MERIDEN — Mary Ann Jurek received a letter from her brother, Edward Jurek, while he was serving in the army in Vietnam. It simply said, “Don’t worry, I’m fine.”
Her next update came when uniformed Army officers arrived at her home early one morning to inform her Edward had been killed in action by snipers near Lai Khe on March 25, 1968. He had just turned 21.
“I thought we’d grow old together,” Mary Ann Jurek said. “I still cry.”
Fifty years later, Mary Ann Jurek still struggles with the loss of her brother, one of 15 Meriden men killed in action or reported missing and later declared deceased during the Vietnam War. Archived news clippings and photos help piece together the stories of these men, many of whom died just years after graduating high school.
One of those men was Mark “Butch” Lilienthal, who didn’t choose to enlist. He was drafted into the Marine Corps at 19, but it was a job he took on with pride, his sister Nancy Currlin said. In his letters home, he rarely wrote about the war, focusing more on how things were at home and his thoughts. He was killed in an explosion just two months before he was scheduled to return home.
“I am affected every day,” Currlin said. “It was never the same. I mean, of course you try to be strong… He was only 20, he was still a child… I still miss him every day.”
When Edward Jurek was deployed to Vietnam in April 1967, his sister said the family knew the potential dangers and were “always afraid” he might never come home. She turned to religious faith to cope with the loss.
“I was 23 when it happened — the other girls were planning their weddings and I was suffering with grief,” Mary Ann Jurek said. “He had so much to offer. He was such a good person. Maybe that’s God’s way of saying that his reward is great in heaven.”
“Honor the fallen soldiers,” Jurek said. “It’s fine to have fun on picnics and family gatherings and parades, but please remember the fallen who have sacrificed their lives for us.”
While the holiday weekend is one of relaxation or celebration for many, Mayor Kevin Scarpati urged residents to keep in mind the true meaning of Memorial Day.
“Fifteen individuals who have paid the ultimate sacrifice and aren’t coming back home, aren’t celebrating victory, aren’t able to tell their stories,” Scarpati said. “While it’s fun to to come out with your kids and watch the parade, you hope families are educating their youth as to why we are here — it’s to remember those who gave their lives so we can enjoy freedoms today and carry on their legacy.”
The following list was confirmed with the U.S. Defense Department Press Operations Center.
Edward Jurek, age 21
Jurek graduated Maloney High School in 1965, where he listed his ambition as becoming a paratrooper.
“You can’t stay out with the owls at night and expect to fly with the eagle in the morning,” Jurek wrote as his yearbook caption.
During his service, Jurek was honored with the Army Commendation Medal for meritious service, according to a Dec. 19, 1967 news article.
“Working long and arduous hours, he set an example that inspired his associates to strive for maximum achievement,” a citation quoted in the article states. “The loyalty, initiative and will to succeed that he demonstrated at all times materially contributed to the successful accomplishment of the mission of this command.”
Jurek was patrolling South Vietnam area near Lai Khe when his convoy was hit by enemy fire at 3:15 a.m. The year following his death, he was honored with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star at the Meriden Memorial Day parade as his family stood by “dry eyed, but barely,” according to a May, 31, 1969 article.
Gerald “Jerry” Levy, age 20
As a teenager, Levy delivered papers for the Record-Journal and played football at Platt High School. Levy enlisted in the Army after dropping out of high school in 1963 and was deployed to Vietnam in May 1965, where he quickly garnered a reputation as a skilled and fearless medic on the battlefield. While technically a trained paramedic, Levy wrote to his mother that his standard equipment included a “revolver, a light rifle with a bayonet and a knife.”
In letters home, he described his work on the battlefield as “evacuating bodies and removing shrapnel from men in his platoon.”
Levy was killed on Jan. 2, 1966. An undated Record-Journal news article described in vivid detail an account of his final act of bravery.
”After an initial explosion, (Levy) had rushed to the aid of a wounded sergeant,” the article stated. “He had taken blood plasma and an injection needle from his bag and begun to work his magic. But then another shell fell. This one hit Levy.”
”Yet, even though ripped open by the blast, the medic did not immediately react. For an incredible few moments he continued to administer to his stricken sergeant. Then Jerry Levy looked down at his own body and fell over, mortally wounded.”
Mark “Butch” Lilienthal, 20
Lilienthal was known for his vivacious personality and his skills on the dance floor, his sister Nancy Currlin said.
”He was so much fun. He could play the drums and the harmonica and he was one of the best dancers around,” Currlin said. “He could even do a jump split.”
He graduated from Wilcox Technical High School and hoped to become a plumber before he was drafted at age 19. His father recalled him as a “spunky” kid who loved speeding in his red Mustang. He was once picked up by police for idling in front of Dairy Queen, “because he had a gleam in his eye,” his father recalled in a Nov. 11, 1982 Record-Journal article. He was drafted in 1969 into the Marine Corps, which Currlin recalled was “pretty rare then.” He was killed a year later on April 17 in Quang Nam from a “hostile explosive device.”
“He had two months to go,” his mother, Jeanette said in the 1982 Record-Journal article. “They walked into a trap, apparently.”
Frank Kiewlen Jr., 21
Kiewlen graduated from Maloney High School in 1965, where he played baseball. As a young man he delivered papers for the Record-Journal and was a parishioner of St. Stanislaus Church. He hoped to become a teacher, according to his yearbook, and was studying at Central Connecticut State University when he was drafted in 1968.
