Bruce Badger’s Memorial Album Comes Home
|Bruce L. Badger|
By Sharon Lakey
Jean Dutton, sister of Danville’s only soldier killed in action in Vietnam, Bruce L. Badger, made a decision. She would send the album she created detailing the events surrounding her baby brother’s death. “I think it should be in Danville,” she said over the phone. Before sealing the box, she added his Vermont Patriot’s Medal and the last two letters he wrote to his mother before his death on April 2, 1968.
When the box arrived at Historical House, we unpacked it, set it on the table and reverently turned the pages. It exudes a certain solid silence. The cover is a deep brown color with an embossed mandala on the front, and every piece the album is covered in protective plastic, smooth to the touch. Even the glues she used on the contents are of archival quality; it is meant to be handled and read and be accessible for many years to come.
Perusing the book, it seems stark at first. The content is straightforward, unembellished. But when you take time to read each page, skimming over the repetitious elements of newspaper clippings, each chosen fragment adds a little more depth to the mind-numbing loss the family must have experienced at his death.
It opens with a senior photo of Bruce, a black and white 5 x 7. The photo is of a clear-eyed, serious young man, dressed in a suit, a white kerchief peeking out of the lapel pocket. It is this photo the family gave to the media, and it is repeated time and again in the succeeding newspaper clippings. Page two opens with a 5 x 7 color photo of Bruce in his army uniform. He wears the same serious look, but there is a hint of pride the young man felt in wearing the uniform.
On the army photo page, Bruce’s senior photo is repeated, heading two newspaper clippings. The first is the smallest column: “IN VIETNAM—Sp/4 Bruce L. Badger, son of Mr. and Mrs. Philip M. Badger Sr., Danville, arrived in Vietnam March 3…” Right next to it is a slightly larger column with the same photo: “Danville Man Killed in Vietnam—A 21-year-old Danville man has been reported killed in action in Vietnam…April 2…”
Bruce was a shy, intelligent youth, renowned locally as a sterling baseball pitcher and avid outdoorsman. At university in Logan, Utah, for two years, he enjoyed hiking the wild country there. But, as the war raged, he felt the call to enlist.
Most of us in Danville know his name because of the Bruce Badger Memorial Highway that connects Danville from Hill Street to North Danville. The highway naming was the result of efforts by Louise Lessard. Her brother, Roger, was Bruce’s classmate, and she had been haunted for years about something that took place on Bruce’s last leave before leaving for Vietnam. She remembers a February day in 1968 when Bruce stood in the Danville General Store greeting those who entered. In this memory he is shaking hands with all who came through the door, telling them goodbye. His message—“I won’t be coming back.”
“I just couldn’t get this out of my mind,” said Louise. “I didn’t want him to be forgotten.” She took it on herself to ask the Select Board to change the name of the highway, and it was granted in 1983. There is a photo of this celebration in the album, the family gathered under the sign. Geneva, his mother, is in front, dressed all in white, holding a black purse.
She was an elementary school teacher in Danville and Walden. Bruce was her surprise child, she told Louise in an interview for a North Star article in 1991 , coming when she was 42-years-old. “Bruce was the easiest of my five kids. He was such a good boy and never gave me any trouble.”
Though all family members were deeply affected by Bruce’s death, it is Geneva that emerges in the album as the most stoic of figures. Both of his letters, now included at the end of the album, begin with “Dear Mom…” Page four of the album begins with a newspaper photo of the honor guard presenting the American flag to her. She stands straight, hand raised to receive the folded flag, head tilted upward to look at the tall man before her.
Toward the end of the album, Jean has included a piece written by Geneva. Jean entitled it “A Mother’s Remembrance,” but the strangeness of the writing is that there is literally no emotion in it; it is an exacting list of facts: “Bruce left Danville Feb. 13, 1967 by bus for Manchester, N.H. He was sent to the U.S. Army Reception Center Station, Fort Jackson, S.C. Feb. 14, 1967…”
It ends with: “March 17 , he was sent out on armored assault vehicle. He was injured by an enemy mine April 2, at Tam Ky at 8:35 a.m. He was taken to 2nd Surgical Hospital by helicopter and died at 11:50 a.m. We were notified by Sgt. Webb April 3, 9:50 a.m. He arrived in Maryland April 8 and met by Duncan McNaughton. He was brought to Desrochers & Sayles funeral Home April 9 where he remained until April 13. His funeral was held April 13 at Congo Church. Military Honor Guards came from Camp Devens. His personal possessions came May 24. Stone was set May 25. Marker arrived June 28. Money came July 25. Lt. Golding presented his awards Mon. Nov. 3, 1968. He helped us with military affairs. History of 1st Cav. and second lot of patches came from Col Treadwell Jan. 3, 1969.”
