HEROES OF THE VIETNAM WAR

CATAWBA COUNTY

Vietnam War Memorial, Washington, DC

 



Fred Link, USMC, 1966

 

 

40 years later, family members learn
more about brother's death in Vietnam


Janey Deal and her brother, David Link, hold a photo of their brother, Fred Link, who was killed in Vietnam. This March was the 40th anniversary of his death. David Link recently connected with someone who served with his brother, and learned what happened in Vietnam.
[photo credit: Robert Reed, Hickory Daily Record]

 

NEWTON - For 40 years, David Link and Janey Deal wanted more details about the circumstances of their brother’s death in Vietnam in 1968.
Like many others with relatives who died in the Vietnam War, Link and Deal received little information other than the date and location of their brother Fred’s death. Link and Deal said they wished they knew more. Neither knew where to look, though.

In the last few years, though, the Internet has yielded new resources.
“I started looking online for more information, but never found anything,” Link said. “I looked about three or four times a year. If someone was out there, we wanted to talk to them. Not to know what happened, but to know that he was surrounded by people he loved when he died.”
Link said it was hard to know where to look online. In January, he came across the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s Virtual Wall Web site.

Platoon comrade's online posting started with, 'Fred Link, a fine Marine'

There was a posting by Eric Bergland. The headline said “Fred Link, a fine Marine.” The message went on to talk about the platoon Fred and Bergland served in and their friendship. It also mentioned “although it’s been almost 40 years since, not a day goes by when I don’t think about Fred and the other Marines KIA (killed in action) in 1968. They are my personal heroes ...” It was posted Dec. 20, 2007.
“When I saw that, it blew me away. I e-mailed Eric back immediately,” Link said.
After e-mailing a few more times, Link called Bergland, who lives in Oregon.
“After talking for five minutes, it felt like I’d known him all my life. It was easy to see why he and Fred were friends,” Link said.

In Vietnam
Fred and Bergland enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. Fred enlisted after high school on June 16, 1966. Link said Fred did it because he thought it was his patriotic duty. Their father and uncles had also served in the military. Bergland enlisted because he’d had a brush with the law in New Orleans, La., and was given the choice of either enlisting or jail.
The pair met while in Albany, Ga., and quickly became friends. Fred was a machinist, and Bergland was a supply clerk. Both were eventually retrained as infantry.
“The casualty rate was high in Vietnam, so we were retrained as infantry, and sent to Vietnam,” Bergland said.
Fred was sent to Vietnam first, on Oct. 20, 1967. Bergland was sent the following day, Link said.
“We were put in a high-casualty battalion, so by the time we got there, we were replacements. We were the new ones, and no one knew if they could trust you,” Bergland said. “We supported each other, since we knew each other from Albany.”
Initially at a camp in the northern part of South Vietnam, the pair later moved to Con Thien. Bergland was an M-79 grenade launcher, called an “M-79 man,” and Fred was a rifleman who later was promoted to a fire team leader, Bergland said. The fire team leader is a small tactical leader, with three other Marines under him.
Fred and Bergland were moved to the siege battle at Khe Sanh in January 1968. This is where Fred died, on March 1.
Bergland remembers it well. He was asleep, when someone woke him up to tell him about Fred.
“One of Fred’s team members said, ‘you’re man Link’s been hit.’ I got up and went over to him,” Bergland said. “Fred was about 50 or 60 yards from me in the rock quarry where we were. It was uneven ground, where the rock had been pulled out. The ground was rough and irregular, but I’d crossed it many times.
“Fred was semi-conscious, and very seriously wounded. I carried one end of his stretcher to the battalion aid station. He was medevaced out. One of the corpsmen went with him, but he died before he got to the hospital, which was like a MASH tent.”

