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SSG John Herman Wilkens
A Company, 720th MP Battalion, 89th MP Group, 18th MP Brigade

Killed In Action ~ 28 May 1968 ~ Vietnam


Photograph courtesy of SP/4 Bob Henslee

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

Archibald MacLeish
poet and WWI

For contact information on the next of kin, notify the History Project Manager via the Email Link at the top of this page.

          On Tuesday, 28 May 1968,  SP/4 Dennis Rae Mason , age 20, of Argyle, Wisconsin, was driving an escort gun jeep involved in Operation Overtake on Highway 1A. PFC Roy William Neal , age 21, of Blountville, Tennessee, was the M-60 machine gunner and his passenger was SSG John Herman Wilkens, age 26, the escort NCOIC.

        The escort was proceeding towards Saigon on Highway 1-A when at 2250 hours (10:50 PM) it was ambushed in an area nicknamed “Rocket Alley”, located between the Thu Duc Water Plant and the Newport Bridge.

        The Viet Cong fired two Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG’s) and small arms fire at the MP gun jeep. One RPG round struck PFC Neal, the other the jeep, causing it to flip over and burst into flame.

        All three men died in the attack. It was later determined that SSG Wilkens had managed to empty one magazine from his M-16 rifle at the attackers before succumbing to his wounds.

        On Memorial Day, 30 May 1968, at 0800 hours memorial services were held at the 89th MP Group Chapel for SSG Wilkens, SP/4 Mason, PFC Neal of A Company, and PFC Flynn, of C Company, who was killed in action 25 May.

< Click on the Memorial Services Program Icon to view the program pamphlet pages.

--- General / Personal ---
Last name: WILKENS
First name: JOHN HERMAN
Home of Record (official): NEW YORK
State (official): NY
Date of Birth: Tuesday, April 21, 1942
Sex: Male
Race: Caucasian
Marital Status: Married
--- Military ---
Branch: Army
Rank: SSG
Serial Number: 12670001
Component: Regular
Posthumous promotion as indicated
Pay grade: E5
MOS (Military Occupational Specialty code): 95B40
--- Action ---
Start of Tour: Sunday, August 27, 1967
Date of Casualty: Tuesday, May 28, 1968
Age at time of loss: 26
Casualty type: (A1) Hostile, died
Reason: Burns (Ground casualty)
Country: South VietNam
Province: Gia Dinh
The Wall: Panel 63W - Row 001

        In July Jim visited the grave site of SSG Wilkins and passed this message along to the other members of A Company,

.....About 2 weeks ago I visited the grave site of Sgt. Wilkens. When I met his son a month ago he told me where his dad was buried. So one quite Sunday morning I set out to find it.
The cemetery is in, what we might describe as a "tough" section of Brooklyn, NY. However, once inside the gates it was a peaceful place.
Sgt. Wilkens is buried next to his parents. I'm going to guess and say that he is buried with his sister who was born in 1948 and died in 1994. She has the same first name as her mother.
I left flowers and a flag. I did not stand alone that day, ALL of you were with me.”..... Jim Ahlfeld

Cypress Hills Cemetery, in Brooklyn, NY
The Vietnam Wall Memorial ~ John H. Wilkens ~ Panel 63W - Row 001

"A son to be proud of "

        It was 38 years ago when SSG John Wilkins and his escort team members met their fate the night of 28 May 1968 in a Viet Cong ambush on Highway 1-A in "Rocket Alley" in Vietnam. It was a long time ago but even the passage of time didn't fog the memory of Jim Ahlfeld and prevent him from recognizing a familiar name from his past when he read a letter to the editor in the New York Times that day. The letter was short and the writer didn't go into any details, just a mention of the death of a father he never knew in Vietnam, the writers name was John Wilkins, Jr. It wasn't much to go on, but enough to start Jim Ahlfeld on a quest to find this letter writer to see if he was the son of a friend lost in his past. After several calls Jim located a phone number, left a message, and waited with an uneasy anticipation.

        Two days later on 21 May 2006 Jim’s curiosity was rewarded when the phone message he left was returned. This is how Jim described the conversation to the other members of A Company who they served with in 1967-1968.

.......We had a nice conversation. He was extremely inquisitive about his dad. John was only one year old when his father passed away. He told me that after his Dad's death he moved with his mom back to the United Kingdom, where she was originally from. He stayed there until he was 18, then returned to the US to attend college, earning a degree from Seton Hall University, in NJ.

