Peter Frank Fegatelli
is remembered by his comrades-in-arms of the
27 May 1969General Orders
1. TC32. The following AWARD is announced posthumously.
FEGATELLI, PETER F SPECIALIST FOUR United
AWARD: SILVER STAR
Reason: Specialist Four Fegatelli distinguished himself by gallantry in action while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force on 10 May 1969 while serving with Company D (Ranger), 151st Infantry, in the Republic of Vietnam. On this date while deployed in an ambush position, the long range patrol team of which Specialist Fegatelli was a member spotted several enemy soldiers approaching. When the hostile troops were within range, the friendly element initiated contact with them. Although taken by surprise, the enemy reacted by placing intense small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire upon the team. Seeing that the enemy was beginning to gain fire superiority with extrememly effective fire, Specialist Fegatelli, disregarding his own safety, came to his knees in order to place more effective machine gun fire on the advancing enemy. His accurate fire and courage inspired his comrades to increase their volume of suppressive fire. While firing on the hostile force, he was mortally wounded. Specialist Four Fegatelli's outstanding courage and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.
Authority: By direction of the President under the provisions of the Act of Congress, approved 2 July 1926.
For the Commander:
B. E. Huffman, Jr.
Herman Miller, Jr.
DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
26 MAY 1969
Mr. and Mrs. Ercole Fegatelli
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Fegatelli,
I am sure that you have been informed of the death of your son, SP4 Peter F. Fegatelli, in the vicinity of Long Khanh Province, Republic Of Vietnam, on 10 May 1969. I sincerely hope the following information will help explain the circumstances and help answer many of the questions that are in your mind at this time.
On the morning of 10 May 1969, your son was serving as a patrol member of an eleven man reconnaissance team. The team had been inserted in the morning and had positioned themselves along a small trail in order to monitor enemy movement. The team mission was to gather information from the enemy by observation and if desired by use of an ambush.
At approximately 1014 hours the team spotted three to five enemy personnel. When the enemy force was within range the team initiated contact on the enemy force. Even though the enemy was taken by surprise they were still able to place intensive fire on the reconnaissance team. At this time the team was returning fire until the enemy could be suppressed. During the ensuing fire fight Peter was mortally wounded.
Desperate attempts were made to save his life by fellow team members but all failed. Thanks to Peter's tremendous volume of fire, the team was able to break contact and he was immediately evacuated to a nearby hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival.
As a member of Company D (Ranger), 151st Infantry, Peter was an outstanding soldier and a sincere friend to all the members of the unit. He was always ready to offer a helping hand to anyone and expected nothing in return for his kindness. Peter will be missed by everyone here and on behalf of our unit I would like to offer you our condolences in this time of grief and morning.
A memorial service in behalf of your son was conducted on the eleventh day of May 1969.
Peter's personal property has been collected and will be sent to you. I know you will treasure his personal possessions and I hope they will reach you without delay.
The sincere sympathy of this command is again extended to you in your bereavement.
GEORGE M. HECKMAN
By Gerald M. Carbone
CRANSTON — Rich Edgell steered his car slowly through the cemetery and, through the open windows, the tombstones on either side of the road seemed to whisper.
His car was one of many in a long caravan wending its way through St. Ann's Cemetery yesterday, snaking toward the grave of Peter Frank Fegatelli.
Edgell was the closest man to Fegatelli when he called "I'm hit!" 33 years ago yesterday in a jungle in Vietnam. Those were Fegatelli's dying words. A helicopter carried him to an evacuation hospital, his first stop on the way to burial in St. Ann's.
The men of Fegatelli's unit, Company D (RANGER), 151st Infantry of the Indiana Army National Guard, never got to see him again. And so they came to see him yesterday, more than three decades after their 19-year-old comrade fell.
As songbirds called through a May morning, the 151st's sergeant, Bill "Pappy" Hayes, called his men to formation in front of Fegatelli's gravestone. The men, about 20 strong, stood saluting, their hands pressed against receding hairlines of gray. Pappy, now 74, was 41 when he led men then half his age in the jungle.
"Dear Lord," Pappy said, "thank you for taking care of the following deceased members of our unit." Without consulting a script, he called the names of 17 men.
Mike Reisnan, a big man with a ruddy neck, stepped forward to address Fegatelli's 85-year-old mother, Louise. She was not as tall as her son's 5-foot headstone.
Reisnan said, "What you have to know is — we all considered Pete a brother, and we will never forget him."
Mrs. Fegatelli said, "Who carried him off the field?"
A man answered, "Gene Hooker. He has since died also."
Words spoken at graveside carry an extra poignancy. Vic Demeo, Fegatelli's best friend, stepped forward; Demeo and Fegatelli grew up a block from each other off Manton Avenue in Providence. Demeo is himself a Marine veteran of Vietnam, who fought on the hills around Khe Sanh.
With his hair in a ponytail and his eyes covered in dark glasses, Demeo said, "I don't know if I can get through this. But I'd like to thank our brothers from Indiana for coming." He stopped.
("Take it easy," Pappy called. "Take a breath.")
"To be with us all here today."
("Take your time.")
Demeo collected himself. He said he'd like to share some words from William Shakespeare. He pulled from his back pocket a worn paperback copy of Henry V. And he read:
"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers:
For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother."
VIC DEMEO remembers where he was when he heard the news:
"I was at my father's house that day when the call came. It was one of Peter's aunts. She wouldn't talk to me. She talked to my mother.
"I walked out into the garden, and I froze. I looked back, and my mother was crying."
He was in the "command center" at base camp, just a shed with walls built of sandbags. Pappy's sandbox they called it. From the radios there he could hear it all: "We have one friendly, KIA" — Killed in Action.
Oh God, no.
