August presented a somber anniversary for Jasper County. Our first native son fell on Aug. 12, 1967, in Vietnam. Monroe native, David Lee McMath was killed in action in Quang Nam province.
McMath had joined The Marine Corps on the buddy program with his best friend Richard Pendroy. I had a chance to sit down with Richard as he reminisced about his fellow Marine and best friend. The conversation held stories, smiles and a few moments of silence as the memories resurfaced and became vivid once again.
They were typical Midwestern young men. A bit ornery, according to Pendroy. McMath was only 17 when they enlisted and had to have his parents sign so he could join. They went through basic and Infantry school and shipped off to Vietnam as M60 machine gunners. Once in Vietnam, they were placed in separate units in the 7th Marine Division. They promised each other if one made it and the other didn’t, the survivor would name their first son after their fallen friend.
Almost six months into the tour, they crossed paths again on the lines in Vietnam. When a commanding officer found out they were hometown buddies, he gave them a few hours off of patrol to catch up. They shared a few beers and stories as only brothers can. It was a nice break in the middle of a violent war. They parted ways the next day and said, “see you back home.”
Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. Richard paused as he remembered the day he found out about his friend’s passing. “Three weeks after our visit, I received a letter from my sister that stated, so sorry to hear about David. I had to read it twice because I had no idea what she was talking about. Then it hit me.” McMath had been killed during a firefight and lost his life on the battlefield. He was given a hero’s welcome home and buried with honors.
Fifty years later, I sit and scan through the pictures. Two young men, full of life, both proud to don the Marine Corps uniform. I asked Richard if he thinks about David much. He paused for a minute and answered, “yes, I often wonder who he would have married, would he have children? Would we still be close?” Richard stopped for a minute, composed himself, and stated,” I kept my promise, I named my first son David. In his honor.”
Jasper County lost four young men during the war. McMath and fellow Marine Franklin Daniel “Dan” Schrader, and Army veterans Ronald Vernon “Ronnie” Wearmouth and Edward James Brue. Two former residents Rollin D. Davis and Tommy D. Knapp were also killed in action. Those six names are listed on the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. More than 3,000 Jasper County residents served at some point during the Vietnam War period. In all honesty, it is amazing that only six Jasper County names are on that Wall.
There will be a ceremony held next week in Washington, D.C. where all 58,000 names of those lost during the war will be read. One by one in a somber setting, each name representing a young American life cut short. I will be there and will be reading a block of 33 names including Ronnie Wearmouth. I plan to pause for a couple of seconds after I read his name in honor of his wife and family who still miss him dearly. And, to all the family and friends of these men, we make this pledge. Your loved one’s selfless sacrifice will never be forgotten.
Doug Bishop is a veterans activist in Jasper County. He helped coordinate the Jasper County Freedom flights to Washington, D.C. and currently chairs the Jasper County Veterans memorial committee and serves on the National Association of Counties Veterans Affairs Committee.