Friday, October 13, 2017

Bingham, Cooper, Levis, Cesar ...

On Saturday, July 19, 1969 --- just a month after family and friends had laid Larry Ray Peterson to rest in Goshen Cemetery --- Sebird M. "Bill" and Marjorie Bingham were notified at their rural Chariton home that son Dennis, a Green Beret, had been killed in combat "on the battlefields of Vietnam."

Details were vague, but military authorities assured the Binghams that they could be proud of their son and that more information about the circumstances of his death would be made available as the weeks passed.

Larry Peterson, a Vietnam veteran who had made it home safely and then died when his helicopter crashed into the sea off California June 13, 1969, while on a military mercy mission, would not be counted among the nation's Vietnam War fatalities because his death did not occur in the war zone.

Specialist 4 Dennis William Bingham, 21, was Lucas County's first and by many accounts only combat-related loss in Vietnam, although two other men with ties to the county would be killed there later, one within months and the other within a year. A third had been among the nation's first Vietnam losses back in 1965.

Dennis, born Nov. 12, 1947, was by contemporary accounts all that parents could have hoped for in a son. He was a 1965 honors graduate of Chariton High School who had gone on to earn, during 1967, an associate degree at Centerville Community College. After a summer of "roughing it" across Europe with a friend, he returned home and enlisted in the U.S. Army.

Dennis had dreamed since junior high, his family said, of becoming a Green Beret and set out to earn that distinction. After training at Fort Gordon, Ga., and winning his paratrooper wings at Fort Benning, he qualified for training at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Training Center. He received that Green Beret in October 1968.

Deployed to Vietnam, Bingham was assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne). He arrived in Vietnam on April 22, 1969, and had been in country less than three months when he died.

Dennis's family was told during July that details of the mission he had been engaged in were classified, but that "he had been involved in operations in enemy territory which were to evaluate enemy troops and troop movements" and that he had been based at "Kontum headquarters on the Cambodian border 50 miles north of Saigon." Kon Tum actually is about 260 miles north of Saigon near the borders of both Cambodia and Laos.

Bingham's remains were turned to Chariton approximately 10 days after his death. Funeral services were held July 28 at Beardsley-Fielding Funeral Home and burial followed in the Chariton Cemetery. An honor guard from Fort Leavenworth served as pallbearers and conducted military graveside rites.

In December, Bingham's parents traveled to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. During the intervening months, it had been determined that their son would receive posthumously the Silver Star Medal for heroism in addition to his Purple Heart. Both were presented by the commanding officer of Fort Leonard Wood during that late December visit.

The Binghams also had learned more details about the mission their son had been engaged in and the details of his death. 

On July 17, Specialist 4 Bingham was serving as radio operator during a reconnaissance patrol in Laos. His team, hit by enemy forces after moving about three hours during the morning, moved to locate a landing zone for emergency evacuation. As the weather worsened and the attack continued, Bigham maintained constant radio contact to guide the rescue helicopter in. When a team member was wounded, Bingham rushed to assist him. As the helicopter approached the landing site, he moved into the clearing to direct it --- and was mortally wounded. 

In addition to his parents, Bingham was survived by a brother, Michael; and three sisters, Brenda, Cindy and Cathy.


U.S. Marine PFC Leonard Dean Cooper's Oct. 18, 1969, death in Vietnam was reported in a front-page Herald-Patriot story on Thursday, Oct. 23, under the headline, "Lucas Soldier is Victim of Vietnam Mine." But it's unlikely that many in Lucas County knew who the young man was. The story identified him as a son of Mr. and Mrs. W. R. Whitis of rural Lucas. Mrs. Whitis, Leona, was his mother; W. R. Whitis, his stepfather.

Cooper, whose father, Robert L. Cooper, had died during 1958, was a native of Mahaska County, born there on June 7, 1946. He had married Susan Mitrisin and became the father of Mary Jo, Susan and Michelle Cooper before their separation. His mother and stepfather had moved to a farm near Lucas after their 1964 marriage and their home was his home of record when he died. Later on, the Whitis family moved on to Missouri.

PFC Cooper had arrived in Vietnam during August of 1969 and had been assigned to Co. D, 7th Engineers, 1st Marine Division. He was an equipment operator and was returning from a road-building detail in Quang Nam Province on Oct. 18 when his Jeep hit an anti-personnel mine, resulting in his death. He came home to Bluff Creek Cemetery near Eddyville for burial beside his father and an infant brother.


A year later, The Herald-Patriot of July 23. 1970, reported on its front page the death three days earlier, on July 20, of  U.S. Army Sergeant Dennis R. Levis, age 23, assigned to Co. B, 2nd Battalion, 196th Light Infantry Brigade. He was serving at the Kham Duk air strip near Da Nang when  killed during an enemy mortar attack.

A son of Delrein and Gweniverre (Richard) Levis, Dennis was born Aug. 23, 1946, at Chariton and was a 1964 graduate of Seymour High School. He attended Centerville Community College and graduated from Drake University with a degree in business administration. At the time he entered the U.S. Army during October of 1968, he was a civilian employee of the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Command, Warren, Michigan. Ordered to Vietnam during October of 1969, he had three months left to serve there at the time of his death.

In addition to his parents, who were living in Chariton at the time of his death, he was survived by his widow, Linda (Bellomo) Levis of Center Line, Mich., and a sister, Nancy Drake of Chariton. He was brought home to the Allerton Cemetery in Wayne County for burial.


The Chariton newspapers had not reported U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Richard A. Cesar's Oct. 30, 1965, death in Vietnam, but he is the only one of these young men I still can see clearly in mind's eye  nearly 50 years later.

Born Dec. 21, 1944, at Boone, he came to Russell from Rockford, Ill., at age 15 to live with an aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Harold Kastner, and attended Russell Community School through his junior year. His parents, John T. and Betty Cesar, then moved from Rockford to Corydon and he transferred to Cambria-Corydon High School for his senior year.

Richard was determined to be a U.S. Marine. He signed up Feb. 18, 1963, under a 120-day deferred enlistment plan and entered the active service on June 11, 1963, just a couple of weeks after high school graduation.

By the spring of 1965, Lance Corporal Richard Allen Cesar, a gunner, was on Okinawa and a member of Weapons Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines.

The 9th Marines were among the first into Vietnam that spring, and Richard was among them. On Sept. 1, he received a battlefield promotion to corporal.

Not long after, he was assigned with a few buddies to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, to add combat depth to an inexperienced unit. A few days later, on Oct. 30, 1965, he died on Hill 22 near Da Nang — not yet 21. By that time, his parents had moved back to Rockford and so he came home for burial in Willwood Cemetery there.

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