The Brookline Connection
- Sgt. Richard Joseph Lacey
Richard Lacey lived in Mount Lebanon and attended St. Bernards Elementary School. He was a graduate of South Hills Catholic High School. Richard was a regular around Brookline, referred to by his nickname "Monk," hanging out with his high school friends at Moore Park. He was nineteen with a year and a half of college behind him when he volunteered for the US Army. He was selected for Officer Training, but elected instead to stay in a technical field after completing the first phase of Signal Corps schooling.
After a year of technical training, Lacey was qualified to repair and maintain long communication lines and was sent to Vietnam in the summer of 1967. He felt lucky to be stationed at the Stratcom Communications Base, which was located on the extreme southern edge of Saigon, approximately five miles due south of Tan Son Nhut Airbase, Gia Dinh Province, South Vietnam.
Richard Lacey had been in Vietnam six months when the Viet Cong's (VC) 1968 Tet Offensive, and Battle of Saigon began. One of the first moves communist forces made as they initiated their offensive was to disrupt American and Allied lines of communication as completely as possible.
During the early morning hours of 31 January 1968, when the breakdown in local communications was most critical, then SP5 Richard J. Lacey and SP4 William C. Behrens departed the Phu Lam Long Lines Detachment for the Regional Communications Group located in Saigon. Their assigned mission was to relay calls for assistance from areas under siege. The two soldiers, who were travelling by jeep with Behrens being the driver and Lacey the passenger, headed north into the city of Saigon.
Both Richard Lacey and William Behrens were heavily armed. After they exited the main gate of the complex and turned left toward Saigon, they passed through Cholon (a predominately Chinese suburb of Saigon), then onward to the Regional Headquarters.
Along the way north, they passed the Vietnamese Phu To racetrack area. The cement bleacher and racetrack complex was being used as a field hospital by the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong. The enemy defended this area in a variety of ways. A machine gun crew was posted in an abandoned gas station on the road approaching their complex. As the unsuspecting Americans sped by, they were summarily attacked, and vanished.
In the chaos of the street-to-street battle that raged throughout Saigon, Richard Lacey and William Behrens were not immediately missed. This was, in large part, because all travel throughout the city had been totally disrupted by the VC's offensive. When personnel at their destination realized the two men were long overdue, headquarters was notified that they were missing.
Four days later, on February 3, 1968, SP4 William Behren's body was identified at the Tan San Nhut Mortuary by members of his unit. There are no records of where or how William Behren's remains were recovered, or who brought them to the mortuary.
As the communist offensive was brought under control, a formal search and rescue/recovery (SAR) operation was initiated for Richard Lacey. The streets between the Phu Lam Long Lines Detachment complex and the Regional Communications Group facility were thoroughly searched and local residents questioned. Between 8 and 15 April 1968, the jeep in which Richard Lacey and William Behrens were traveling was recovered behind a villa near the racetrack. It was bullet-ridden and all removable parts from the engine had been taken. Other than recovering the jeep, no trace of SP5 Lacey was found. At the time the formal search was terminated, Richard Lacey's status was changed to Missing in Action.
Following the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements, 591 American prisoners were released from North Vietnam. Many of them had been captured in South Vietnam, but Richard Lacey was not among them. Government officials later expressed their shock that "hundreds" more Americans that were expected to be released were not.
Sgt. Richard Joseph Lacey's status was changed from Missing in Action to Killed in Action on November 13, 1978. His remains have never been recovered.
In 2002, Sgt. Richard Joseph Lacey was inducted into the Seton-LaSalle High School Hall of Fame. Seton-Lasalle High School is the successor to South Hills Catholic High School. A graduate of the Class of 1964, Richard joined Brookline native James Wonn, Class of 1962, a Navy airman and Vietnam casualty, who was inducted in 1994 as one of Seton's distinguished alumni.
Information copied from the P.O.W. Network.
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