Pa. town honors Navy vet listed as missing since going overboard off North Vietnam in 1967
By DAVEEN RAE KURUTZ | Ellwood City Ledger, Pa. | Published: June 1, 2019
MONACA, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — Bob Weismantle never met James Francis Tritt.
But on May 24, he shed a tear for the man who never got to say goodbye to his hometown.
Tritt died on the USS Bon Homme Richard in the Gulf of Tonkin off North Vietnam in July 1967. A second-class petty officer in the Navy, Tritt, days shy of his 25th birthday, was landing aircraft at night when he went overboard.
His body was never recovered. He's one of four Beaver County veterans who never came home from the war that Weismantle, 72, of Conway, is determined to honor.
"These are guys who joined the service to fight for our freedom," Weismantle said. "They just never came back."
A Navy veteran who served on submarines in the Vietnam War, Weismantle said it has become a mission to give a proper goodbye to those four Vietnam veterans from Beaver County who are still missing in action 50 years later. They are among the 1,592 U.S. military men still MIA from Vietnam, said Weismantle, a local delegate to the Vietnam Veterans of America.
Two missing Vietnam veterans have been honored already, with plans for two more, Weismantle said. On a rainy day in September, a group of veterans honored Cmdr. Doyle Lynn along West Wade Street in Hopewell Township.
"I don't know any of these people," Weismantle said of the local veterans he's working to honor. "When the Vietnam veterans no longer exist, these guys would no longer exist."
On May 24, Monaca officials and a group of veterans gathered at Blaine Road to honor Tritt with a street marker. Borough officials were pleased to help Weismantle honor a local veteran who was killed and missing in action.
"It seemed like the right thing to do, to honor those who gave their all," said borough council Vice President Chris Shotter. "It all comes down to instilling hometown pride in those who contribute to our borough, through public, private or military service to continue building a better Monaca."
Borough Manager Mario Leone called Tritt's service "the ultimate sacrifice."
"It was such an honor to have a small part in making this memorial for a dedicated Navy veteran that never had the opportunity to return back to his hometown of Monaca," Leone said.
Weismantle said he hopes to continue his mission. Before the end of 2019, Weismantle hopes to recognize John Straley of Big Beaver and Jan Nelson, who lived in Aliquippa before moving to Florida.
Then it's off to Butler, Lawrence and Washington counties to honor their MIA veterans.
"I just hope that one day, someone looks up at the street sign and asks 'who was that?'" Weismantle said. "Their memory will live on."
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