Green Beret from Lyndhurst earns posthumous
Sunday, March 9, 2003
By JUSTO BAUTISTA
He was a soldier's soldier. Airborne infantry all the way. Known as
"Pop," he was the non-commissioned officer young soldiers
turned to for help and inspiration.
Gabriel Ralph Alamo of Lynd-|hurst had served in World War II and Korea.
By 1964, he was in Vietnam, a 45-year-old master sergeant with a Green
Beret A-team at an outpost called Camp Nam Dong near the Laotian border.
Back in the states, Vietnam was not yet a dominant story.
The civil rights battle was heating up. Lyndon Johnson was president.
Leonid Brezhnev was the new Russian leader. An unknown actor, Sean Connery,
was a sensation as movie spy James Bond. A Plymouth Fury cost $2,450.
Work shoes sold for $1.97 at Modell's.
On July 6, 1964, at Nam Dong, Green Beret Capt. Roger Donlon's instincts
told him the Viet Cong were going to attack. He was right.
In a frantic, five-hour, predawn battle, Nam Dong was overrun by a Viet
Cong battalion. The odds against them were 3 to 1.
The Green Berets and South Vietnamese defenders blazed away with their
weapons, and in hand-to-hand fighting, rushed from one endangered point
Already burned and wounded several times, Alamo was killed while directing
mortar fire and manning a 57mm recoilless rifle.
His death was reported in five paragraphs in the local newspaper.
On Tuesday, in Mahwah, Alamo will be one of 10 veterans awarded the
New Jersey Vietnam Service Medal posthumously. The medal, approved by
the Legislature in 2000, commemorates the 25th anniversary of the end
of the Vietnam War in January 1973.
In two ceremonies - at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. - Brig. Gen. William Marshall
of the New Jersey Army National Guard will present the medals to 290
Bergen County residents who survived the war during ceremonies at the
Law and Safety Institute, 281 Campgaw Road.
Alamo's story is one of bravery and self-sacrifice.
His wife, Edna, was eight months' pregnant with the couple's fourth
child when Alamo was killed. The child, Wayne Douglas Alamo, died shortly
after birth, a death she attributed to the trauma of learning about
her husband's death.
In an interview in August 2001, Edna recalled meeting "Gabe"
at Fort Bragg, N.C. She was 22, a diminutive North Carolinian with brown
hair and hazel eyes.
"We met at my sister's house at Fort Bragg," she said. "There
was a mutual attraction. We didn't date a long time. We hit it off right
Alamo separated his Army life from his home life.
"When he jumped [by parachute] he never told me until after he
jumped," Edna said. "He never brought his Army home. I know
he liked Special Forces."
In his letters from Vietnam, he told the family not to worry.
"He just talked to me, wanting to know if I was all right,"
Edna said. "He said he was good. Don't worry. I would just read
them and cry."
On July 6, 1964, an Army chaplain appeared at her front door. It could
only mean one thing.
"Well, I started crying," she said. "I could hardly believe
Edna remarried five years after Gabe's death, to Sgt. Artis Powell,
a career Army man who had served two tours in Vietnam. She retired as
a clerk at a school at Fort Stewart, attended bingo, and bowled.
"I'm never going to forget him [Gabe]," she said. "But
I don't set around and wish it never happened. But when Mike [one of
her sons] wants to talk about it, we do."
Edna died of cancer in September, a month after her 68th birthday.
Mike Alamo was 4 years old when his father died.
Now, 42, and with three children, he is a firefighter and paramedic
at Fort Stewart, and lives in Hinesville, Ga., where he displays his
father's medals in a small office at his house.
After his death, Gabriel Alamo was awarded the Distinguished Service
Cross, the nation's second highest decoration for extraordinary heroism
Fifty-four Viet Cong were killed in the Camp Nam Dong battle. Fifty-five
camp defenders were killed, and another 65 were wounded. Alamo died
in Donlon's arms, who, wounded several times himself, was trying to
drag Alamo to safety when they were hit by mortar fire.
Donlon was awarded Medal of Honor for his efforts in directing the camp's
defense. It was the war's first Medal of Honor.
Four A-Team members were awarded Silver Stars, and five other team members
were awarded Bronze Stars with V's, the valor insignia.
"I think he lived up to that saying, 'quiet professionalism,'"
Mike Alamo said, referring to his father. "I think he was that
kind of person: quiet and did his job. And I guess he expected the people
under him to do their job."
When Mike enlisted in the Army, Donlon, then a lieutenant colonel, swore
"It was ... heck, I was 19 years old. That was a big thing,"
he said, referring to Donlon's presence.
When Mike became a Green Beret he graduated from Special Forces school,
Donlon was there again.
Mike Alamo said he has tried to teach his children about Vietnam and
let them know what their grandfather did.
"My oldest boy [Mike] is 19," he said. "He's trying to
decide what part of the service he wants to go in. Doug [another son]
is 15. He's in ROTC at high school. He's already a company first sergeant
on the rifle team. He's hoping to go to The Citadel or West Point. More
power to them. That's their choice."
Others have not forgotten Gabe Alamo.
Several months ago, out of the blue, Mike received a book in the mail,
"Window of War - Anthropology in the Vietnam Conflict."
It was written by anthropologist Gerald C. Hickey of the University
of Texas, who was at Camp Nam Dong doing research on the Montagnard
"I would love to hear from anybody who knew my dad," Mike
Justo Bautista's e-mail address is email@example.com