From Stu Dunlap’s Hopedale High yearbook.

Hopedale Soldier Leaves
For Service in Vietnam

HOPEDALE – Sp. 4 John Steel telephoned his parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Steel of 5 Briar Cliff Road yesterday to advise them that he was leaving immediately for Vietnam  Steel is serving in the U.S. Army as a radio operator. He is a 1966 graduate of Hopedale High School, and attended Westfield State College for two years prior to entering the service.

Steel is the third member of his family to serve in Vietnam. His brother Alex was discharged from the U.S. Army in December after three years of service, including a tour in Vietnam.  Another brother, Adam, is completing a three year enlistment in the U.S. Army and will be discharged in September. Adam’s service included a tour in Vietnam also. He is currently stationed in El Paso, Texas. Milford Daily News, July 3, 1969.

 Hopedale Youth Killed in Vietnam
  Sgt. Steel, One of 3 Brothers In Asian Conflict

HOPEDALE – Sgt. John A. Steel, 22, one of three brothers who served in the Vietnam War, was killed in action with the 101st Airborne Division, according to word received here over the weekend by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Steel of 5 Briar Cliff Road.

The Hopedale youth had just been promoted to the rank of sergeant and his unit was on duty in the demilitarized zone. No details of the tragedy were made available and the family was advised that it would be at least a week before burial arrangements could be made.

Sgt. Steel was the youngest son on the couple to serve in Vietnam. His brothers, Alex and Adam, are also veterans of the Asian conflict.  A year ago Christmas, the Steel couple had enjoyed the first Christmas in many years observing the holiday with their three sons at home with them. Each year before that, one of their sons was away on a tour of duty.

Sgt. Steel had been on duty in Vietnam since August of last year and was due to return home to the United States the latter part of this July. He would have completed two years of service at that time.

Sgt. Steel was born in Scotland on Oct. 7, 1947. He and his family came to this country 16 years ago from Canada, where they had resided for five years, arriving there from Scotland. John had become a citizen of this country two and one-half years ago.  He attended the Hopedale schools and graduated from Hopedale High School with the Class of 1966. He then attended Westfield College for two years, prior to entering the Army. He was a member of the Union Church.

Sgt. Steel underwent training at Fort Gordon, Ga.; Fort Huachuca, Ariz., and Fort Sill, Oklahoma, prior to departing for the Vietnam tour of duty.  Saturday, the family received notification of the death of their son from the Army Chaplain at Fort Devens. The death was confirmed in a telegram received by them Easter Sunday from the Department of the Army.  The family was advised that it would be at least a week or ten days before final arrangements could be made for the burial of their son.  The funeral will be in charge of John Boyer of Sargeant’s Funeral Home in Milford, with services in Union Church, Hopedale.

In addition to his parents, Sgt. Steel is survived by his two brothers, Alex and Adam of Hopedale and an aunt and uncle who reside in Canada. He also leaves several other relatives in Scotland.

Sgt. Steel is the second Hopedale man to die in Vietnam. Douglas D’Orsay was killed in 1965 in a bombing. The total of local area deaths is now 16 in the Milford area. Milford Daily News, 1970.

Military Rites for Hopedale
Soldier Who Died in Vietnam

HOPEDALE – The funeral of Army Sgt. John A. Steel of Hopedale killed in action in the DMZ in Vietnam was held with full military honors Saturday afternoon, from the Sargeant Funeral Home in Milford, followed by services in Union Evangelical Church in Hopedale.

Rev. John Simpson, pastor, conducted the service and said prayers at the grave in Hopedale Village Cemetery. Susan Maloney was organist.

Veterans’ organizations attended and included Henry L. Cyr, past state commander of the VFW, Benjamin J. Phillips, commander of the Hopedale VFW post and post members.  Also Comdr. William O’Reilly and members of Walter Tillotson, American Legion post and Flanders Post, Canadian Legion. The Royal Canadian Legion was represented by Past State Comdr. Seymour Evans.

Representing the town of Hopedale were selectmen Carlo Bresciani, William B. Gannett and Richard Moore, and Postmaster John Bresciani.  School representatives attending were Supt. of Schools Donald S. Dow and Sewell M. Drisko, former principal of Hopedale High School.

At the graveside service, “The Lament” was played by Pipe Major James Care of the Worcester Pipe Band. The flag was presented to Mr. and Mrs. John Steel by Major Walkinsky, Worcester Area Reserve Army Advisor. The rifle detail came from Fort Devens.

Coming to attend the funeral of their nephew was Andrew Sommervolle, of Lenark, Scotland and Mr. and Mrs. James Mullet of Toronto, Canada.

Sgt. Steel was killed while serving with the 101st Airborne Division. He had been in Vietnam since last August and was due to return to the U.S. in early July. Milford Daily News, April 6, 1970.

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We had our radios in the turret protected by steel, but these guys carried theirs out in the open.

Average life of a radioman in combat during the Vietnam War was said to be 5 to 6 seconds, all the way up to 30 seconds if he was lucky. Apparently the number 5 was on the blackboard at RTO school and that’s what the class was told. Five seconds. Then they were taught how to protect themselves. Now I don’t know where that comes from and who wrote it but it’s not necessarily true. In fact, it’s not true. Many men who were RTOs in Vietnam are alive today. However, carrying a radio during the Vietnam War was a dangerous job for the following reasons.

The PRC-77 radio weighed 13.5 pounds, without the batteries. Throw in the batteries and the bulky encryption device called the NESTOR and you’ve got 55 pounds on your back.

The tall antenna, 10 feet tall when using the radio in the jungle was a give away for snipers and enemy mortars if not looped or tucked in, though the three foot antenna could be used. The radio chatter which could not be turned down because the volume dial was on the wearers back could be heard easily by the VC or NVA if close enough. More bullets and mortars would be sent his way.

Taking out the radio man and destroying the radio meant no CAS or close air support coming. It also meant that usually, the closest man to the radio operator was an officer. A well placed VC mortar would get rid of the radio and the officer.

It took a lot of guts to carry one of those things.

Other top rated targets were officers, medics and tank drivers. Take out the medics and the wounded get no help. Medics quit wearing Red Cross armbands and stopped wearing the Red Cross on their helmets. Take out a tank driver and one of the men in the turret would have to drive leaving the turret crew short though gunners were rarely used in close quarter jungle combat so the gunner could drive. But Charlie wouldn’t know that. The tank commander could fire the gun from his cupola on the M48A3 as long as the gunner loaded a round.

But to tell you the truth, few were safe in combat during the Vietnam War. But saying that a radioman’s life in combat is 5 to 6 seconds is simply not true.

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