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SP/4 Thaddeus Dennis
B Company, 720th MP Battalion
, 89th MP Group, 18th MP Brigade

Line Of Duty Casualty ~ 11 April 1971 ~ Vietnam

 


They Say,
our deaths are not ours,
they are yours,
they will mean what
you make of them.

They say,
we leave you our deaths,
give them some
meaning.

Archibald MacLeish
poet and WWI
veteran.

 

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The family of SP/4 Dennis would like to hear from personal friends or anyone that served with him in Viet Nam. If you would like to correspond with them, please use the Email Link at the top of this page to notify the History Project Manager.

        On Sunday, 11 April 1971, SP/4 Thaddeus Dennis, age 22, from Washington, DC, a member of the Can Tho Detachment, volunteered on his off duty time to assist the midnight shift in transporting a relief guard from the Can Tho Army Air Field Security Unit, who was undergoing on-the-job MP training, to the 3rd Surgical hospital at Binh Thuy air base to guard a wounded POW.

        While in route to the hospital on Highway LTL-27, Phong Dinh Province, the jeep ran off the roadway and overturned.

        SP/4 Dennis died from his injuries while being transported to the hospital. The relief guard, who was the driver of the jeep was also injured, he eventually recovered.

        As reported by SP/4 George F. Long, B Company, 720th MP Battalion, August 1970 to August 1971.

       SP/4 Dennis was awarded (Posthumously) the Bronze Star Medal  for meritorious service.

Last name: DENNIS
First name: THADDEUS
Home of Record (official): WASHINGTON
State (official): DC
Date of Birth: Thursday, August 26, 1948 (Florida)
Sex: Male
Race: Negro
Marital Status: Single

--- Military ---
Branch: Army
Rank: SP4
Serial Number: 578665154
Component: Regular
Pay grade: E4
MOS (Military Occupational Specialty code): 95B20
Major Organization: USARV

--- Action ---
Start of Tour: Tuesday, July 7, 1970
Date of Casualty: Sunday, April 11, 1971
Age at time of loss: 22
Casualty type: (C1) Non-hostile, died of other causes
Reason: Vehicle loss, crash (Ground casualty)
Country: South VietNam
Province: Vinh Long
The Wall: Panel 04W - Row 118

     SP/4 Dennis now rests at Arlington National Cemetery, Grave #2318, Section #53. His name appears on The Wall at Panel 04W - Row 118
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The Smiling MP  As I write this it is the end of July 2004. It has been almost exactly 34 years since we met and his smile is burned into by memory so deeply that I cannot see him without a smile on his face. In August 1970 I was a 20-year-old Military Policeman just being assigned to B Company 720th Military Police Battalion in the Republic of Viet Nam. I have almost a year and a half experience as an MP prior to arriving here. The Company Commander tells me that my experience with the 463rd MP Co. (Escort Guard) at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri  should be of value where I'm going.

          I am assigned to the platoon in Can Tho. That's where we meet. I get to Can Tho with less than a week in country. When I arrive I must do all those things a soldier does upon arrival anywhere. As I go about my task a smiling MP walks up to me, sticks out his hand and says, I'm Dennis where you from?. My answer is Washington, D.C.

        Instantly Dennis seems to brighten even more, "me too" he responds. We stand half way around the world from home. It seems almost impossible. We talk in that rapid-fire mode of old friends who can answer each other's questions. He has been in country a month and it's just a couple weeks till his birthday, he is almost 2 years older than me.

        Anyone who has ever served in the military knows it is a rarity to find someone from home. When you do it gives you both a little stronger connection to each other since even if your experience in life has been different almost assuredly you have experienced some of the same things and the same places. And so it was with us. Over the coming months we could always talk of home to each other. Even though we did not work together much we still had the connection.

        As time went on I learned about his life. His Father was a career soldier. He had a brother in the Army also. He was single but would talk fondly about a young girl at home, not a daughter, but a relative. That young girl, his niece, would find me in June 2004. He had gone to college for a time but had had "some troubles" there. In time he would tell me he wanted to go back to school when he got home.