        Here's the unbelievable part, John and I work about 6 blocks from each other in Manhattan. He asked if I would meet him for coffee when he returns from vacation next week.
         He asked if I could bring any pictures from the 720th, which I told him I would do. Does anyone out there have any additional pics of his dad.?..If so, please send them to me. He asked about his dad and what happened the evening he was killed. He told me that for years he wanted to ask his mom but he knew that she not comfortable talking about what she knew. His mom who is 62, remarried about 16 years after his fathers death in 1968. She resides in the UK today. Her name is Margaret Ince..... Jim Ahlfeld

        Before making the phone call Jim notified Pete Schroeder who lives in New Jersey, another friend from A Company in Vietnam that he has remained in contact with over the years. Pete was in another jeep on the same escort as SSG Wilkins that fate full night in 1968. Pete jumped at the chance to join the two for the meeting on 7 June. Tom Watson, History Project Manager

Left to right, Pete Schroeder, John Wilkens, Jr. and Jim Ahlfeld, 7 June 2006
.....I wanted to fill every one in on the dinner meeting that Pete Schroeder and I had last evening.
         Pete and myself met with John Wilkens, Jr., the son of the late Sgt. John Wilkens, who  died on May 28th, 1968. The three of us met last night for the first time at a Manhattan restaurant.The restaurant was crowded and Pete & I watched as people entered, as we tried to figure out who our guest might be. When he walked in we both knew immediately it was him. The resemblance to his father was stunning.
         I have to tell you first and foremost and I'm sure "KRAUT" (Pete’s nickname in Vietnam) agrees Sgt. Wilkens would be proud of this man. John Jr., who will be 40 in September and is a successful educated business executive in New York City. He kept repeating how happy he was that we reached out to him after all these years. He told us that he always wanted to know more about his dad and the circumstances of his death. While growing up he attempted to engage his mother but he realized that it was too difficult for her to discuss it. Pete Schroeder was part of that convoy that evening and I sensed that John Jr. felt a sense of relief that Pete was able to honestly tell him the direct circumstances of his dad's death. We told him that his dad died a hero fighting to the end, even pulling his 45 in a last desperate attempt to defeat his attackers.
         I had brought with me an album of 720th pics and he went thru each and every one asking questions. John did not know that in lower Manhattan, in the Wall Street area that their is a memorial of NY State Vietnam Vets who lost their lives in the conflict. I also found out that his dad is buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery, in Brooklyn, NY. I plan on visiting the grave in the upcoming weeks. John will also join me next year during the 25th anniversary of the Vietnam memorial in DC (November, 2007). He told us that he has visited THE WALL on a few occasions.
         I'm not ashamed to admit that I had a tear in my eye as I traveled home after the meeting.
Pete took some pics which we will pass on when their developed."
         It was quite an evening 38 years in the making..... Jim Ahlfeld

"38 Years later, It's never to late to keep a promise to yourself"

September 11, 2006
         I would like to report on a dinner meeting that Pete Schroeder & myself had on Tuesday, September 5th, 2006 with John Wilkens Jr. & Margaret Wilkens Ince.
         John Wilkens advised me that his mom was in town for a family wedding and wanted to meet Pete and I. We all met at a midtown restaurant and had a wonderful meeting. Margaret is a wonderful person and we all reminisced about life during the Vietnam era, her marriage to Sgt. Wilkens and the circumstances surrounding his death. She never really knew the circumstances of his death. Pete and I were honest but "gentle" in covering the topic.

Left to right, Pete Schroeder, Margaret Wilkens Ince, and Jim Ahlfeld, 5 September 2006
          When Sgt. Wilkens body was returned to the States, his mother wanted to open the casket but the officer had cautioned Margaret, not to allow her to view the body. Margaret said her mother-in-law always had a "doubt" about the body being her son because she was never able to view the remains. She died in 2002.
         Margaret told us an interesting story about an MP that was stationed with Sgt Wilkens at Fort Meade, Maryland prior to their departure to Vietnam. This MP, whose name escapes me, use to baby sit John Wilkens Jr. That MP was killed at the US EMBASSY, the nite of the Tet Offensive-1968.
         I have attached a picture of Pete, Margaret & I , to this e-mail. I presented Margaret with a collage that included an etching from the Vietnam Memorial, a picture of Sgt. Wilkens and a picture of his name on THE WALL. I made two copies of the collage and presented one to John Jr., as well. Margaret is holding the collage in the attached picture.
         After 38 years, I have finally closed a chapter of one of life's lessons. I returned from Vietnam with Sgt.Wilkens Brooklyn, NY address in my wallet. At 19, I didn't feel I had the emotional capacity to meet this woman so soon after her husband's death. 38 years has matured me.
Jim Ahlfeld
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