As part of the eighth-annual Reunion Fest Friday, eight individuals were recognized for the service and sacrifice to their country on Friday at the Marshfield Community Center.
It was a significant event because these individuals, all of them Marshfield High School alumni, lost their lives in the Vietnam War. They included Willam Gower (Class of 1951), David Knight (Class of 1961), Jack Bagley (Class of 1963), Rex Highfill (Class of 1964), Alan Ruddell (Class of 1964), Clyde Owen (Class of 1965), Jerry Petty (Class of 1965) and John Hansen (Class of 1966).
"This is the 50th reunion of the MHS Class of 1969, and many from that era served our country," said Lyndall Fraker, founder of Reunion Fest. "Many of them served in the Vietnam War. Well, those eight from Marshfield never came home. I don't know how many people think about that or realize that, but sometimes we forget these things."
With the Class of 1969 being the last class of the decade in the 1960s, Fraker said they felt it was appropriate to have a recognition event in honor of those eight men.
As part of the recognition, family members, friends and classmates came forward to accept the awards on behalf of the fallen soldiers. They included Bill and Darlene Anderson (for Gower), Joyce Carmichael (for Knight), Laurabeth Smith (for Bagley), Charles Lowe and Willa Posey (for Highfill), Lib Sims (for Ruddell), Mary Moore and Doug Owen (for Owen) and Louise Hansen (for Hansen). Petty’s award will be given to his niece at a later date.
One of the recipients, Louise Hansen, said she was in the eighth grade when her brother was killed.
"I was in school when it happened," said Hansen. "My sister had been notified by our pastor from the church, and they came and got me."
While she was too young at the time to recall how she felt about her brother’s death, Hansen said she does remember some fond memories about her brothers, John and Robert, who spent a lot of time with her. She said she was the project for so much "tomfoolery" between them.
"My brothers would tell me they were going to build a sled to hook behind the doggie and I would have to ride on it," said Hansen. "When they built paper parachutes and tossed my cat out the upstairs window, the parachute worked, thank goodness, but it was things like that.”
When asked about her experience with her classmate, Alan Ruddell, Lib Sims said she was good friends with his brother, who was also called to serve.
"I remember saying goodbye to them," said Sims. "It was graduation day, and I remember telling them goodbye. It was such a different time back then, but when you were called to serve, you had to do it."
The monument outside the Webster County Courthouse recognizes all of the Webster County veterans who served in wars. There is also a plaque inside the Webster County Courthouse with the names of those who have served. Among the names are the eight MHS graduates who lost their lives in Vietnam.
Here is a closer look at the eight MHS alumni who served in Vietnam, as detailed in the 2019 Reunion Fest commemorative book:
William Gower served as an Air Force pilot and was killed July 29, 1966. The body of Air Force Captain Billy Ray Gower was found amid the wreckage of his F100 jet fighter somewhere in Vietnam. Officials have notified relatives here that the pilot died of multiple injuries from ground fire while on his third combat mission. He was on his first tour in Vietnam.
The pilot, husband of Mrs. Carol MacArthur Gower, Springfield, and son of Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Gower of Marshfield, was a brother of Mrs. Bill Anderson of 1110 West View. His wife said that her husband began his Air Force career as a Radar Observer before entering flight school.
Gower became a B-47 bomber pilot with Strategic Air Command, where he remained from 1960 until last December when he was transferred to Luke AFB near Phoenix, Arizona for fighter training in the F1000. Gower, a graduate of Marshfield High School, was well known as an athlete and had tried out with a Cincinnati Reds farm team before joining the Air Force. He was a former Southwest Missouri State College student.
David Knight, Springfield, served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army. He was a tank track commander in the 4th Calvary, 1st Infantry Division. Knight died on March 30, 1966. He was reported killed at 7:11 a.m., struck down by fragments in a mine explosion while serving in Vietnam. Knight, a 22-year-old sergeant, was stationed in the Ben Cat area of Vietnam, just north of Saigon.
Jack Bagley, son of John W. And Eleanor Greer Bagley, was born Nov. 7, 1945, in Webster County. He died Oct. 27, 1970, in Vietnam while serving his country in the U.S. Army. He was united in marriage Jan. 28, 1968, to Oma Dean Mendel of Ozark, Missouri. He was a member of the Baptist Church.
Bagley was a graduate of Marshfield High School. Upon graduation from Southwest Missouri State, he was commissioned a second lieutenant. His graduation from pilot school was in February 1970. He had been in Vietnam six months and had been rated a first lieutenant.
A specialist fourth class in the U.S. Army, Rex Highfill was a graduate of the Marshfield High School Class of 1964. He was killed Feb. 12, 1967, in Vietnam. He was married to Peggy Highfill and was survived by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Highfill, Elkland; six sisters, Mrs. Dorothy Buxton, Kansas, Mrs. Marie Romero, Illinois, Mrs. Ruth Clark, Springfield, Mrs. Charles Etta Lowe, Marshfield, Miss Nelvena Highfill, St. Louis, and Mrs. Willa Dean Posey, Springfield; and one brother, Calvin Highfill of Rockford, Illinois.
A specialist fourth class in the U.S. Army, Alan Ruddell was Marshfield graduate from the Class of 1964. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Chester Ruddell, Route 1, Marshfield. On May 26, 1967, Ruddell was killed in Vietnam. He entered the Army in January 1966 and had been in Vietnam 10 months. He was due to come home by July 10, according to his father, Chester Ruddell.
While at MHS, Ruddell was an athlete in basketball, football, track and baseball. He was also a member of the FFA and served on the student council.
A graduate of the Marshfield Class of 1965, Clyde Owen served as an adjutant third class in the U.S. Navy. He was lost in a plane crash in the Bay of Tonkin on Dec. 15, 1970.
Airman Owen was a member of the Mission Chapel Baptist Church of Elkland. He was preceded in death in infancy by a twin sister, Rebecca Ann.
Owen joined the U.S. Navy Nov. 29, 1966, and served in the Far East for two years. He was on extended service on Dec. 15 when, with five other U.S. service members and four Filipinos, he took off in a C2-Greyhound, a courier plane, from the deck of the USS Ranger. The plane never became airborne and crashed within 10 seconds after being catapulted from the deck. Extended search recovered only two bodies and the search was finally discontinued.
A sergeant in the United States Army, Jerry Petty, 20, Marshfield, was reported killed in Japan by the Defense Department on May 8, 1968, due to wounds sustained in Vietnam. He was a member of the Marshfield Class of 1965.
He was survived by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence W. Petty of Marshfield; three sisters, Mrs. D.B. Smith and Mrs. Frankie Dean Henderson, both of Portland, Oregon; and Mrs. Edward Sherrell of Marshfield.
A graduate of the Marshfield High School Class of 1966, John Hansen served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army. He had been in the Army about a year and was sent to the war zone about a month before his death. He was killed Oct. 13, 1968, in Vietnam when his jungle position came under sudden enemy fire.
Survivors include his wife, Betty Sue; his mother, Mrs. Almeda Hansen of Marshfield; three brothers, Charles, Edmund and Robert, all of Springfield; and four sisters, Mrs. Jean Groves, Iowa, Mrs. Dell Berry, Wisconsin, Miss Linda Hansen, Springfield, and Miss Louise Hansen, Marshfield.