News hits home
The Link family learned of Fred’s death March 8, 1968. Link was 15 at the time and still lived at home with his parents in Newton. Deal, however, was married with children.
“I lived two houses down. I remember seeing the car pull up,” Deal said. “My husband said, ‘there’s a military car at your parent’s house. You need to go over there right now.’”
Link said military officials told them Fred was hit by shrapnel and killed instantly.
“Now we know that he wasn’t, but that he never regained consciousness,” Deal said. “The worst part of it was we had to get the news he was killed, and wait for him to come home. We had to prepare for the funeral. Mother took to her bed.”
Fred’s body came home Thursday night, March 14, and he was buried on his parents’ wedding anniversary, on March 17.
A letter from Fred also came to the Link house on March 9, mailed shortly before his death.
Link said the letter sat on top of their TV set for about three weeks before anyone opened it.
“That letter just about killed mother. To open the letter and find out he died hungry killed her. She never was the same after his death,” Deal said. “To be grown and see this happen to your parents was a hard thing to witness.”

Almost a connection
Bergland was discharged from the Marines in April 1969. After visiting his parents in Michigan, he decided to visit a few people he knew from his military company in 1970.
Bergland said he wanted to pay his respects to the Link family, and traveled to Newton. However, when he got there, he was stopped by an officer, who asked him what he was doing in town. Bergland explained his reason for being there.
“What I think he said to me was, ‘well, it’s been really hard on Mrs. Link, and you shouldn’t go there,” Bergland said. “I wasn’t looking to make trouble. I was going through plenty of my own, and I didn’t want to end up in jail,” he added. “It was hard coming back. You didn’t want to be criticized as a vet, and not everyone was happy that you were a veteran of the Vietnam War. I’d never met the Link family, and so I thought maybe it would be better if I left.”
Bergland spent the night at a boarding house the officer dropped him off at, and left town the next day.
Link and Deal, however, think if Bergland had visited their parents that night, it would have made a big impact.
“If he had come home and talked to mom, it would have made all the difference, because mother would have had closure,” Deal said. “My mom never got over it.”

40 years later
Bergland came across the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund Web site, and decided to post memorials on the Virtual Wall for people that he served with.
“When I saw the Web site, I thought I’d post a virtual remembrance for every person that I knew well in my unit,” he said. “We were there so long, there were heavy casualties - sometimes 20 at a time.”
Fred’s is one of the 12 that he has posted thus far. When Link saw it, he couldn’t believe it. After searching for some scrap of information about his brother for so long, he finally found someone who actually served with him.
“When I saw it, it was like God’s given me a gift, and opened a window back into 1968, so I could get all my answers into what happened,” Link said. “And it brings me comfort to know that Eric cared enough to stay with Fred, and that he didn’t die alone.”
Link said he wants everyone to know this story.
“If there’s someone out there who doesn’t know something about a loved one who was killed in action, don’t give up hope,” he said. “I honor Eric so much and I admire him. He’s given us something that’s priceless. He could have chosen to forget what happened over there like so many have, and instead, he decided to honor Fred’s memory.”
And Bergland wants to get to know Fred’s family better. He will be coming to Newton in August, for the Soldiers Reunion parade, to catch up with the Link family. After that, he will be going to a reunion in San Antonio, Texas, with some of the members from his battalion.
“This is the first time I’ve met some members, and I’ve reconnected with others in the past,” Bergland said. “This particular reunion’s been going on for a decade. I think it will be pretty cool.”
Link and Deal are also hopeful Bergland might find someone else who will remember Fred at the reunion.
However, they’re happy enough knowing what Bergland has told them. And although their parents died before Bergland posted his remembrance online, Deal said they know the truth.
“Mom and dad already know, because they’re with Freddy,” she said.


Fred Link (left), sits with Nathaniel Jackson. The platoon members
served together in Vietnam. Jackson was killed about six weeks after Link.


Used with permission of the HICKORY DAILY RECORD
Monday, May 26, 2008
Article by SARAH NEWELL snewell@hickoryrecord.com



Derick S. Hartshorn - 2008
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