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Lawrence "Larry" Aldrich1

Male
b. 1948, d. 6 May 1968


Father Darwin Floyd Aldrich1 b. 14 August 1918, d. 5 November 2004
Mother Betty Jane Patterson1 b. 18 July 1927, d. 23 November 1985
Pop-up Pedigree

Birth* 1948  1 
Death* 6 May 1968  Bien Dien Province, Viet Nam1 
News/Obit* 28 January 2010  Larry Aldrich [May 6, 1968]: Over 40 years later, remains of Vietnam War fighter return home

FORT WORTH -- In the darkness of Wednesday morning, Larry Aldrich finally made it home.

His arrival on American Airlines Flight 8 from Honolulu brought the baggage handlers' work on the ramp to a halt. People peered out the windows of the largely quiet terminal. Members of an Army honor guard in their spit-shined black shoes and pressed uniforms silently carried the flag-draped casket bearing what is left of Aldrich's body to a hearse, closing a chapter that opened in 1967 when Aldrich left Love Field for Vietnam.

Spc. Lawrence Lee Aldrich is one of the 58,000 men listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, killed in his 20th year when a 750-pound bomb landed on his position in the middle of a firefight on May 6, 1968.

Until last year, he was also one of the 1,700 men whose remains were not recovered during or after the 10-year war in Southeast Asia.

But one day last autumn, a day almost no one in the family thought would come, a day Larry's dad died waiting for, the government called Aldrich's oldest surviving sibling and told him his brother was no longer missing.

"It took me several weeks to recover," said Darwin Aldrich, who was two years younger and graduated from Arlington Heights High just days after Larry's death. "It opens up your head to a lot of memories and your heart to a lot of emotions that haven't been experienced in a long time."

The family held a memorial service in 1968 and another one in 1996, the second one an attempt to bring closure for Aldrich's aging father. But no gravestone marker existed for Aldrich, no place to visit on his birthday, no place to put a flag on Memorial Day.

On Saturday, though, Larry Aldrich will be buried in a family plot at Greenwood Cemetery outside downtown Fort Worth. His siblings are having his casket placed on top of his father's.

"Part of my dad's heart believed that Larry had been killed," said Janine Peck, Aldrich's younger sister, who lives in North Richland Hills. "But it's very hard to come to grips with something when you don't have anything to grip. There's always a little part of yourself that believes there's still a chance that they were wrong. Dad held on to that chance until his dying day."

Stepping into a war zone

On May 6, 1968, the men of Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry were ambushed in an area crisscrossed with hedgerows.

The fire from the North Vietnamese was murderous.

"It was very close fighting," said Jim Miller, who belonged to a reconnaissance team in the company. "We were getting hit so hard."

The company, part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, had been in one battle after another for months as it moved throughout central South Vietnam. Thirty-nine men were killed in the first week of May that year.

When Aldrich joined the company in December 1967, he was part of a large group of "cherries" -- men new to combat -- because of horrific losses in the 173rd Airborne in November during the battle of Dak To.

Aldrich had been in Vietnam only a month when he sustained his first wounds, and he had been in the Army for only eight months total.

Peck received a letter from him in January 1968 from a hospital. In his letter, he told her the war was "misery" and that "I do miss the world."

"I'll sure be glad to get back," he wrote to her. "Just think, in six months, I'll be 21 years old. Getting to be an old man."

Aldrich, like all of his siblings, lived with his father (his parents were divorced) in a house on Benbrook Highway. He attended Arlington Heights High but dropped out before graduating.

A fearless young man, trim and fit, he gave his father more than a few sleepless nights, his family said. "There was a lot of difficulties going on in society back then," his brother Darwin said. "He just wanted a change, and maybe the Army was a way for him to get some stability."

Aldrich wrote to his sister again in April 1968 that he was coming up on his one-year anniversary of being in the Army. He complained of the heat, but he told her he was doing what he felt he needed.

He ended his last letter to her with a lighter tone.