She was a mother looking for answers, and facts were as close as she could get. In a letter dated May 15, 1968, from a Captain of the Armor Commander, she received the following information: “In the mid-morning hours at approximately 8:35 a.m., your son was on a search and clear mission three miles north of Tam Ky, Quang Tin Province, Republic of South Vietnam. Bruce was assigned as the machine gunner when his Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicle ran over an enemy mine, severely wounding Bruce and two fellow crewmembers. Within seconds the platoon medic was administering aid to Bruce and within minutes he was evacuated by helicopter to a hospital. Despite the best possible medical care, Bruce died at 11:50 a.m. at the 2nd Surgical Hospital in Chu Lai, Republic of South Vietnam…Bruce’s personal property is being collected and will be shipped to you immediately. I know you will treasure his personal property, and I hope that it will reach you without delay.”
Evidently, she pushed for more information as the following letter shows. In a response to Geneva’s questions, the Squadron Chaplain writes: “Dear Mrs. Badger, Your letter has been referred to me. Since I have just recently joined the squadron, I did not have the privilege of knowing your son, Bruce.
“I have checked with his troop and the men who knew him. They thought very highly of Bruce and were very saddened by his loss.
“Bruce was a side gunner on an Armored Cavalry vehicle which struck a mine during a mine sweeping operation. Two other men from C Troop were killed with Bruce along with three Marines.
“All Cavalry men wear flak vests when on operations. However, the nature of Bruce’s wounds was such that his vest could not save him. He did not regain consciousness after the incident and so was granted a painless death…” With this information, she would have to be satisfied. To find spiritual peace, she had to look elsewhere, and Jean reports that she made daily visits to Danville Green cemetery for many months after his burial.
Glued into the album are five Polaroid photos that are from an unknown source. Jean has no remembrance of where they came from, but there they are, reminiscent of photos we have all seen from Vietnam–a brown landscape with young men, war machines and village hamlets. They illustrate the type of military vehicle and activity that Bruce and his squadron were undertaking. In the upper left corner on the page is a particularly odd image; it is of an armored vehicle that is all out of alignment, disjointed, pieces of it lying on the ground. Is it Bruce’s vehicle?
As an old woman, Geneva visited the Washington D.C. Vietnam Veterans Memorial. One of the family members snapped a photo of her reflected in the glossy granite where Bruce’s name is engraved. It is titled by Jean as “Geneva Badger at the Vietnam Memorial.” She is seated in a wheelchair in a red dress, looking at her sons name among all the rest. On that same page is a photo of bronze figures–three soldiers, dressed for the heat of Vietnam and wearing their flak vests.
Like many before and after him, gentle Bruce was lost for a cause that was stated simply in a letter from the White House to Mr. and Mrs. Badger, dated April 12, 1968: “Americans throughout our great country are eternally indebted and humbly grateful to your son for his selfless courage in fighting to preserve the ideal of freedom for all men…Lyndon Johnson.” In the album are many such letters of condolence from high sources as well as listings of medals and commendations given to him posthumously. On one of the pages is a newspaper column listing Vermonters who were killed in Vietnam: 114, including two that Geneva added in her own handwriting after the column was published.
Glenn, Bruce’s older brother, spoke at the funeral: “Bruce…We remember your love for the picturesque hills of Vermont and Utah and your appreciation of the lovely things of life. The sun streams in golden shafts on the mountains and streams that you loved. You were close to nature, because you understood the beauty of life’s precious gifts which we take for granted…You were tolerant and understood that these were times of few convictions, but days of great causes and passions.”
Bruce’s album and Vermont Patriot’s Medal will be on display at the Danville Historical Society during the month of November. Hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 7:00.
This article was first published in the November, 2010, issue of The North Star Monthly.
For more photos related to this article, click here.