Fifty years ago on March 29, 1973, U.S. President Richard Nixon officially announced the withdrawal of the last American combat forces from Vietnam. Although the war continued for two more years until 1975, Vietnam Veterans Day has been observed on March 29th ever since.
There is a small plaque in Vince Ross Square at the corner of Main and Alvarado to honor the nearly 3 million veterans who served in the Vietnam War between 1964 to 1975. However, the plaque does not list the 16 Fallbrook servicemen who were killed in Vietnam. The following list, photos, and additional information was prepared by the Fallbrook Historical Society, using our archives and published casualty reports.
Fallbrook has long had a significant military population living in town. Military families who lived here and entered their children into Fallbrook schools often did not get official credit as being residents here. On the other side of the coin, some veterans who had been born and raised here, but had later moved away with their parents, are sometimes not recognized for their Fallbrook roots.
In the 1960s, frequent news snippets in the local Fallbrook Enterprise of young men entering military training, were being reported alongside wedding notices or bridge club happenings. These were evidence of the military buildup for Vietnam that was occurring. In the late sixties, the news reports took a tragic turn as Fallbrook families were informed of their husband’s or son’s deaths in Vietnam.
John Reed and James Rhodes were both Marine Corps helicopter pilots. Their two young brides with new babies, were both living in the trailer park on Ammunition Road when they were informed of the loss of their husbands within 3 weeks of each other in 1969.
Bobby Galbreath, another Marine helicopter pilot, was awarded the Navy Cross posthumously for his actions under heavy fire trying to rescue several surrounded and wounded Marines. Although originally from Texas, his widow chose to remain in Fallbrook so her 3 children could stay in their schools. Company commander Lawrence Himmer’s widow also chose to remain in Fallbrook with her 5 children.
Martin Canavan and Barre Newton were sons of Marine officers stationed at Camp Pendleton. They grew up in Fallbrook and attended Fallbrook schools. As young adults they enlisted and ended up on the front lines in Vietnam. Canavan was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously for his actions leading his platoon in a ferocious battle.
Older career Marines, passed through Fallbrook alone, or with their families, on their way to war. Anthony Valenta’s son was attending Fallbrook High when the news came that his father had died at Khe Sanh. Franklin Ellinger’s two young sons, living with their mother in an apartment on Ammunition Road, were attending Fallbrook Elementary when they got the news that their father’s truck hit a landmine. Alfred McCants had recently been married on Camp Pendleton, before going to Vietnam.
Destined for a year in Vietnam, Wayne Sapp and James Gaynor left their families behind in North Carolina, but Gaynor impressed his neighbors sufficiently to get a Fallbrook street named for him after his death.
Not everyone received medals, or had a street named for them. Marine rifleman and former Fallbrook High student Dennis Kipp was still only 18 years old when he died in an ambush. Fallbrook native and former student Mark Jenewein was just 19 when he died as an Army helicopter door gunner. Army medic Richard Thompson, had grown up on Aviation Road in Fallbrook where his father worked in an avocado nursery. Air Force Sgt Jack Davis, Fallbrook class of 1964, was shot down over Laos and Marine rifleman Ricardo Villareal was Fallbrook class of 1966.
The only recognition most of them received was to have their names etched in the black marble of the Vietnam memorial wall in Washington D.C.