In her old white house in Yampa, Hildred Fogg loves talking about her son.
On Wednesday, the mother recalled the time David Fogg dug up worms as a second-grader and sold them to fishermen in the rural South Routt County town. She spent a few minutes talking about the time he saved the $25 he needed to buy a Chihuahua. She never thought he could save that much money.
As he grew older, David got into sports. He worked on neighboring ranches and impressed his parents. In 1968, he decided he wanted to serve his country.
“David was some kind of a special kid,” Hildred said as she flipped through plastic pages holding the photos that chronicled her son’s short stay in Vietnam. From a thick binder, she carefully plucked out letters from President Richard Nixon and military generals. Then, she pulled out her son’s casualty report.
“Of course, all of our kids, you know, are special to us. But David was really special because he always brought home the people that nobody would have anything to do with in school,” she said. “I used to think he couldn’t go to the bathroom by himself because he always had to be with somebody.”
Fifty years have passed since the U.S. entered the Vietnam War that killed more than 58,000 Americans. Forty-two have passed since Hildred lost her son in the jungles of that country. But the mother doesn’t think too much about the significance of the anniversaries of either of those events.
She said on some days, it feels like David was shot yesterday. On others, it feels like it happened a long time ago.
“I guess you never get over it,” the mother said.
A funny feeling
At a quiet street corner in Yampa, the bus pulled up at about 2 a.m. ready to take young men to war.
After a night of revelry in October, Hildred walked to that corner at the other end of town and said goodbye to David as he left for boot camp. He’d arrive in Vietnam in December.
The farewell was nothing new for the mother. She already had said goodbye to two of her older sons stationed in Southeast Asia, but David’s departure in 1968 felt different.
“I had a strange feeling,” Hildred said Wednesday from her kitchen. She paused, and then talked more slowly as she described the same feeling she had felt once before when she said goodbye to her brother in the Air Force. He died in a plane crash shortly thereafter. “I told the guys who were standing with us at the bus stop, ‘I feel like this may be the last time I see David.’ And it was.”
A special boy
David’s friends and family were shocked when the Soroco High School graduate joined the U.S. Marine Corps.
“He just didn’t seem like a Marine to me,” his mother said. “He couldn’t kill a fly without feeling bad. I think he might have had something to prove to somebody.”
Bob Maijala, a friend and football teammate of David’s, said Thursday that he may have enlisted to impress a girlfriend.
“We were all very surprised when he joined up,” he said. “But he was the type of guy who would always have your back.”
David enlisted, and nothing would stop him from serving his country. Although David’s parents worried like many other parents of young men who left for Vietnam, they supported him and signed the enlistment papers.
“That was his choice, and we went along with it,” Hildred said. “I suggested that he join another branch, but we let all of our children make their own decisions. If they want to play football, they got to play football.”
While overseas, David’s actions defied the mold of a macho Marine.
Hildred said her 18-year-old son almost was court-martialed when he was found playing cards with a group of small children at the same time was supposed to be guarding a bridge.
He sent his mother letters asking her to ship boxes of clothes across the world.
“So I went and rounded up a couple of boxes of clothes and shipped them to him,” the mother said. “He took out all the clothes and gave them to the kids. They acted like he gave them a bicycle when he gave them a clean shirt.”
The letters continued. He described the perpetual rain. He described a baby Vietnamese girl he was handed whom he wanted to adopt. He was a boy from Yampa experiencing something new on the other side of the world.
Killed in action
Hildred and her family were out celebrating the Fourth of July on Gore Pass when Lt. Robert Frederickson pulled up to their house to break the news. Unable to deliver the important message, the man from Denver stayed overnight in Yampa and pulled up to the house again July 5.
“For some reason, I got up early that morning,” Hildred said. “I knew something was wrong when I saw his car drive by. Then he came in and gave us the report.”
Lance Cpl. David Fogg was shot by a sniper the night of July 4, 1969, while he was on patrol near Da Nang. He died a few hours later July 5. He had been in Vietnam only since December.
Months before David was shot, Routt County had lost another solider. John Vialpando, a 19-year-old Army soldier, was killed in the Mekong Delta. Like David, the Steamboat Springs High School graduate was a football player. He also was a star wrestler in junior high school and a brother to many of his friends.
Tragedies hit home
As classmates and close friends, Perry Hoffman and Vialpando would hunt deer and elk together in the wilderness around Hahn’s Peak.
“We loved to hunt. We fished. We liked to camp,” Hoffman recalled Saturday afternoon at his home in Steamboat Springs. “We got in a lot of trouble together. He saved me a couple of times during a couple fights. As teenagers, we did get into a few of those with our rivals from Oak Creek and Craig. It was a Saturday night thing.”
Hoffman learned about Vialpando’s death shortly before he was set to deploy to Vietnam. The news devastated the small communities in the Yampa Valley. Hoffman said the young soldier’s death got a lot of people to think more about the war. But as he was preparing to ship out himself, Vialpando’s close friend had to think past the tragedy.
“It’s something you have to displace because you can’t go into that type of situation with the frame of mind that, ‘Oh my gosh, I had a friend die over there. Am I going to make it back?’ You go over there thinking you’re doing the right thing and you’re fighting for America and freedom.”
He called Vialpando a very outgoing person. A very friendly person. A very smart person.
“I think he would have done very well in this world,” Hoffman said. “But other agendas took care of that.”
Rest in peace
Packs of Boy Scouts converged on the cemetery Thursday afternoon to decorate veterans’ graves with small American flags.
Scouts Kendall Hood, Zeke Kinnison and Grant Pohlman carefully placed flags in front of Fogg and Vialpando’s graves. The boys didn’t know the soldiers. They didn’t know about their childhoods or the circumstances of their deaths. Still, they recognized that the soldiers died doing something important.
“They risked their lives and a lot of them lost them for us,” Zeke said. “It’s really an honor to do this.”
There are 45 Vietnam- and Cold War-era veterans buried in Steamboat’s cemetery. Four more are buried on Elk Mountain and two in the cemetery in Clark.
Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony in Steamboat will mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and honor Routt County’s Vietnam- and Cold War-era veterans.
“I think it’s important to recall these vets because the Vietnam War was not one of our most popular,” Steamboat Springs rancher and Vietnam-era veteran Jim Stanko said. “It divided the country more than any war. Never until just now are these veterans getting the recognition they deserve. This ceremony is going to be our way of saying, ‘Welcome home, thank you and rest in peace.’”
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com