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Memorial Day a chance to honor the 36 SLO County servicemen killed in Vietnam

Mrs. B.L. Durham, San Luis Obispo County Draft Board clerk, checks 109 draftees aboard a Greyhound special on Jan. 26, 1966. They were bound for their physicals in Los Angeles.
Mrs. B.L. Durham, San Luis Obispo County Draft Board clerk, checks 109 draftees aboard a Greyhound special on Jan. 26, 1966. They were bound for their physicals in Los Angeles. File

The first name on the list is James George Lee, Oct. 28, 1965, and the last is John Quitman Winningham, Dec. 21, 1972.

They were two of the 36 men from San Luis Obispo County who served and died in the Vietnam War.

Statistically, the county’s number is higher than the national average of 28.5 lost per 100,000 of population.

The county population was 81,044 in 1960 and grew to 105,690 by 1970.

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But dry statistics don’t have a metric to measure emotional pain.

The Pentagon notified 34 county families who would never again see their sons, brothers, husbands, fathers or uncles.

The fallen ranged in age from 18 to 31 with the average being about 22.

San Luis Obispo was by far the county’s largest city at the time and suffered the biggest loss with 9. Some were students or faculty at Cal Poly, which records 6 names at War Memorial Plaza.

Ft Ord4
Fort Ord training for San Luis Obispo County recruits. Soldiers march past pup tents at the Monterey area training facility Oct. 16, 1966. Jim Vestal File

Atascadero, which hadn’t yet become an incorporated city, lost 8 service members.

The deadliest year of the conflict was a half-century ago, 1968.

North Vietnam and the Vietcong launched a series of attacks throughout South Vietnam at the end of January 1968 that became known at the Tet Offensive and was one of the largest campaigns of the war.

San Luis Obispo County lost 11 men that year, almost a third of the conflict’s overall fatalities in 1968.

When notified, the Telegram-Tribune would publish heartbreakingly brief stories, bordered in black.

1968 04-10 Vietnam death Jon Young
The Telegram-Tribune carried this story on the front page, bordered in black, noting the death of Jon Young in Vietnam in April 1968. File

“Local soldier dies in Vietnam: A 22-year-old San Luis Obispo soldier who spent his Christmas leave here was killed in action in Vietnam last Thursday, according to word received here today by his mother Mrs. Alma Young.

"Sp. 5 Jon Michael Young was a member of the Third Battalion, 47th Infantry, 9th Division. He left for Vietnam on Jan. 4.

"A native of Santa Maria, he was born on May 8, 1945. He attended junior high school here and was graduated from San Luis Obispo High School.

"Funeral arrangements are under direction of Sutcliffe Mortuary."

Young died in a grenade attack in Kien Hoa, Vietnam.

It was not a distant, remote-controlled war; one third of the deaths were at close range as the result of grenade or small arms fire.

The events of 50 years ago still reverberate today, and on Memorial Day weekend, it is an appropriate to take moment to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to others.

County residents who died in the Vietnam conflict include: James George Lee, Dennis Ray Bruce, Donald Martin Peterson, Robert Stanley Maguire, Joseph Thomas Martin, Dennis Ray Dieball, Dennis Lee Merrill, Richard William Vaughn, David Wayne Dyer, Robert Risley Fryer, Edward August Schultz, Jon Michael Young, Donald Gerald Lee, John Martin Bell, Kenneth Dale Schwartz, Thomas Lionel Twyford, William James Hansen, Arnold A Chap Delaine Jr., Michael Robert Miner, Terry Dixon Ratliff, Dennis John Stanley, Alfred Mauro Quiroz, Roy Henry Davis, Larry Dean Baldwin, Roy Eugene Parker, Michael James Paddock, Alvin Wayne Stallcup, Mark Carl Alford, Pete Sprule Segundo, Eric Alan Bosch, Curtis Henry Cropper, Joe Don Ramey, Lawrence Gordon Swarbrick, Lucio Jon Reis, Gary Dean Halliday and John Quitman Winningham.

In addition, three additional Cal Poly men were not included in the list of county residents: David Royce Kingsbury, Don Prien and Fred Gunder Haug.

Thanks to historian, author and teacher Jim Gregory for compiling and sharing the list.

David Middlecamp is a photographer for The Tribune. 805-781-7942,, @DavidMiddlecamp

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The story has been corrected to include two omitted names and the order of the surname of one name.