For many, the Vietnam War is a distant memory, a decades-old conflict defined by news coverage focused as much on the protests against an unpopular war as on the men who fought it.
But not for Lt. Col. Donald J. O’Connor, FCRH ’63, who, as a member of the 1st Marine Regiment, served south of Da Nang in 1968 and 1969. He will never forget his fellow soldiers and classmates killed in Vietnam.
“Every time I go to Mass, I pray for the deceased,” O’Connor said. “I remember every man I knew who died there. We must always remember them.”
On April 21, Fordham remembered by dedicating a Vietnam War Memorial inscribed with the names of the 23 University alumni who perished in that conflict. More than 300 people, including O’Connor and many of the more than 200 Fordham alumni Vietnam veterans, attended the dedication and Mass at the University Church presided over by Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham. (story continues below)
Photo by Chris Taggart
Originally set for early November, the ceremony, which included a celebration of the church’s new Maior Dei Gloria Organ, was pushed back several months due to Hurricane Sandy. That enabled what Robert R. Grimes, S.J., dean of Fordham College at Lincoln Center, called in his homily a “triple dedication,” devoted not only to Fordham’s Vietnam veterans and the new custom-made organ but also to the liturgy of Good Shepherd Sunday and its celebration of life and rebirth.
The new organ created what Fordham Director of Liturgical Music Robert Minotti called a bolder and “much more symphonic” sound than the church’s old Tracker organ. Assembled by Schoenstein & Co. in Benicia, Calif., the new organ was made possible by the generosity of Stephen E. Bepler, FCRH ’64; his wife, Kim B. Bepler; the late George Doty, FCRH ’38; Joelle and Brian Kelly LAW ’95; and John C. Walton, FCRH ’72 and Jeanette D. Walton, TMC ’71, GSAS ’73.
Sunday’s dedication and Mass featured Johann Sebastian Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G major and pieces by John Rutter and Richard Strauss. Accompanying Minotti and Assistant Organist Anthony Rispo and adding to the poignancy of the ceremony were the Schola Cantorum, the University Choir, and University Women’s Choir.
But mostly the day was about Fordham’s fallen Vietnam heroes. “None of our 23 classmates wanted to die, but they were willing to and that’s what makes them special,” said retired U.S. Army Gen. John M. “Jack” Keane, GSB ’66. “They were willing to put at risk everything they cared about—and for what? A simple yet profound sense of duty. This is true honor and we can never, ever take that kind of devotion for granted.”
Father McShane agreed, noting the ceremony’s “sense of solemnity, respect, devotion, and honor set forth and created by the organ and the choirs,” which, he said, helped those assembled give “honor to honorable men.”
For Keane, a retired four-star general and a former vice chief of staff of the Army, the 23 men were soldiers of extraordinary valor. Among them were two Medal of Honor recipients, Father Vincent R. Capodanno, FCRH ’52, and Robert C. Murray, FCRH ’68. They included winners of a Distinguished Service Cross, an Air Force Cross, two Silver Stars, and two Bronze Stars. They died between 1964 and 1973; all but one served as an officer.
The Vietnam memorial resides in the narthex of University Church, close to the 230 names of Fordham alumni who died in World War II. It supplements another plaque in the Rose Hill Gymnasium, which includes 20 names of Fordham students killed in the war. Those 20 were honored in a 2003 reunion organized by William Burke Sr., FCRH ’65, LAW ’68, who called his tireless efforts on behalf of Fordham’s Vietnam veterans over the years “a way to thank these men.”
After the 2003 event, Burke learned about three additional Fordham alumni soldiers killed in Vietnam, and he spearheaded the effort to create a new memorial to be located in the church.
“This memorial is a reminder of how lucky we are in this country and a true acknowledgement that Fordham remembers its heroes,” said Burke. “God bless them.”
To read General Keane’s remarks, click here.