"I can't figure out what a handsome devil like me is doing over here anyway. HELP!!" he wrote.

Within a couple of weeks, he was manning an M-60 machine gun on the perimeter of the company's position in the firefight on May 6.

The enemy was so close that Miller remembers the forward observer calling in artillery rounds close enough that the shrapnel was hitting the trees around Bravo Company.

At one point, a U.S. aircraft made a run over the battle, but the bomb fell short and exploded precisely where Aldrich was positioned. "That really hurt us," Miller said.

The men fought on until the 17th Cavalry Regiment came in with tanks and helped end the battle.

Soldiers searched for Aldrich's remains -- no one believed he had lived through the explosion -- but all that could be found were pieces of the machine gun.

Robert Beemer, who also served in Bravo Company, was recovering from malaria in Cam Ranh Bay when the wounded started showing up and telling him of the battle and the "friendly fire."

Just a few days before, Beemer had been walking up a mountain, delirious, weak and fevered. He had fallen behind the rest of the company and finally collapsed.

"Larry came back down, grabbed my rucksack and helped me up the mountain," Beemer said. "I can see him coming down that hill for me like it was yesterday. It was the last time I saw him."

The long search ends

Darwin Aldrich can recall vividly the Army coming to his father's house and telling the family, including siblings Timothy, Andrew and Rebecca, that Larry was missing in action. Later, they got a letter from Larry's company commander explaining what happened.

"I remember a lot of pain, anguish, anger, frustration, confusion in the family," he said. "You have this hope and prayer that he's alive. But then that passes after a while, and you have to learn to accept that they may not find him."

They began to learn more details of his date of death in 1988 during a briefing from the government on the fate of prisoners of war and those missing in action, the culmination of years of increased pressure on the U.S. government to investigate and pursue leads in Southeast Asia.

Four years later, a team of Vietnamese government officials traveled to Binh Dinh province to look for clues about Aldrich, which began the modern search for his remains.

Based on their interviews with villagers, a U.S. team excavated an area used for farming in 1994 but found nothing.

The Vietnamese government renewed its pursuit of the case in 2006 and uncovered more information that Aldrich's remains might have been moved at some point.

In March 2009, U.S. officials showed up again for an excavation, and this time they found something about 160 feet from where they had looked in 1994.

It wasn't much -- some teeth and pieces of American gear. But it was enough for the Defense laboratory in Hawaii to identify Aldrich based on his dental records. DNA wasn't even required, said Larry Greer, a spokesman for the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office in Virginia.

"There's no way," Peck said she thought. "How can it be? It's been 41 years."

Aldrich's mother, Bette Giffen, died in 1985. Aldrich's father, Darwin, died in 2004, his greatest wish unfulfilled.

Still, his other children have prayed in the last few days that he knows the end of this story, and that men who served with Larry, including Miller from Arizona and Beemer from New York, are coming to Fort Worth to pay their respects.

"There's relief that it's finally over, but really, it's a blessing for my father that he's home," Peck said.

Services Graveside services for Spc. Lawrence L. Aldrich are at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Greenwood Cemetery, 3100 White Settlement Road, Fort Worth.

Supporting the 173rd Longtime Fort Worth residents might remember the outpouring of support for another company in the 173rd Airborne Brigade during the Vietnam War. The 173rd is nicknamed "The Herd." The city of Fort Worth adopted Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry after a Cowtown native in the unit wrote to the mayor. Thousands of people sent cookies, cakes and letters to the unit for months. In 2001, the still-grateful men of Charlie Company dedicated a monument in the Botanic Garden to the citizens of Fort Worth.

I'll sure be glad to get back. Just think, in six months, I'll be 21 years old." Lawrence Aldrich, in a letter

Published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (TX) - January 28, 20101 
Burial* 30 January 2010  Greenwood Memorial Park and Mausoleum, Fort Worth, Tarrant Co., TX1 

Citations
  1. [S323] News Bank.


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