The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

December 2002
SONS AND DAUGHTERS IN TOUCH
   
 

The Story Behind The Name

BY KAREN SPEARS ZACHARIAS

Meet SDIT member Terry McGregor of La Palma, California. Terry is the son of Capt. Donald McGregor, a military adviser assigned to the 1st Battalion, 51st ARVN. Donald McGregor was 29 when he was killed by a sniper on August 13, 1963, near the village of An Hoa. He'd only been in country six weeks and was on his first operation at the time of his death. Besides Terry, then 6, McGregor left behind two other sons, Jerry, 9, and Charles, 3, and his young bride, Leola McGregor, 29. 

McGregor was a career soldier. He began his military career by joining the National Guard as a high school student in Rupert, Idaho. Today, Rupert's community center, formerly the National Guard Armory, is named in his honor. The effervescent McGregor was captain of his high school football team and senior class president in 1952. He married his high school sweetheart shortly after graduation. She worked to put him through the University of Utah. 

McGregor received a degree in history while he continued his military interests through the college's ROTC program.  After he graduated, McGregor began his military career at OCS at Ft. Benning, Georgia. In 1957, ten days after Terry McGregor was born, the family moved to Ft. Ord, California.  

Two years later, Donald McGregor was transferred to Oahu's Schofield Barracks, home of the 27th Infantry Wolfhounds. They remained on the island until 1962. Then McGregor was transferred back to Ft. Benning. It would be the last post on which the McGregors would live as a family. In December 1962, McGregor made a short trip to Washington, D.C. He did not discuss the details with his bride, but a short time later he received his orders for Vietnam. "He volunteered to go,'' Terry said.  

In preparation for that order, his wife and kids moved back to the couple's native state, Idaho. Terry can't recall being concerned about his father leaving.  

"I have a vision of the little two-bedroom home where we lived in Paul, Idaho. We had a ton of people coming by to say goodbye to my dad. But I didn't have any worries. He'd been away from home before,'' Terry recalled. 

Shortly before he volunteered for Vietnam, Donald McGregor had written his parents a letter, questioning his military service."Dad said he was thinking about getting out of the Army and taking up a teaching job in Southern Idaho,'' Terry said, recalling the letter he didn't read until decades later. 

Terry's last memory of his father is not of a sober father-to-young-son talk of war or communism. He does not recall a lingering hug or tearful goodbyes. What he remembers is the timber of his father's laughter and the buzzing motor of hair clippers. 

"I remember him standing on the sidewalk outside our little house and someone was shearing his hair. I don't remember who it was, but they were shaving his head, and the two of them were laughing, having a good time. That's my last memory of Dad,'' Terry said. 

Donald McGregor wrote letters to his family from Vietnam. He told them of his weeks in Saigon, of his move to Quang Ngai, and then, the place he named "home'' - An Hoa. He wrote about being in country with relatively little to do. He made comments about the Army's lack of organization. And, then, on August 3, he wrote home about his first assignment as a military adviser to the 51st ARVN.  

"He said he finally got himself a job with a good bunch of fellows,'' Terry recalled.  

Donald McGregor also told his loving wife not to worry.  

"He said he was mostly acting as an umpire for the ARVN and that he wouldn't be in harm's way,'' Terry said. 

But on August 13, while on his first operation, Donald McGregor, without regard for his own safety, rushed to the front lines and urged the South Vietnamese to increase their fire power during an ambush. They did that successfully. But as Donald McGregor and three other officers - the Captain he was supposed to replace and two South Vietnamese officers - prepared to return to An Hoa at 2:15 that afternoon, snipers shot at them from three directions. McGregor was shot in the head. The other officers were wounded, none critically.  

Leola McGregor got a phone call from the Western Union office. Terry was the only son at home that day. "Mom said she needed to go pick up a telegram. She was crying all the way to the train station where the Western Union office was located,'' Terry recalled. "I remember walking into the train station and the guy behind the counter handing Mom the telegram. He said, ' I'm sorry, ma'am.' That was it.'' 

The most troubling thing about growing up an orphan of Vietnam was the silence that shrouded his father's death, Terry said. "For many years I didn't know how he was killed or where he was killed, except in Vietnam. Vietnam was a sore point for this country. We didn't talk about it.''

It wasn't until he joined Sons and Daughters in Touch that Terry learned more about his soldier father.  

``SDIT taught me how to find this stuff out. Some of it was as simple as going back and reading the letters he wrote to my mom. I never read those until a year ago. With the help of SDIT, I was able to get his military records and read how he was killed.'' 

In March, Terry will join dozens of other SDIT members as they journey to Vietnam. "I hope to go there and pay my respects to my father. I want to feel the ground where he fought his last battle. And I want to go meet the people he wrote so fondly about. I want to see An Hoa, the place he called home.''  

If you would like more information about SDIT, contact Karen Spears Zacharias at zach@ucinet.com or by phone at 541-379-8572.

   

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