division commander of the division. Upon his return from Korea in December 1965, Kirby attended the Maintenance Officer’s Course at Fort Know, Kentucky, for twelve weeks. He and Linda then went to Baumholder, Germany, where he joined the First Battalion, Thirteenth Infantry, of the Eight Infantry Division. Because of the ongoing build-up of U.S. Forces in Vietnam at that time, the army units in Germany were extremely short on personnel, especially officers. As a consequence, during his sixteen months in the 1 / 13th, Kirby saw duty as a platoon leader, company commander, battalion S-3 and battalion executive officer. The latter two jobs were positions for majors and Kirby filled them as a brand new captain!

Despite the job challenges and seasoning that Kirby was experiencing, he knew that Germany was not where he should be in 1967. His country and his classmates and other comrades in arms were getting more heavily involved in the conflict in Southeast Asia and several of his good friends had already died trying to stem the Communist advances in South Vietnam. Kirby could not avoid doing his part—it was what he, as an American fighting man, should do. Besides, in less than three years in the army he had already done everything possible, and more. There was only one thing lacking—combat participation. So, that spring he volunteered for duty in Vietnam.

On 7 June 1967 Linda and Kirby were blessed with a son, Curtis Scott, whose arrival made both parents extremely proud and happy. A short time later they were all on their way back to Springfield, Missouri, where Kirby settled his little family and went on to Vietnam. Young Curt was seven weeks old.

In Vietnam Kirby was initially assigned as a staff officer in the First Cavalry Division’s Support Command. In his letters he expressed a dislike for his support duties, even though he knew that his job was a necessary one and that it was customary practice to spend time in the rear while earning the privilege of commanding a company. Occasionally he would see his old pal from the Cadet Brigade Staff, Mike Nawrosky, who was already commanding a company in the division, and feel twinges of envy. Larry Brewer, who was flying helicopters in support of the First Cav at that time and saw Kirby often, recalls how anxious he was to get out of the paperwork and into the action. Finally, after five months in the rear, Kirby got his wish and assumed command on an infantry company. As an infantry officer, there was nothing more important than combat command, and Kirby was ready for it, mentally and physically. As fate would have it, however, after only two weeks on the job, the young captain was felled by an enemy grenade while leading his company on a search and destroy mission near Bong San.

It was another tragic loss—for his family, his country, and his class. In everything that he ever attempted during his short twenty-five-year life, Kirby excelled. His performance always drew praise and admiration. Whatever the task, Kirby could be counted on to give it everything he had—and that is just what he did on the 9th day of January 1968.

Kirby was buried at the National Cemetery in Springfield, Missouri, on 18 January 1968 following a military funeral. Classmate Jim Mozden (who would die of cancer five years later) served as escort officer, and Jay Bennett, Bob Hillyer, Mike Moran, Marty Ischinger, Bill Kelley, and Mike Liebowitz served as pallbearers.

One of Kirby’s many close friends in the class was class president, Dick Chilcoat. They had been roommates yearling year in F-1 and were reunited on the brigade staff firstie year—Dick was the brigade commander. (As expected, Dick rose to major general and the commandant of the Army War College.) He later reflected on Kirby: "He had accomplished much in the few years given to him to spend on earth. He was a great son…and older brother. His athletic prowess was obvious at all levels, as was his scholarship and citizenship. And at the academy, his cadetship, leadership, and friendship were valued as much as precious gold... he was a classmate extraordinaire. Upon graduation, he continued to excel as officer, as husband, and as father.

"He personified the theme espoused in Rudyard Kipling’s immortal poem, If, which, in a few short verses, captured the essence of what it takes to be a man. The last verses seem especially relevant in Kirby’s case:

If you can walk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch.
If neither foes nor living friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a man, my son!

"In some twenty-five years, Kirby Wilcox had filled '...the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds' worth of distance run...' and he was '...a man, my son!' He earned and possessed the personal and professional love of all who ever knew him…and, thus, he made history in his own time because he touched our very souls and the depths of our hearts. And he endures."

Years later Linda married Keith Lindsay and the two of them enjoyed the pleasure of raising Curt. Curt graduated from the University of Kansas with a business degree and later earned a masters in finance from the University of Missouri. Like his father, he has excelled in everything and is presently running the family business. He is also a happy husband and the proud father of Kirby’s grandson, Ryan Scott. What a proud grandfather Kirby would be!

~ Fallen Warriors The West Point Class of 1964 by John Murray

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