Two TR Names on Vietnam Veterans Memorial Remembered
THREE RIVERS — Of the 58,281 names etched in black granite on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. two are from Three Rivers: Homer Alfred Ruple Jr. and Joseph James Brady.
According to an article reporting Ruple’s death in the Three Rivers Commercial (before the paper became the Commercial-News) dated February 13, 1968, he was serving in the U.S. Army in Saigon—the former capital of South Vietnam—when he was killed by “enemy sniper action” on February 2, 1968.
By 1968, the war in Vietnam—between South Vietnam, an ally of the United States, and communist North Vietnam—had ground to a stalemate. In an effort to break the deadlock and halt U.S. bombing of its cities, North Vietnam and its Vietcong allies launched an all-out attack on U.S. and South Vietnamese military and government installations throughout the country.
Known as the Tet Offensive, this highly coordinated assault resulted in heavy casualties for American and South Vietnamese forces. The communist offensive proved a psychological blow as well. It showed enemy combatants to be more prevalent and powerful than previously thought—at one point Vietcong guerrillas breached the outer walls of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon.
The Commercial reported Ruple, a Specialist 5, had attended Three Rivers schools and enlisted in the Army in 1955 going on to serve in Europe and Korea, and at the time of his death was on his second tour of duty in Vietnam. According to the virtual wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Ruple served with 1st Logistical Command, in charge of the massive operation to supply and equip a large portion of U.S. troops in Vietnam, which peaked at 549,500 in 1968. Although exact details are not known, his unit most likely was a prime target for enemy forces bent on destroying U.S. combat capabilities.
Meanwhile, some 500 miles to the north of Saigon, Lance Corporal Brady was fighting for his life along with other Marines surrounded by North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops at the Khe Sanh Combat Base near the dangerous Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing North and South Vietnam.
Brady enlisted in the Marines after graduating from Three Rivers High School in June of 1967. On January 21, 1968—shortly after he arrived at the remote base—some 20,000 NVA troops as part of the Tet Offensive attacked the American stronghold at Khe Sanh. As enemy forces grew and the attack intensified, Marines fought back with nonstop artillery and machine gun fire for 77 grueling days while U.S. bombers obliterated virtually everything outside the base perimeter expending a staggering 100,000 tons of ordinance—the destructive power equivalent to five Hiroshima-size atomic bombs.
After surviving the NVA onslaught and battles related to protecting the besieged base that killed up to 1,000 Marines and wounded 4,500 others, Brady was transported east to the Wunder Beach supply complex on the South China Sea where his battalion resumed combat operations south of the DMZ. He was killed there on April 24, 1968, when shells fired by a U.S. ship mistakenly hit the complex.
The United States claimed victory at Khe Sahn, though abandoned the base for strategic reasons shortly after the NVA retreated. Some historians believe the Tet Offensive ultimately proved a decisive defeat for the North Vietnamese and their Vietcong allies, and may have led to a favorable settlement. American public opinion, however, turned against support for the war in part because of the high number of military and civilian casualties during almost eight months of brutal fighting that dominated news headlines. As a result, U.S. combat units eventually withdrew from South Vietnam in 1973 and Saigon fell to communist forces on April 30, 1975 marking the end of the Vietnam War.
No doubt the debate about the ramifications of these major battles will continue. One outcome of the Vietnam War, however, is not subject to debate. In fact, it is etched in stone: More than 58,000 American military personnel died in that long and bloody conflict. Joseph J. Brady and Homer A. Ruple Jr. are buried at Riverside Cemetery in Three Rivers.