Cairo, New York
My name is Gary Hickey, and I served in Vietnam from February 1970 to February 1971 with the 3rd Battalion. 5th Regiment, 1st Marine Division. Our area of deployment was in Quang Nam Province.
For ten months my platoon Staff Sergeant was Theodore T. Rowley. Neither I nor Rowley are from Texas however, I would and I am sure he would have considered it an honor to be a Texan. Regardless of us not being from Texas the following story is wrapped around the very word Texas and seemed fitting to send forward.
Curiously SSgt. Rowley had the word Texas tattooed on his left shoulder. He was a very private person and would never disclose the reason for the tattoo. In fact he would scowl and chase us if we tried to just take a picture of him. Rowley and I were together the entire time until he made the supreme sacrifice. He was the very core of our platoon.
On Oct.12, 1970 SSgt. Rowley was KIA and a piece of all remaining, myself included, died with him that day. We lost our Lieutenant and Navy Corpsman as well along with many wounded in the same incident.
I would like to forward a series of events that have unfolded within the last 3+ years related to Texas and SSgt Rowley.
It began in 2010 with an email from a high school junior at Westlake High School in Austin, Texas. Leila, the student, was enrolled in an Advanced Placement (AP) English course. As a term project the students were assigned a name from the list of Vietnam Veterans on the Wall and were instructed to research and create a video presentation about the Veteran. This program and Westlake High School are responsible for approximately 2000 similar presentations from names on the wall.
Leila was initially unable to find available info on Rowley and she was at the point of requesting another name from her Instructor, Ms. Coker. On her last search before requesting a new name she happened upon a tribute I left to honor Rowley on the web. Leila was ultimately able to contact 2 other sources while researching. One of them disclosed that SSgt. Rowley had a one year old son with the first name Texas. Leila’s work has eased a burden carried by the handful of us that were with him that day. It opened a door to provide insight into the man behind a name on the Wall. Surely Westlake’s program in conjunction with these videos has provided wonderful and similar experiences for many others.
My Family travelled to North Carolina during June of 2012 to attend a family wedding. While approaching our destination, signs for New Bern, NC appeared quite frequently. New Bern National Cemetery is the resting place for SSgt. Rowley, and quickly I decided on a side trip to visit his graveside. On the morning I was leaving for New Bern, my wife’s cousin asked if any of us wanted the pin she found in her rental car. I asked what the pin said and she told me it was a Texas flag pin. The emotions upon the disclosure that it was a Texas flag pin were equal but exactly opposite those from October 12, 1970. Not sure what the odds are of a Texas pin appearing at the very instant I rose to leave for New Bern. Can not help but believe that Rowley said I am waiting. I wear the Texas pin on my hat and will keep it until. Personally the pin for me provides an alternative focal point when the carnage from that day in 1970 resonates. It has solidified my faith in the after life.
Several months after returning from the wedding an email and then a formal invitation arrived from the Ross County Ohio Vietnam Memorial Committee. The Committee was responsible for the inception, design, fundraising and construction of a Memorial to 23 Ross County Vets who gave their lives in Vietnam. Rowley was one of them. Dedication ceremonies were held on May 18, 2013. Five of us that were with Rowley the day he was killed travelled a composite 3000 miles to attend. We were asked to lay the wreath during the Ceremony which we were more than honored to do. There was a 6th veteran who placed the wreath as well. The 6th was an Army Vet and served with another listed on the Memorial Wall. As a last gesture in Ohio I rubbed the Texas pin on Theodore Texas Rowley’s etched name.
At a reception immediately following the May dedication, I told this story to a Father who lost a son during the war in Iraq. As we talked and I pointed to the Texas pin it was quite clear that the pin in tandem with the story certainly is more than just a pin.
Never did find out what the relationship was with SSgt. Rowley and Texas, but something tells me as this story continues a 43 year history it will remain interesting.
As the old saying goes ….my hat (and Pin) are off……off to schools, committees and all who endeavor to honor our fallen Brothers.
Thank you Westlake, Leila, Ross County Vietnam Memorial Committee and God Bless the work done by dedicated souls involved in creating these Memorials yourselves included. Our lost Brothers are surely paying attention from above……just ask Texas.
Gary T. Hickey
Corporal USMC 1969-72