        In Can Tho every day could bring a different assignment. Some people grumbled but Thaddeus Dennis did it all with a smile on his face. Maybe the thing that stands out the most to me was Thaddeus and the Vietnamese children. If you were not there it is hard to understand how so many children who had absolutely nothing could be so friendly. And that was a situation tailor made for Thaddeus. I cannot recall how many times a kid in Can Tho came up to me looking for Thaddeus. He was their provider of treats. American candy, Asian candy, and cold drinks you name it they came to him looking for something that they could not get elsewhere. Don't get me wrong, most everyone I served with was taken with the kids and did things for them, but the kids were taken with Thaddeus.

        Always concerned about others and always smiling is how I recall him and 34 years later I would learn it is a family trait.

        We worked our way through the fall and into the winter. In Can Tho we seemed to always be
shorthanded so most everyone worked their shift and then was assigned more work. Thaddeus smiled through it all. As we came into spring we soldiered on.

        Easter Sunday, 11 April 1971, the worst day of my life. I was the Patrol Supervisor for the midnight shift, as I said we were normally shorthanded otherwise a SP/4 would not be the Patrol Supervisor. I and whoever I chose to go with me would be the only motor patrol in the city that night. But first I needed to take a relief MP to the hospital at Binh Thuy and stop on the way back and pick up some food for the night shift at 235th Aviation at Can Tho Airfield. This would take an hour or so. To get to the hospital it was necessary to go about 9 kilometers out of town on LTL (highway) 27. Just 2 MP's by themselves.

        As I was about to finish up giving out the assignments at Guard Mount Thaddeus Dennis, who was not working, steps up on my left side and says , I'll take the relief to the hospital for you. I asked if he was sure and he replied, with a smile, "yes" (I can see this in my mind as if it happened just now). I told him to get his gear and told the relief MP that he was going with Dennis and we all got to work.

        On the way to the hospital while doing me a favor on his own time SP/4 Thaddeus Dennis was to lose his life. I had lost my friend. Had it been my fault. No of course not. Even at the age of 21 I knew it had not been my fault but it was my responsibility. I did not have to let him go. But I would have done it for him and he was doing what he believed would lighten my load. And that is what a friend does. Even in death the smile never faded. I see him now, sweat on his forehead with a big grin. If I reach to my left I can almost touch him. I will never forget him.

        In June of 2004 I received an email from Tom Watson, who has done so much to keep our history alive, with the information that the niece of Thaddeus Dennis had come across the web site and wanted to contact me.

        His niece, the young girl at home he had spoken of, had at last found a Veteran who knew her uncle. I sent her a short email explaining who I was and my connection to her uncle. I wanted to tell her all I knew but held back in case it might overwhelm her. I should have known better.

        She was concerned about me. We exchanged emails for about a week and finally spoke for several hours on the phone. When the Army came to notify the family she was 7 years old. She said her Grandmother upon seeing the Army car remarked that someone was going to get some bad news. She never thought it could be her even though she had two sons in Viet Nam. After all these years to finally have contact with Thaddeus’s family is an experience I cannot describe.
 
         Over the 4th of July weekend Thaddeus's niece attended a family reunion. She sent me several photos of him. His High School Graduation photo is the only one he was "being serious" in and didn't smile. There was also the only photo the family had of him in Viet Nam. There are eight of us in that photo. It has deteriorated through the years and it's not very clear but I know he's smiling in that photo, I can see it!

George F. Long, B Company, (Can Tho Detachment) 720th MP Battalion.

     I do not know what prompted me to Google Thaddeus Dennis after last seeing him in 1959 or 1960 but after reading the description of him and seeing his picture I am almost certain that he is the same young boy who I once played little league baseball with in Munich, Germany--Perlacher Forrest behind the Field Hospital. We were both, I presume, Army Brats. We both must have followed in our fatherís footsteps. I remember vividly his broad smile, which he always seemed to have. I thank him and his family for his service. Dr. James McCabe, 18 October 2013
        SP/4 Dennis and other members of the B Company Can Tho Detachment posing in front of a V100 armored commando car in 1971.
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