New book: 'The Boys of St. Joe's '65 in the Vietnam War'
St. Joe's grad tells the story of fellow Vietnam veterans
NORTH ADAMS — Seventeen chapters. Ninety thousand words. One hundred twenty photos — all in 30 months, or less, from conception to publication.
But the book "The Boys of St. Joe's '65 in the Vietnam War" by North Adams native Dennis G. Pregent is more than the summation he light-heartedly gave in a phone interview on Thursday. It is a compilation of the stories of 11 young men who served in Vietnam — and a female classmate who protested the war — from the Class of 1965 at St. Joseph's High School in North Adams.
Pregent, now of Garner, N.C., grew up in the Greylock section of North Adams and attended St. Joseph School in North Adams. When he was in fourth grade, he moved with his family to the town of Adams, but remained at St. Joe's (as it was called) since it was a regional school. He said he decided to enlist in the Marine Corps in the middle of his senior year, adding, "My parents weren't happy." On Feb. 1, 1965, he entered basic training at Parris Island, S.C. He went on to serve two tours and was discharged in 1971. He then attended North Adams State College (now Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts), graduating in 1975 with a business degree. He left North Adams in 1977, not returning until his class' 50th reunion.
"The book was an evolution that was triggered by the 50th class reunion," Pregent said. "It got me thinking about my military service and wondering who else [from the class] had served."
He contacted the class historian, Carol Bleau Boucher, and asked for a class list and started calling people. "There were 140-plus in the class and of the 66 boys in the class, 43 of them had some type of military service due to the draft."
[The U.S. Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 required all men between the ages of 21 and 45 to register for the draft, in which their birth date was assigned a number drawn in a lottery. The lower the number, the greater the chance of being called into military duty. It was activated in 1969 to accommodate the United States' escalating involvement in Vietnam.]
"I called everyone on the list," Pregent said. "I went on the internet and combed the class lists. So many had served, or had sacrifices. The people I talked to were so cooperative. I told them I was writing a testimonial, but it became so much more than that. I chose 11 of the most compelling stories and added a war protester."
The 11 servicemen Pregent chose to feature, ages ranging from 18 to 24 during their service, were Mike Gorman, Russell Roulier, Joe Daigneault, Ron Racine, Pat Lupo, Leo Chaput, Mike Chalifoux, William Buzzell, Gary DeMastrie, Jim Luczynski and himself. Seven enlisted in the Army, three in the Marine Corps and one in the Navy. All served in Vietnam sometime between 1965 and 1972, "during the war's most fearsome years," Pregent noted.
"In high school, we typically had four or five friends, none of them best friends, but good friends. We had been together for 12 years [at St. Joe's]. I didn't hang around with them in school, but I knew them all," Pregent said. He added that close friends Daigneault and Roulier had joined the Marine Corps under the buddy program. "They were best buddies; each family's other son. They were together during basic and combat training, and in Vietnam in the beginning, then they were separated."
"Not many of us knew where Vietnam was or what was going on politically," Pregent said. "We were all patriotic — all our dads were World War II veterans — and we all believed in the prevailing 'domino effect' theory, that if one country fell to Communism, others would follow. We also knew we weren't going to go to college, so we made the choice and went into the service."
Pregent said he added the story of a war protester at the suggestion of a former Marine Corps member, who was going over the military aspects of the book. "I didn't know of anyone, so I texted Carol," Pregent said. "She texted back, 'LOL. I was a protester!' She knew everyone in the book and was connected to everyone." He added she also had been almost engaged to a young man, John "Bootsie" Hartlage, who was killed in action in March 1968.
"She saw the coffins of the servicemen coming back from Vietnam every night on the television news," Pregent said. "But when her friends started dying, she started protesting."
Of the 11 young men from St. Joe's, Pregent said, Roulier was killed in action, and Daigneault and Gorman were seriously injured — Daigneault was left with a permanent injury to his right arm and Gorman was paralyzed from the waist down — and the others were all disabled due to parachute hard landings, PTSD, gunshot wounds or exposure to Agent Orange, an herbicide used to defoliate the jungles of Vietnam.
The men were highly decorated, earning four Bronze Stars, a Navy/Marine Corps Medal, five Combat Infantrymen's badges, three combat action ribbons, more than 10 air medals, four purple hearts, many unit citations and a number of Vietnamese and U.S. commendation medals.
"I wasn't surprised about what I heard had happened [to the young men] in Vietnam, but I was surprised by what hard lives some of them had had growing up with difficult dads. I was also surprised by their resilience and how they worked around their hard lives. Two or three had jobs and also went to school," he said. "Resilancy is a theme for everyone in the book. They came back from Vietnam, and lived their lives and became strong contributors to society."
Pregent said he hopes readers of the book are able to relate to the 11 young men and the woman protester. "How they dealt with adversity and came out of it. It was happening in all the small towns across the country — young men were being sent off to war and were being hurt or killed to fight for what they thought was a worthy cause."
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.