Memorial Day always brings back memories of the Vietnam War and one of the soldiers I served with who I called a friend and a true “comrade-in-arms.” He was Victor Lee Ellinger, a fellow who lived in Staunton, VA. He was shot and killed by an enemy sniper while leading a platoon some 50 miles outside of Saigon.
I’ll never forget the day I got the call over the radio which was attached to this humongous radio battery carried by a foot soldier in close proximity to me, the first lieutenant. The company commander ordered us to come to the aid of Vic who was nearly a half a klick away from our position. (A “klick” was the term we used for kilometers!)
I force-marched the platoon to the coordinates given my radio operator causing two of the “grunts” to be overcome with heat exhaustion. We had them medevac’d after getting to Vic’s location, only to find out that we were too late.
He died from the wounds he received.
He was one of many lieutenants killed by snipers in that crazy Asian war. An urban legend tells us that the life expectancy of a second lieutenant in a hot LZ (landing zone) was no more than 16 minutes. The Viet Cong zeroed in on officers and took ‘em out when some fool would inadvertently salute them on their arrival.
Years after the war I made my way from Philadelphia to Staunton, VA., where I placed a wreath at the gravesite of Lt. Victor Lee Ellinger. He was buried in the same plot where the remains of his mother and father rest. His mother had died years after Vic’s demise and I couldn’t help but wonder how much pain she suffered on hearing the tragic news about her son.
Vic’s gravesite is not too far from a section of the cemetery where Confederate soldiers were placed. Virginia was the center of the Confederacy and I often wonder if Vic was given the middle name of “Lee” to honor the general from his home state who fought in that senseless war.
I cursed out God after saluting Vic. “Why did you have to take him” I cried out staring toward the blue sky above. Victor Lee was the finest of what Congress has designated as “an officer and a gentleman.” He was one of only three lieutenants in our infantry company. He led the third platoon, while I helped guide the first platoon.
“Why did you have to take him?”
Getting no answer, I wiped the tears from my eyes and placed a baseball-style cap at the foot of the gravestone which I had gotten from VA center. It read “Bronze Star.” I turned and walked away with my head down and my thoughts about all of the young men — and now women — who have died in the wars wondering when God would bring a halt to such senseless killings.
The following communications occurred on Facebook:
Jacob Woodrow Shelton
Perhaps one-day humanity will bear more resemblance to your idea of a warless future. Great article.
Thanks, my friend.
I’d love to see a world without war. I guess we’d be living in a place called Nirvana or maybe Heaven!
I am grateful for your kind acquaintance on Facebook. It is a pleasure to read your stories & relate to your noble service. You are a hero in our eyes. 💟
I think we have a mutual friend in Terri Kiral and I thank the Universe for her introducing me to you and your wonderful family.
We veterans gotta stick together!
And, thank you for the share!
Kathleen McPeake Gilliano
Bless you, Mike…. 🙏 🇺🇲️ 👍
You and your family too.
Thank you for your service.
My best to you and to Carl, my Doo Wop and boot camp buddy!
Think about you often. Hope you are doing well.
You are so good at writing
Thanks. I find it to be therapeutic!
On this Memorial Day 2018, I was reflecting on my fallen friend, Lt. Vic Ellinger and I found this site about his death.
I met Vic at Ft. Dix, New Jersey in October of 1968. Vic, Fred Loetscher and I became instant friends for the next year while we went through boot camp and advanced infantry training at Ft. Dix and Infantry OCS at Ft. Benning, Georgia. In fact, Vic, Fred and I even rented a house off base in Georgia for our wives to live in during our 6 month training. All three of us were in the 96th OCS Training Company and about 2/3rds through the program, Fred was injured and was recycled, so Fred was commissioned about 3 weeks after Vic and me. Vic got a state-side assignment, Fred got orders for Korea, and after jump school I got orders for Germany.
While serving in a mechanized infantry unit in Erlangen, Germany, I received word that Vic had been KIA in Viet Nam.
It has been almost 50 years ago, but I still have vivid memories of Vic and his “southern gentleman” ways…what a fine man! Years after Vic was killed, I spent months trying to find his family to pay my respects. This was well before the internet and when the only way to research was via telephone. It wasn’t until the Viet Nam War Memorial was being dedicated that I got my first lead. Through the memorial I was able to find out his place of birth and that was the key that eventually, after hundreds of calls, allowed me to speak with Vic’s mother. That was a tender call. I was able to tell her what a fine son she raised, what a great fried he had been and how much respect we all had for Vic. I’m sure had Vic survived he would have been a fine husband, father and member of society. What a loss that Vic was denied life’s simple pleasures.
While speaking with Vic’s mother, I asked and received her permission to take Vic’s name to the Los Angeles temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to do ordinance work for him. It was such an honor to perform those ordinances for my fallen friend and I so look forward to seeing my friend again.
San Diego, Ca
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I thank God for providing our world with such loving people like First Lieutenant Victor Lee Ellinger. His brief life touched so many people in so many ways that we still cherish his memory 50 years later.
I view Vic as an army buddy, one of only two lieutenants I paired up with while serving in an infantry company and leading “grunts” in the Vietnam War. He was the best, reminding me of a young George Armstrong Custer with a certain swagger that only a true Southern Gentleman could display. Well-loved and revered by his troops, he could chew out a recruit like a drill sergeant yet talk of his old Virginia home with a twinkle in his eye that a Stephen Foster might want to use in a song.
He has become part of my family and I can see by your comment that you also have adopted him into your squad of loved ones.
Thank you so very much Larry Lessie!
— Michael J Contos
My brother also has agent orange from the Nam.
That “Crazy Asian War” is what Kenny Rodgers called it in one of his songs.. We should have never been fighting there. Or most other wars that I can think of . . .
Holding all veterans in the light, including my daughter and my late son. Thankful that my grandson has returned from Afghanistan.
Here is to all the veterans and their families who have and are still dealing with loved ones placed in harms’ way!