“The first thing I saw was the Marine Corps car”

The doorbell rang on Thursday morning, May 16, 1968, at the Fitzmaurice home. It was 6 AM, but Michael was already awake. He was always up very early sitting in his favorite chair. he was always up very early and his favorite chair. He was spending a lot of time in that chair because sitting up was the only way he could partially relieve his labored breathing. On oxygen, and in the advanced stages of emphysema, Michael wasn’t able to stray too far from his chair. Lubitza too, was up early preparing breakfast for husband daughter, Ellen, who busy typing lesson plans for her student teaching sessions that she had scheduled for the day. Despite a busy morning household, visit at this time of day we’re certainly a rarity.

Ellen got up to answer the doorbell. “The first thing I saw was the Marine Corps car through the window and my heart sank. I opened the door to see a Marine standing there in his Class A uniform. He announced himself as Lieutenant Dial and asked to speak to my father. I pointed him over to Dad’s chair.” The Marine turned sharply and headed over to where Michael Fitzmaurice was seated. He stared at Michael for a brief moment before a deep breath to deliver the words, “On behalf of the Commandant of the Marine Corps I, deeply regret to inform you that your son has been killed in combat operations public of South Vietnam.

The words seemed to hang in the air for an eternity, as Michael turned and gazed at his wife, the silence only broken when Lubitza began to weep bitterly at the loss of her son. When Ellen began to cry the rest of the house awoke. “Timmy was killed,” Ellen sobbed to Jack as he came into the living room. The words stopped Jack and he fell to the floor. He had fainted upon hearing that his brother was dead. Ten-year-old Maureen came out from her room to see her family in complete despair and began to cry as well when told that her big brother was gone from her life. Jack was able to gather himself long enough to crawl back to his bed to dissolve in tears. Grandma and grandpa had heard the commotion upstairs and open their door to see the Marine Corps vehicle parked in front of the house. At the same time, their daughter, Lubitza, was collapsing down the stairs to tell them that her Timmy was gone. “You had to know Grandpa, Ellen recalled. He was very gregarious and demonstrative man. When he heard that Timmy had been killed, he let out a cry that our neighbors would have had to have heard. When I saw him in that much pain I began to cry even harder. Lieutenant Dial offered to go and help Grandma and Grandpa deal with their grief after he had listened to Grandpa’s loud cry.”

Although chaos reigned all around him, Lieutenant Dial stood steadfast in his resolve to inform Michael and Lubitza about the coming arrangements to get their son’s body back to Chicago and ready for burial. Ellen Fitzmaurice held her young sister, Maureen closely to her, rigid, listening while the Marine continued his anguished duty. Maureen Fitzmaurice’s childhood was dissolving with every word uttered by the young Marine officer. “Lieutenant Dial took very good care of our family,” Ellen said. He previewed the details of the funeral service; he gave us his home phone number; he warned us that a telegram would be arriving shortly confirming Timmy’s death. I remember Dad saying that he hoped that this was all a big mistake — until that telegram arrived later in the day.” The family’s devastation only deepened when they were informed that Tim had been dead for a week.

Excerpt from the book SMILE ON YOUR BROTHER – A FAMILY STILL HEARS THE ECHOES OF VIETNAM by Austin J. Nicholl with permission of the author, available on Amazon.

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