"Number 6, KIA." Pappy consulted his list: No. 6, Peter Fegatelli.
Rich Edgell remembers, too. The 151st Infantry was a "combat reconnaissance" unit. Their mission was to be the eyes and ears of the jungle. They cut circular holes in the jungle canopy, landing zones or LZs, for helicopters.
The helicopters dropped a small team of five or six men into an LZ, then rose, leaving the team for a five-day patrol. Each team monitored rivers and trails for enemy troop movements.
Each man carried more than 75 pounds, much of it weaponry. Max Anderson used to drape an M-60 machine gun across his big body like a sling: "It's balky, but when it starts firing, it talks," Anderson said. "And the more noise you can make the better off you're gonna be."
Peter Fegatelli was a small, wiry guy, but on May 10, 1969, he carried the 18-pound M-60, and its heavy belts of bullets.
This day, the 151st was going in with another team, a two-team "heavy" they called it; they brought in the heavy because another team had been fired on in that LZ the day before.
As soon as they hit the LZ, the dozen men ran toward the treeline, looking for cover. Edgell noticed fresh enemy foxholes in the weeds. He ducked behind a fat log, where other men joined him.
A friendly Vietnamese scout began walking down a trail; suddenly someone called out in Vietnamese.
Edgell's eyes locked on the eyes of a Viet Cong soldier. They fired at each other at the same time, and the jungle went mad with gunfire. Fegatelli's Silver Star citation reads: "Specialist Fegatelli, disregarding his own safety, came to his knees in order to place more effective machine-gun fire on the advancing enemy."
Exposed above the log, Fegatelli took a bullet in the chest.
MOST OF THE men who stood at attention at Fegatelli's grave yesterday, about 20 in all, drove from Indiana, for the 151st was an Indiana Army National Guard Unit that bolstered its ranks with a few Army "fillers" such as Edgell of West Virginia, and Fegatelli of Rhode Island.
"His accent — I liked his accent," said Ted Dunn, an Indiana man who trained on Fegatelli's team at Fort Benning. "That kind of draws you to a person because you want to hear him talk."
The Indiana men made friends easily. "We took him in — it was just kind of automatic," Dunn said.
At base camp in the steamy jungle, Fegatelli hated to wear a shirt. As soon as he left the chow hall, off it came. And he was a hairy man.
"He was so hairy, and after a few beers it started looking like a jungle on his chest," Dunn recalled. "One of the guys said, "Well, we've got to cut an LZ in there.'"
The Indiana boys took a pair of buzz clippers and cut a puck-sized LZ in the jungle hair of the left side of Fegatelli's chest. "He resisted a little, but it wasn't an all-out brawl," Dunn said. "If he had resisted more — well . . . you might as well go with it."
The bullet that killed Fegatelli struck the LZ shaved into his chest.
ON MOTHER'S DAY 1969, Louise Fegatelli saw through her kitchen window a priest and a soldier approaching her door. She dreaded the sight.
Mrs. Fegatelli opened her door and focused on the priest. "How bad is he hurt?" she asked.
"No," he said. "He's dead."
She told this story yesterday in her kitchen, even reenacting the scene of looking out at the sidewalk where the priest and the soldier had walked.
"This is where Peter lived," she said as she walked into her living room. Photos of her only son hung on the wall: Peter in his bowtie making First Communion; Peter shirtless in combat fatigues in Vietnam; Peter with Freckles, the family dog.
"What good does this do?" she said. "Right? They're all memories. Memories that hurt."
She composed herself, shuffling into her kitchen. She's 85 now, widowed, with two daughters. "It hurts," she said. "It hurt. It's nice for him, don't misunderstand. It's nice that they thought of him, but it hurts.
"He was a good kid, too. I don't mean to be funny, but he was a good kid. Wars," she said, "who starts them?"
MRS. FEGATELLI'S small house, sheathed in clean white siding, is just a few houses up Manton Avenue from Peter F. Fegatelli Memorial Square. Some 30 years ago, the General Assembly dedicated a triangular patch at the intersection of Manton and Fruit Hill Avenues to Fegatelli's memory.
Over the years a sign in Fegatelli Square faded, and litter collected in the brush.
"Sometimes you'd feel good" that the square was there, said Mrs. Fegatelli. "Sometimes you'd say: Why did they do it?" You could barely see it for the weeds.
A couple of weeks ago, word circulated that the Rangers were coming from Indiana to honor Fegatelli. His buddies from the old neighborhood, now middle-aged men, got to work: Alphonse Amore trucked in fresh mulch and impatiens and rhododendrons. Bobby Villari repainted the faded letters of a sign that read: "You've never lived till you've almost died; for those who have to fight for it, life has a flavor the protected never know."
Fegatelli had copied that in block letters from the base camp's mess hall, then mailed it to his now-deceased father, Ercole, a World War II veteran.
Fegatelli's younger sister, Diane Sarro, looked at her brother's freshened-up square. "This is amazing, to think that 33 years later to the day I'm with people who knew my brother as well as we do. He was gone by 19. They're 54 and they're still with us. Unbelievable. That's how close they were, the bonds they formed.
"To me it was like, 'OK, an older man got killed.' But he was just a kid! I didn't grasp that at 17.'
A warm wind caressed a flowering cherry in Fegatelli Square, cajoling it to shed its pink petals. The flowers fell like confetti, speckling the fragrant coat of pine mulch in Peter F. Fegatelli Square.
Vic Demeo said that if his boyhood buddy could see it, "He'd laugh. He'd think this was hilarious. He was the type of guy — life was a ball. He was just so full of life all the time. He's just so full of life. That's why it's so hard to believe that he lays there" next to his father in St. Ann's.
|Page last revised 08/22/2014|