WEYMOUTH – Joseph Tallon only knew Daniel Richards for a few hours in 1972, but those are the last hours of Richards’ life in the last days of American involvement in the Vietnam War.
Tallon was the pilot of an Army Reconnaissance OV-1 Mohawk and Richards was his spotter. The mission would be Tallon’s 66th and the last for both. They were shot when they were barely off the track. Richards was killed, Tallon was seriously injured after being thrown from a too low plane.
Four decades after the war, Tallon still had an obligation to fulfill, to ensure that Richards received the recognition he was due for being fatally wounded in combat: the Purple Heart Medal.
“I ran into so many dead ends. He and his family deserved it. They needed it,” Tallon replied when asked why he had pushed so hard to get the medal for Richards. “His cousins didn’t even know he was on a plane when he died.”
The story is part of the new book “100 Days in Vietnam: A Memoir of Love, War and Survival”, which Tallon wrote with his son Matthew Tallon, from Weymouth. The book will be released by Koehler Books on June 15, but is available for pre-order. The front of the book was written by retired Army Lt. Gen. HR McMaster, a former National Security Advisor.
The quest for the medal was also something Tallon had to do for himself.
“I have never lost a man in combat, except Daniel,” he said. “I replayed this mission 10,000 times in my head. I did everything to save him.”
It was not a simple task: the army had qualified the accident as an accident. Tallon said he believed he was shot down by a handheld surface-to-air missile. It happened so close to their airfield near Da Nang that Tallon landed in razor wire on the perimeter of the base.
Tallon said he believed it was an accident because his missions were classified as top secret or top secret and it was not about alarming fellow pilots on the base at a time when the American ground troops were leaving Vietnam.
Once the medal was approved, it was Tallon’s responsibility to track down Richards’ family, who had grown up in Detriot, and bring it to them. With the help of his wife, Martha Anne, and son Matthew, they were able to reunite with Richards’ cousins and hold an introductory ceremony.
After a long recovery and the end of his active duty days, Tallon became a high school social studies teacher in his native South Carolina and joined the reserve, ending his military career as a lieutenant colonel. He told some of his war stories to his students, who encouraged him to write a book.
The book is written in diary form, with reports filling the context of the war at large. Tallon made the first version from memory and by hand. He then used the daily letters he sent to Martha Anne, some of which are reprinted in the book, to help organize it. He was in Vietnam for their first wedding anniversary.
From handwritten pages to publication, the project spanned 12 years.
The book shows that even in the midst of a war, there is a lot of mundane routine. Tallon was given the thankless task of managing the base’s fleet of vehicles, which was filled with vehicles that constantly broke down.
And soldiers have found ways to have fun during their off hours, like the cockroach races described in the book.
For Matthew Tallon, working on the book with his father was revealing, since his father didn’t talk about his experiences in Vietnam.
“We didn’t know his stories about growing the military,” said Matthew Tallon, who, along with his brother Josh, became an army officer.
Matthew Tallon wrote the section on the effort to get the Purple Heart for Richards. One of his last jobs in the military was to edit and present awards.
“He’s the real hero of the story,” Matthew Tallon said of Richards.