"The brave never die, though they sleep in dust: Their courage nerves a thousand living men."
-Minot Judson Savage, American clergyman and author
On a facebook page for those who grew up in my town, I posted a remembrance of our local young men who had died in Vietnam. I received several comments asking, "What about Tommy Ontiveros?". I hadn't heard his name before, he wasn't on the list and he wasn't on the wall at our local memorial. I did a little research and found that he had grown up here, but during his senior year, his family moved to a neighboring county. He was recruited from there so his home of record is not the hometown he was raised in.
He was 19 when he arrived in Vietnam, a teenager. He was killed 8 months later on September 28, 1966, just 6 months after his 20th birthday. Who knows in what horrible way he celebrated his birthday. He was an E-3 Private First Class in the U.S. Army, B Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division. He was a fire crewman and his official cause of death was "hostile ground casualty gun, small arms fire." He died in the Binh Duong Province of South Vietnam.
I tried to find more information on Tommy. I asked those on the Facebook page what they knew. I found his brother and sister and spoke with both of them by phone. I needed information to get his name on our wall. I found out that if there was evidence he grew up here, he could be on the wall. I sent in the application, but at this time his name hasn't been put on the wall.
From what I've learned about Tommy, he loved being around people. He was a compassionate soul and always supported others, but I wonder if he would have ever imagined that so many people would remember him 50 years later?
Not only did so many ask about Tommy, but a couple of years after I discovered Tommy, I was at a backyard party at Jerry LeMoine's house. Jerry went to my high school but graduated a year before I entered high school. During the summer months, he holds occasional parties where several who grew up locally attend. I had been there a few times the previous year. There was something different this time. I was sitting at a table talking with friends, when I noticed that he had built a new bar in his yard, giving the ambiance of a tropical resort. Then I noticed the sign above the bar, "Tommy's Bar". It caught my attention. I knew Jerry had been in Tommy's class, could it be? I walked over to the bar and there was Tommy's picture in a frame. When I asked Jerry about it, he told me Tommy had been his best friend and had even moved in with his family for awhile. Jerry wrote an entertaining book about his growing up years called The Jelly Chronicles and in it he wrote a little about Tommy. Jerry says that Tommy was the kind of buddy anybody would want. "He would always have your back, challenge you to do better and pick you up when you were down."
I never knew Tommy Ontiveros but his name rings out in my mind like a song. He is not forgotten, people remember him 50 years later; and he has a backyard bar named after him.