Virginia HS students honor servicemembers slain in Vietnam
By Mike Connors | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: May 23, 2014
CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Dewey A. Midgett was killed while serving in Vietnam in 1967, a month shy of his 20th birthday.
In late November of that year, Midgett had received a one-day pass from his post. He went to visit a girlfriend in a village overrun by gangs, his sister, Diane, said.
His body was never found. Further, his family endured years of hardship because the Army did not initially consider him dead.
This weekend, a group of Indian River High School students will honor Dewey Midgett and two dozen other soldiers killed in Vietnam.
The students, who are taking Craig Blackman's Advanced Placement American history class, have prepared memorial essays for each of the soldiers that they will read to family and friends tonight during a private ceremony at the high school.
They'll further pay tribute to the soldiers by walking with their families during a public Memorial Day ceremony Monday morning in front of City Hall.
"He's not coming home," Diane Midgett said. "This might be the closest thing we ever get."
Blackman was 14 when U.S. troops left Vietnam in 1973. He was appalled by the poor treatment many soldiers received when they returned home.
"They weren't given the honor they deserved," Blackman said.
Last summer, he found the names of 25 soldiers with Chesapeake school ties who died serving in Vietnam.
He then spent countless hours making sure the soldiers had living relatives. He researched obituaries at the library. He examined marriage records in court. He studied census records. He reached out to Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, historical societies and genealogists.
"Track down every possible lead, and hope for the best," he said.
Blackman, a teacher for nearly three decades, then gave his students the task of learning the soldiers' stories. Through interviews with family members and research, they compiled the essays they will read tonight.
Some students didn't know what to think at first.
"Oh, this is different," Diyonah Contee said.
It wasn't long before the students took to their assignment, though. Beside historical documents, they searched the Internet for information.
"I like the fact that it wasn't just a test," Contee said. "We're writing about people who gave back to their country. That is so commendable."
The assignment also hit home in a way no textbook could. Rachel Cannon's soldier was Ronald W. Jones. A member of the Airborne Division, he was 18 when he was killed by hostile ground fire in early 1970, just a few months after his tour began.
"I'm 17," Cannon said, admiring all that Jones was willing to do at a young age.
Dewey Midgett was 17 when he left Great Bridge High School to volunteer for the Army. He went straight to Vietnam after training. Within two years, he was a decorated soldier, earning two Bronze Stars and Air Medals. One of the Bronze Stars was for the private's work as a "tunnel runner," performing underground missions.
When he had the chance for an honorable discharge, he re-enlisted, his sister said. He was experienced, and if he stayed, that was one fewer soldier who had to come over.
"He was my hero," his sister said. "And still is today."
Despite his accomplishments, the Army initially listed Dewey Midgett as a deserter. It took his parents more than a decade before he was declared dead and his record was cleared.
Diane Midgett, who lives in Kitty Hawk, N.C., goes to Washington on occasion to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and raise awareness about the soldiers who are unaccounted for.
Today, she and her husband, plus a few of her brother's friends, will be in Chesapeake. They will stay for the ceremony Monday.
Her parents have died.
"They would be so proud of this day," she said.