Most people would argue that fiction has no place in a biographical work. While I tend to agree, I felt that an exception was in order here. "The End" holds out the hope that life continues in some form after death. It also tries to convey what each of us might wish we could say, if given one last chance, after our voices have been forever silenced. With a level of clarity and continuity that would be unattainable under any other circumstances, "The End" describes 1LT Bernard J. Lovett Jr's journey as his spirit might have observed it, as spectator, from a nearby plane of post-earthly existence. The journey began at 3:20 on the afternoon of October 16, 1970.
“I no longer feel the warmth of day on my skin, nor do I feel any pain from my wounds. Though they continue, I cannot hear the sounds of exploding grenades and automatic weapons fire. I no longer smell the pungent aroma from the meal that was prepared only minutes before.
My sergeant, SFC John T. Ropple, is preparing me for extraction. Actually, he is preparing my body for extraction. He and several Regional Forces soldiers pick up my body from where it lay, and they carry it to a clearing about 300 yards from the ambush site. I only weigh 150 pounds, but they struggle and strain because they are very tired. I want to help them, but I cannot. They reach the clearing and set me down. John radios a request for a support helicopter. The helicopter approaches. As John pops smoke to mark the landing zone, the Viet Cong open fire. The same Viet Cong who ambushed us have pursued them to the landing zone. John waves off the helicopter because the LZ is too hot. A short time later, two helicopter gunships arrive and lay down some suppressing fire, enabling the support helicopter to land. They carry my body to the helicopter, where a crewman waits in the open doorway. He helps pull me aboard, and the helicopter quickly takes off.
It was a short flight to the 12th Evacuation Hospital at Cu Chi. A Marine Corps doctor–Captain Michael A. Wanchick–examines my remains and pronounces my death. He notes the cause as “Missile Wound to Head” and records the time as “1700 hours, 16 October 1970.” I was just getting used to thinking of my former self as “a body,” and now they are referring to it as “the remains.” Hey, there is my sergeant! He is up on his feet, but he does not look very good. John stayed on the ground after I left, and worked with the helicopter gunships. He is physically and mentally exhausted. He feels bad about what happened. He keeps telling himself that he did everything possible to keep his lieutenant alive. He really did do everything possible, but he does not believe it. I want to comfort John and tell him not to worry, but I cannot. The doctors keep him overnight for observation.
It is morning now. My remains are moved down the road to the mortuary in Saigon. They arrive at 9:30am. This place is a real production shop, and the workers are very busy, but they are professional and respectful. They fingerprint me and then compare the prints to some I had made back in June, just in case something like this happened. They inspect my teeth and compare them to my dental records by means of a dental chart. My remains are going to be viewable, so I guess they want to make sure it is really me. They also do some repair work on my wounds. The name of the gentleman doing the work is James L. Hobgood. He’s a civilian. James came to Vietnam all the way from Oklahoma to help the American boys on their last trip home. They are also processing a lot of paperwork today.
It is morning again...October 18, 1970. James begins a preserving process at 8:00am. By 10:30am, the process is complete and I am ready to go. However, the mortuary personnel have more paperwork to process, teletype messages to send, and transportation to arrange. I learned that I was not the only American who died in Southeast Asia on October 16, 1970. There were eight of us–seven soldiers and one marine. I outrank all but one of them, but that is just a matter of record. Rank did not matter before, except when it was necessary to get a job done, and it certainly does not matter now. Moreover, to prove it, here we are in alphabetical order without our rank! From the Marine Corps, there was Ernest Daniel Cardwell of Concord, Virginia. From the Army there was Dominic John De Angelis of New York City; Wilfredo Galivan-Torres of Ponce, Puerto Rico; Stephen Edward Jesko of Hereford, Texas; John Dewey Livingston of Red Creek, New York; me of course; David Alan Moore of Lafayette, Indiana; Robert Thomas Wilson of Dothan, Alabama.
The next day, October 19, 1970, they place my remains in a container, called a traffic case, and load it onto an Air Force C-141 transport plane that is bound for Kadena AFB in Okinawa. I am not alone, however. Two other traffic cases are loaded onto the plane. They contain the remains of Wilfredo and John. Wilfredo and I were Roman Catholic and John was a Methodist. All three of us were Infantrymen, and we shared the same casualty status: “hostile,” “ground,” and “gun, small arms fire.” Wilfredo and John both were 20 years old. Both were killed in the Binh Thuy Province. Both received posthumous promotions. John, a draftee, arrived in Vietnam on March 19, 1970. Wilfredo, an enlistee, arrived in Vietnam on August 31, 1970. My traffic case is labeled “NR 457,” which will mainly be of interest to the Chief of Support Services at Dover AFB, because my case contains all three of our fingerprint charts. The plane departs around 1:00pm and heads for Kadena. It arrives at 5:45pm, but this flight is bound for Oakland, not Dover, so we are off-loaded to a different C-141, which departs Kadena around 10:00pm.
My remains arrive at Dover AFB at 9:00am on October 21, 1970. If the U.S. Army Mortuary at Saigon was big, the port of entry mortuary at Dover is huge. It is busier, too, but the staff here are just as professional and respectful. My remains are reprocessed for identification. They are cosmetized. The name of the gentleman doing the work is Howard W. Atwell. Howard, like James Hobgood back in Saigon, is a civilian. My remains are dressed in a U.S. Army officer’s uniform with appropriate rank insignia and decorations. They are placed in a metal casket. More paperwork is processed, and logistical plans are communicated to concerned parties.
It is now October 23, 1970. My remains were transported from Dover AFB to McGuire AFB in Wrightstown, New Jersey, and then to the civilian airport in Philadelphia. My escort has arrived. His name is 1LT William E. Dobbs, and he is assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts. Bill supervises the loading of my remains onto an Eastern Airlines plane, and he boards the plane himself. We will be traveling together from this point on. The plane departs Philadelphia at 5:05pm. It is scheduled to arrive at Bradley Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, at 5:57pm.
I have been so caught up in all of the attention being paid to me, that it has just occurred to me that I am going home. My family…my fiancée…my friends...they are all waiting for me to arrive. Their lives have been shattered. I wish I could tell them that I love them, and that they should not worry about me, but I cannot."
Bernard J. Lovett Jr. Bio
Stephen A. Judycki