3rd Herd's Tribute to Raymond "Charlie" Brown






Raymond Brown


Shortly after Memorial Day Bill Haponski got an extraordinary email video from Jack Smoker, crew member in 3rd Platoon, B Troop, a platoon that got hit hard, losing five men killed, yet continued to perform heroically on 30 March 1969 during the largest single battle ever fought in the Michelin Rubber Plantation, 40 miles north of Saigon. From Jack's previous emails Bill knew a little of his long quest to honor his buddy, Raymond "Charlie" Brown, killed in action on that day. Bill asked him to tell him more.


Here is Jack's story:
The story goes back about 5 years ago or so. I had been thinking about Raymond (Charlie) Brown for years and how I wanted to visit his grave. I wrote to the Army and received a response on the location of Charlie's grave. A general in charge of that department sent me a letter explaining that because of the privacy laws he was unable to tell me where he was buried. So, I became upset and wrote him back. I told him that because I was unable to go to Charlie's funeral it had hurt all these years, and if he could not help me, then I wanted his boss's name, rank and address. Much to my surprise, I received a thick packet in the mail with a lot of names blocked out and a lot of information that I could give a crap about. Example, autopsy report. I did in fact get the cemetery location. When we all visited Jerry Driggers' grave in South Carolina, on one of our Vietnam Reunions, it made me even more determined to visit Charlie's grave. Well, last summer after Jay Ward, Joe James, Edgardo "Papino" Colon, Larry Cevora and I went to Wheaton, Illinois to visit Cantigny First Division Foundation, I asked Larry if we could stop at Charlie's grave in Alsip, Illinois on our way back home.  He said no problem, so Papino, Larry and I stopped at the office and they gave us the site number.  After spending over an hour looking for it, I again became upset. I went to the office and a gentleman accompanied us with a paper and he stepped off the 8 graves and said: "This is where Raymond Brown is buried. Well, much to my surprise, there was nothing but sod. I was speechless, especially thinking how nice Jerry Driggers' grave was in South Carolina. Larry pulled out a credit card and was ready to spend $1200.00 on the spot. Papino was willing to pitch in as well. I couldn't think or speak but said, " Let's wait on this and try to understand it all first."  


Well, I got with a gentleman from the the VA here in Jackson, Michigan and he put in an order for a marker. I felt pleased as Larry and Papino and I paid for the cement work to set the stone in the spring of this year. All seemed to be going well until I received a letter from Washington DC from a gal in charge of this department and she declined our request. She stated that only next of kin could put a marker on a grave due to a law that went into effect in 2009.  She suggested that I go to the funeral home that buried Charlie to get some help. So I did, but did tell her that I was very tired of messing with all of this and that if in fact this did not work, she would be hearing from me again and to have her boss's name and phone number ready since I did not care if I had to go all the way to Obama, Raymond (Charlie) Brown would have a marker. 


The funeral home helped and the Lincoln Cemetery caught wind of it and had a Vietnam Veterans Day celebration and dedicated it to Charlie. They also dedicated the granite to set his marker on and it was a wonderful Memorial Day. 




Jay gave a superior speech and tears of joy fell as they took the marker and set it for us to complete our mission of honor. It was 42 years that Charlie lay there with no marker and it hurt very much. I have the warmest feeling inside of me now knowing he is more than just a piece of sod. 

      Diane Nowak, General Manager, Beverly, Lincoln & Oak Hill Cemeteries,put her heart and soul into helping us to accomplish this most difficult task.  She is my friend on Facebook under Diane Metcalf Nowak and she is posting some pictures. I can't thank her enough for all that she and her staff have done for us.

Jay added:
First, I again thank Diane for all the work she did to get Charlie Brown recognized in the cemetery's Memorial Day program. We felt honored to have been included in such a wonderful event.



There is more to this story, a little incident that Jack left out that needs telling. I don't recall if Dianne was there or not. After the VA plaque was set into the ground and we completed our little ceremony at Charlie's grave, most of us sought the shadow of some nearby trees to get out of the heat. After a minute or two I noticed Jack, still at Charlie's grave, talking with a lady I didn't recognize. Presently they both strolled over to us to get some shade. I'll paraphrase what the lady said. It is nearly verbatim because it is hard for me to forget what she told us.

She said we had done a wonderful thing by taking care of our fallen brother. She said she had family scattered all around the cemetery and she started naming them; many had military service as well. Then she said, "I will include your friend in my family. He's now part of my family. When I make my rounds visiting all my folks here, know that I'll visit your friend as well, and when I put flowers on the graves of my family, he'll have flowers on his grave as well. I'll make sure of that."

Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. What an extraordinary gesture from a complete stranger. I'll never forget it.




Raymond Brown on the Virtual Wall http://www.virtualwall.org/db/BrownRx02a.htm

Comment on Raymond's wall http://thewall-usa.com/guest.asp?recid=6174


More Images from that day: