The first few bullets went whizzing by their heads as Lance Cpl. Gary Ream chatted with two other Marines standing watch on the perimeter the night of Oct. 17, 1966.
“We jumped in our hole just in time for a lot of automatics and mortars opened up to the right of our position,” the Carlisle man recalled in a letter written five days later addressed to his older brother, Alan.
“A mortar round landed about two feet from our hole, but the hole was sandbagged and we didn’t get hit,” said Ream, adding how the barrage ended after about 20 minutes. Though no one was hit, shrapnel had shredded the fabric in several tents.
The smallest of six children born to Lois Knoche Ream, Gary was called “Peanut” by his family. The 1964 Carlisle High School graduate was a rifleman in Vietnam assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion of the 1st Marine Regiment.
The Oct. 22 letter to “Butch” may have been the last one Gary Ream wrote a family member before he was killed in action Nov. 3, 1966 while on patrol near Da Nang. Ream is one of the 34 men with ties to Cumberland County who died in Vietnam from May 1964 to May 1970.
Project salutes slain
Years ago the Cumberland County Historical Society in Carlisle launched a project to research the background and service record of each of the honored dead. The project was managed by Wayne Motts, a former historical society curator, now the chief executive officer of the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg. He compiled all the documents into folders stored in the historical society archives.
A photocopy of a page from The Oracle yearbook lists Gary Lee Ream as a senior enrolled in vocational building trades. Back then, the yearbook editors predicted Ream would pursue a career in carpentry. The youth was among those who helped to build the lockers under the stadium grandstand.
Instead Ream had enlisted in the Marines with his classmate, Edward J. Rykoskey, who died in Vietnam on Aug. 18, 1966. Rykoskey is the only serviceman from Cumberland County whose remains are still unaccounted for. Ream was laid to rest in Ashland Cemetery in Carlisle.
In his Oct. 22 letter to his brother, Gary Ream mentioned how his unit was called on to rescue a Marine patrol that had encountered heavy resistance from Viet Cong guerrillas after their ambush backfired. “The next day we swept through the vills (slang for villages) and burned hooches (native huts) and brought in all males. Tanks fired at some running but we didn’t find any bodies,” Ream had recalled.
“We are about 15 miles south of Da Nang almost on the beach right outside of what they call the Horseshoe,” he added. “There is VC all through that place and plenty of booby traps. We go on patrols through the Horseshoe from 6:30 to about 11:30 in the morning then at night go out about 7 and come in at 12 ...
“Tomorrow we go down to the beach and stay for about a month. One platoon out and two platoons in Co C.P. (the company command post). That’s the way it’s going to be for the monsoons.” Yet this routine was short-lived for Gary Ream who died 12 days after he wrote the letter.
Gunny describes death
In the course of his research, Motts exchanged emails with a former Marine gunnery sergeant named Dave Brooks who recalled the cold and rainy November day Ream was killed in action:
“Bill Carpenter and Ream were the point element in the patrol. I was in the middle,” Brooks wrote in a March 2003 email. “We were out maybe half an hour ... not long into the patrol and we came onto a rice paddy ... off to our right. We had spotted a male and he spotted us and started running through the paddy.”
Though told several times in Vietnamese to stop, the man kept right on running down a trail that led to a village about 200 meters away. “We were spread out about 5 or 6 yards apart ... We started firing at the male. He was hit but not bad and kept running, but remember he was in a paddy.”
At that point, Ream and Carpenter ran down a hard packed trail to a stand of pine trees before the village to cut off the man’s escape. Instead they ran right into an ambush and were shot in the chest. It was believed that Ream had died instantly.
There were other stories of young lives cut short contained within the three cardboard archive boxes marked “The Vietnam Project.” The file for Stephen Winfield Davis was relatively thin. The folder inside had a page from the Oracle yearbook for the Class of 1966 saying how the Teen Club was one place to find Steve who also enjoyed eating subs at George’s downtown.
The Evening Sentinel of Aug. 24, 1967, reported how Stephen was the son of Brig. Gen. Franklin M. Davis who once served on the U.S. Army War College faculty. After Carlisle High School, Stephen graduated from the Citadel before training as a paratrooper at Fort Benning. He volunteered to serve in Vietnam as a leader of the 3rd platoon, C Company, 1st Battalion of the 327th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
Promoted to first lieutenant four days before he was killed on Aug. 18, 1967, Davis was on a hilltop operating a radio when he was blinded by grenade fragments. Rather than quit, he continued to talk into the receiver until enemy gunfire hit him. The young Davis knew he was the only link his platoon had with friendly forces in the vicinity.
Silver Star sergeant
Sgt. Derwood Steigleman Jr. had a more modest upbringing. Raised by his paternal grandparents on North East Street in Carlisle, Derwood left high school at an early age to join the Army where he later earned his diploma. Stationed for a time in Japan, he met and married his wife, Toshika, who once lived in the first block of East Louther Street.
Like Davis, Steigleman served with the 327th Regiment, but he arrived in Vietnam in May 1966 and died on June 10 of that year in a battle against the 24th North Vietnamese Infantry Division. Fourteen months later, in August 1967, a newspaper reported that Steigleman had earned a posthumous Silver Star for gallantry in action.
The citation read: “Sergeant Steigleman’s unit, while moving to assist a friendly rifle company, suddenly came under murderous machine gun and automatic weapons fire from a well-entrenched North Vietnamese Army force. When his fire team became pinned down in the initial burst of enemy fire, Sergeant Steigleman rallied his men and led an assault on the enemy positions.
“Although wounded, Sergeant Steigleman continued on, throwing hand grenades and encouraging his comrades until he was wounded again and collapsed on the first enemy bunker. His fearless leadership greatly inspired his team, which overran the entire hostile emplacement and routed the defenders.”