WILMINGTON — Vietnam veteran John Allen Rich finally received the heroic recognition he deserves over 50 years after his death, thanks to fellow Vietnam veteran and acquaintance, Fred Shine.
Shine was friends with John Allen Rich’s sister, Charlotte, in high school, and was an acquaintance with John because of his friendship with his sister.
According to Shine, John Rich married his high school sweetheart, but shortly after their marriage, they separated. Soon after their separation, Rich was drafted into the military service, serving with the U.S. M.C. Field Artillery. John A. Rich was killed in action on Aug. 25, 1966. Rich was the first soldier from Wilmington that was killed serving the country during the Vietnam War.
Because his divorce was not finalized, Rich’s estranged wife was listed as his “sole survivor” and next of kin. For unknown reasons, his estranged wife refused to claim his remains, so he was claimed by his parents, who had moved from Wilmington to Mesa, AZ. Rich’s remains were buried in Arizona until the passing of his father.
When Rich’s father passed, Rich’s remains were exhumed and moved to Wilmington so he could be buried at Wildwood Cemetery with his father. However, there was no Military Marker at his graveside, stating his heroism for serving his country.
Wilmington resident Shine, who also served his country on two tours in Vietnam for the U.S. Navy. Upon returning from duty, Shine was faced with the reality that many Vietnam veterans experienced. Shine realized the entire country, including his hometown of Wilmington, had a negative attitude toward returning Vietnam veterans.
Shine had several friends, including John Rich, that never returned from their tour of duty in Vietnam, and was shocked by the response he received when he asked about a Memorial for his fellow Vietnam veterans.
Shine was told by a former town selectmen, who was in office at the time of Shine’s return from Vietnam, that “Wilmington does not need any monuments to Vietnam. We need to forget that time in history, and let it go away.”
Shine could not “let it go away,” and was determined to right this wrong in the country’s history. Shine raised money himself, and arranged for beautiful Military Monuments to be placed on four of the five Vietnam War soldiers buried in Wilmington.
But, Shine was faced with many roadblocks trying to get a Military Marker for the fifth soldier, John A. Rich. For years, Shine tried to solve the problem of obtaining Rich’s “DD24” (Military Discharge Papers). But they could only be obtained by Rich’s estranged wife, who was unwilling to cooperate with Shine.
Without Rich’s discharge papers, Shine was unable to cut through the government red tape in order to get a Military Marker for Rich’s grave site.
Year after year, Shine was pained to see Rich’s grave site overlooked on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. When flags and flowers would be distributed to other Veteran’s monuments, Rich’s grave site was missed because his was an unmarked grave.
After years of frustration trying to obtain Rich’s Military Marker through proper channels, Shine took matters into his own hands.
Using money he won from participating in a golf tournament last year, Shine bought a bronze plaque for Rich’s grave site.
Shine said, “I set that money aside, fully intending to do something good,” adding, “I have always considered myself very lucky, for if the cards were dealt differently, I could very easily have been in one of those graves.”
The bronze plaque arrived last week, and was installed in the Field Of Crosses, by the Wildwood Cemetery, the very next day.
Shine continues to keep the memories alive of all of the lost Vietnam War veterans by speaking on their behalfs at local schools. Shine has visited the Wilmington High School for the past 11 years, and the Shawsheen Tech for the last four years, ensuring students know the sacrifices these young soldiers made for their country.