Lance Corporal Thomas W. Fritsch U.S.M.C.
Thomas William Fritsch was born on August 26, 1946 in Hartford, CT and was raised in South Windsor and Portland CT. He attended Valley View and Gildersleeve Elementary Schools in Portland. While attending Portland Junior High School, he became extremely active as a Boy Scout. Tommy’s family moved to Cromwell during his Junior-Senior years of High School. Tommy studied the Culinary Trade and graduated from E.C. Goodwin Technical-Vocational School, New Britain, CT. in June of 1966. During his high school years, Tommy was a positive force in the Portland Fire Department as a volunteer (since turning 16 years old). He put his Trade/Skills to work cooking in Norwich, CT. at Camp Tadma (summers) for the Boy Scouts. For spending money, he worked as a cook at the “Portland Restaurant”.
Immediately following graduation, Tommy Fritsch entered the United States Marine Corps. He received Basic Training at Parris Island, South Carolina and his Artillery Training at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. His first assignment in the Marine Corps was with a Communications Detachment in Camp Pendleton, California. He also spent about a year in Hawaii. In early February of 1968, he received his orders, spent Leave Time with his family and then reported to the Republic of Vietnam.
The synopsis of his being listed as MIA “Missing-in-Action” is as follows:
UNIT: Battery D, 2nd Battalion, 13th Marines, 3rd Marine Div., (TDY-1st Marines)
DATE AND PLACE OF LOSS: May 10, 1968 South Vietnam
STATUS in 1973: Killed In Action / Body Not Recovered (KIA/BNR)
Kham Duc Special Forces camp (A-105), was located on the western fringes of Guang Tin (“Great Faith”) Province, South Vietnam. In the spring of 1968, it was the only remaining border camp in Military Region I. The outpost was an ideal Laotian border surveillance site with an existing airfield. The camp was located on a narrow grassy plain, surrounded by rugged, virtually uninhabitable jungle with mountains and ridges looming about. Steep banked streams full of rapids and waterfalls cut through the tropical wilderness. The Dak Mi River flowed past the camp a mile distant.
Five miles downstream was the small forward operating base of Ngok Tavak, defended by the 113 man 11th Mobile Strike Force Company with its 8 Special Forces and 3 Australian advisors. Since Ngok Tavak was outside friendly artillery range, 33 Marine artillerymen of Battery D, 2nd Battalion, 13th Marines, with two 105 mm howitzers were located at the outpost.
An NVA Infantry Battalion attacked Ngok Tavak at 0315 hours on May 10, 1968. Mortars and direct rocket fire pounded the base. As the frontal assault began, the Kham Duc CIDG soldiers (infiltrated by the VC) moved toward the Marines in the fort yelling, “don’t shoot, don’t shoot! Friendly, Friendly!” Suddenly, they lobbed grenades into the Marine howitzer positions and ran into the fort, where they shot several Marines with carbines and sliced the Claymore mine and communication wires. The defenders suffered heavy casualties but stopped the main assault and killed the infiltrators; however, they remained pinned down by enemy fire.
At daybreak, there was a counterattack by the Americans and the howitzers were re-taken. Later that morning, Medical Evacuation Helicopters, supported by covering air strikes, took out the seriously wounded. Two CH-46’s were able to land, but one helicopter was hit in the fuel line and forced down. Another chopper was hit by a rocket and burst into flames, wrecking the Helipad. The remaining wounded were placed aboard a hovering MED-EVAC.
Ammunition and water were nearly exhausted and Ngok Tavak was still being pounded by sporadic mortar fire. They asked permission to evacuate their positions, but were told to “hold on” as “reinforcements are on the way”. By noon the defenders decided that aerial reinforcement or evacuation was increasingly unlikely and night would bring certain destruction. An hour later, they abandoned Ngok Tavak.
All the excess weapons, munitions and equipment that could not be carried were set afire. The downed helicopter was destroyed by a LAW (Light Antitank Weapon). The camp was abandoned.
It is believed that the eleven Marines of the 33 Marine artillerymen of Battery D, 2nd Battalion, 13th Marines, were lost on the first day of attack in defense of the small forward operating base of Ngok Tavak. Included in this team were PFC Thomas Blackman, LCpl Joseph Cook, PFC Paul Czerwonka, LCpl Thomas Fritsch of Cromwell, CT, PFC Barry Hempel, LCpl Raymond Heyne, Cpl Gerald King, PFC Robert Lopez, PFC William McGonigle, LCpl Donald Mitchell and LCpl James Sargent. The remaining survivors evaded through dense jungle to a helicopter pickup point midway to Kham Duc. Their extraction was completed shortly before 1900 hours on the evening of May 10. Thomas Fritsch is one of nearly 2,500 Americans who remain missing and unaccounted for in Southeast Asia.
In concert with the Ngok Tavak assault, Kham
Duc was blasted by a heavy mortar and recoilless rocket attack at 0245 the same
morning, along with several O.P.’s (outpost) in the area. Fighting remained
rampant and chaotic for two more days until the entire area was abandoned by
1633 hours on may 12, 1968.
Following the end of the Vietnam War, Tommy Fritsch’s family received his Awards and Decorations at a National POW-MIA Day Ceremony in Hartford, CT. Entrusted to them were: The Presidential Unit Citation, National POW/MIA Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Expert Rifleman and Sharpshooter Pistol Medals, the Medal of Valor with Palms and the Purple Heart.
* October, 1999, the Navy Department contacted the Fritsch family. They are investigating the event site noted above and are attempting to identify remains found. Say a prayer!
**October 2003, Navy department is still in contact.
Nothing conclusive as yet. Say a prayer for the waiting families.
Mother’s Day May 10, 1968 to May 2, 2005 – 37 years
May 2, 2005, the Fritsch family was officially notified by the Navy Department
that the remains of Thomas W. Fritsch were positively identified by the CILHI
(Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii). Four representatives of the
CILHI and U.S. Government met with the Connecticut members of the Fritsch
family on May 26th to discuss the fact–findings of the investigation and to
discuss a timetable for returning Thomas W Fritsch to the continental United
States and finally to Cromwell, CT. In late July, the U.S. Government released
the remains of Thomas W. Fritsch to his loving family. Interment was at Rose
Hill cemetery in Rocky Hill, Connecticut on August 13, 2005.
“When there is nothing left but God; that is when you find out that God is all you need.”
‘WELCOME HOME’ THOMAS W. FRITSCH U.S.M.C.