”Men of few words are the best men,” Kiewlen wrote as the caption of yearbook photo.
While on a combat operation, Kiewlen was killed when a “booby trap” exploded on May 22, 1969, a Record-Journal article stated.
Robert “Bob” Marx, 21
A lifelong Meriden resident, Marx graduated from Maloney High School in 1966, where he played on the varsity baseball team and “hoped to give the minor leagues a whirl,” but chose to enlist in the Marine Corps the summer after graduation, a Dec. 9, 1967 news article stated.
“He feels more at home now wielding a flamethrower than a bat,” the article stated.
In letters home, Marx described the harrowing scene atop Hill 875 in November 1967, where North Vietnamese troops held a position for three days “outnumbered, surrounded and under constant artillery and napalm bombardment,” the article stated.
Marines stormed the hill, with Marx as squad leader, his platoon hurling grenades and firing flamethrowers into bunkers to beat back the enemy. During the battle, 113 out of 210 Marines were killed, according to the article.
After that battle, he wrote to his family, “I am one of the lucky ones.”
He was shot and killed while on patrol in Da Nang on May 27, 1968.
Richard Hensley, 20
Hensley played baseball at Maloney, and listed his ambition as joining the U.S. Marine Corps, which he did after graduating in 1965. He was an avid sportsman who enjoyed hunting and fishing, according to an Oct. 17, 1966 Record-Journal article.
”Pleasing to look upon,” Hensley wrote in his yearbook caption, which, judging from his picture, appeared to be the case.
After being deployed in January 1966, Hensley served as squad leader of a machine gun unit, the article states.
He was killed by mortar fire near Da Nang on Oct. 11, 1966. The article states he had visited his brother, William, who served in the Marine Crops Air Force, a week before his death.
Joel Sandberg, 24
Sandberg graduated from Maloney High School in 1963, where he played trombone in the Pep Band and served on the Dance Committee.
“The rest may reason and welcome: ‘tis we musicians know,’” his 1963 Maloney yearbook photo is captioned.
Following graduation, Sandberg received a bachelor’s degree from Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota and enlisted in the Navy in 1967. After attending the U.S. Naval Aviation School Command in Pensacola Florida, he was deployed to Vietnam in 1969 and was stationed in Vung Tau, where he piloted an OV 10A Bronco Aircraft for the Navy.
He was killed Dec. 20, 1969 in a plane crash. His body was never recovered.
Michael Chmura, 22
Chmura attended Wilcox Technical High School and enlisted in the Marines during his senior year, “because he wanted to,” his mother said in a 1965 Record-Journal article.
He was deployed after graduation and sent his family letters weekly. He served in communications for the Marines Corps.
His family was informed Chmura was missing in action on Oct. 17, 1965 after a helicopter crashed in Phu Bai. He was later confirmed dead.
Douglas White, 19
White was born in Meriden and attended Meriden Public Schools. He was serving his second tour of duty in the Army when he was killed on Nov. 15, 1970 in Quang Tin Province, according to a Record-Journal article. He was just three months from his scheduled discharge.
Wayne McKenzie, 20
McKenzie attended Southington Public Schools and was an altar boy at Immaculate Conception Church. Several Record-Journal articles and the Virtual Wall, a veterans website, refer to him as residing in Meriden at the time of his service.
McKenzie served in the Marine Corps and his duties included clearing land for mines, according to a May 29, 1967 Record-Journal article. In his final letter home, McKenzie expressed concern about anti-war demonstrations back at home.
“All these demonstrations and the burning of the U.S. flag were upsetting to him,” McKenzie’s close friend, the Rev. Adolphe T. Renkiewicz, is quoted as saying. “He wondered what the world is coming to, and said he hoped he wouldn't see incidents like these when he came home.”
He was killed on May 26, 1967 in Quang Nam Province.
John Shoneck, 41
Shoneck was born in Meriden and graduated from Meriden High School in 1952. He joined the Air Force immediately after graduation. He went missing when an aircraft carrier he was traveling on disappeared on Oct. 18, 1966 during a rescue mission in North Vietnam. At the time he went missing, he was 34.
“No indication was given that they were experiencing any difficulty,” a letter from Air Force officials stated in an Aug. 31, 1973 Record-Journal article. “Weather conditions in the area were very poor.”
No aircraft wreckage was ever found. Shoneck was declared deceased by the Air Force July 18, 1973, when he would have been 41.
Roland Richard, 25
Richard lived on Hicks Street in Meriden with his wife Carol. He served in the Army as a specialist when he came under hostile fire in the Hau Nghia Province on Feb. 24, 1969. He suffered serious injuries during the mortar attack, including a “penetrating fragment wound to the right temporal region of the head.” He died several months later.
His wife was notified of his death at their Hicks Street home.
Walter Raymond McDonald, 22
McDonald served in the Army as a private first class infantryman. He began a tour of duty on Jan. 6 1968 and was killed in action on Feb. 9, according to The Virtual Wall. News articles on McDonald could not be located.
Earl Bauchmann, 36
Bauchmann obtained the rank of master sergeant and served 18 years in the Marine Corps before being killed on Sept. 19, 1966, according to The Virtual Wall. News articles on Bauchmann’s death could not be located.
Patrick King, 26
King served in the Army and was killed after suffering multiple wounds on Dec. 5, 1965 in Binh Duong Province, according to The Virtual Wall. News articles on King’s death could not be located.