Fitch Class of 1963 remembers two fallen classmates

courtesy Jim Streeter Johnie Blount in his 1963 Fitch High School yearbook photo and in his fatigues, in a photo from the Vietnam Virtual Wall website, www.virtualwall.org

Groton - Marguerite Blount Mootry used to talk to her brother from time to time. She would tell him she knew the Lord doesn't make mistakes, that he was in a better place, but that she wished he'd had kids.

Johnie Blount, a graduate of Robert E. Fitch High School, Class of 1963, died July 4, 1966, in Vietnam. He was 21.

"I loved my brother," said Mootry, 67, of Virginia. "I worshipped the ground he walked on."

So it brought tears to her eyes when she learned that his class had chosen to mark its 50th anniversary with a plaque dedicated to those who graduated from or attended Fitch and had died serving their country.

The class will present the plaque today to the school and the Board of Education in memory of Blount and his classmate Drew Fiedler, who also died in Vietnam. Both were athletes. Blount played football and the fieldhouse is named for him. Fiedler swam, and a scholarship is given annually in his memory.

"They were just great guys," said Town Councilor Jim Streeter, a member of the Class of 1963 and coordinator of today's ceremony. "And if you stop and take a step back, they were kids when they got killed."

"We have a saying that we used quite a bit during the Vietnam era: 'You are not dead until you are forgotten.' And what this does is, it means we're not forgetting people."

Fiedler, who had been drafted into the Army, died Oct. 12, 1968.

Mootry and four family members, including Blount's mother, 85, are traveling from Virginia and Maryland to attend the ceremony at 1:30 p.m. in the school auditorium. Two of Fiedler's relatives also will attend.

A representative of every recent military conflict - World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan - also is expected to be there. A class representative will read the names of the 30 people from Fitch who have died in service to their country.

Football player

Mootry was in high school when she learned her brother was joining the Marines. They had moved to Connecticut from Texas a couple of years earlier with their father, who was in the Navy.

She said she begged her brother, the oldest of three and the only boy, not to go. She'd heard that bad things happened to young black men in Vietnam; that "they could be injured, but as long as they could walk, carry a rifle, they would go out into the field."

She didn't want anything to happen to him.

"He always threw out that he was the oldest and I was going to mind him because he was protective," she said. "But I was more protective, because I used to fight his fights. He wasn't a fighter."

Blount joined up in 1963, right after graduation. Mootry said she saw him play football a few times at the Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune.

"I know he would have made the pros," she said.

Blount went to Santo Domingo before Vietnam, his sister said.

He wrote home from Vietnam, saying that he was sleeping in the mud, that the water was waist-deep, that there was a black market. He never wrote about the fighting, she said.

In April 1966, he was shot in the head, Mootry said. She doesn't know whether the bullet just grazed him, but he didn't come home wounded. He stayed with the troops.

"I used to write and tell him, 'Please, please. Complain about headaches,'" she recalled. "'Come home. You're wounded.' But he wouldn't."

Then, on July 6, 1966, Mootry said, her mother called her at work. Mootry was married, had a baby, and was processing claims at an insurance company in Norfolk, Va., when she picked up the phone.

"As soon as I heard her voice, yelling and screaming, I knew," she said.

Sign of respect

It took about two weeks for her brother's body to return to Dover, Del. A fellow Marine escorted it to a funeral home and stopped at the house.

He looked just like her brother, Mootry said. He told her that black men were out front on the lines.

"I remember just like it was yesterday," she said. "And then he was getting ready to go back over there. And I said, 'If that's what they do, why are you going?'"

She doesn't know what happened to that Marine.

Mootry said she wasn't told exactly how her brother died, but she heard some stories. She didn't try to hear more.

She has yet to go to the Vietnam Wall memorial in Washington. "I just don't want to do that," she said. "It just still hurts me."

So Mootry talked to her brother at times, over the years. Her daughter went on to run track for Fitch, and she wishes he could have met her, because he would have been proud.

Mootry said she's touched that the Class of '63 would care and respect him so much to honor his memory.

"It is so heart-warming," she said. "And I know my brother's looking down and smiling."

d.straszheim@theday.com

From left, Drew Fiedler in his 1963 Fitch High School yearbook photo and in his fatigues.
courtesy Jim Streeter From left, Drew Fiedler in his 1963 Fitch High School yearbook photo and in his fatigues.
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