On February 13, 2020, our Cacti Association friend and brother-in-arms Fred DeWitt passed away from a heart attack.
Fred was a loyal member of the Association, and he and his wife, Phyllis, attended many of our reunions. What follows
is a summary of an article about Fred from the Wheat Ridge Transcript in Jefferson County, Colorado, Feb 5, 2009, by
Ryan Parker, with photos by Emily Mehring.
Those two words hold the most meaning to a Vietnam veteran, said Frederick DeWitt of Lakewood.
Everyone he meets who fought in Vietnam with him has always made the two-word exchange.
"They are all that needs to be said," DeWitt said.
Dewitt, a retired Army captain and middle and high school teacher of 21 years, still does substitute teaching because
he couldn't bear being away from today's youth.
DeWitt taught history, economics and psychology at three schools.
Although he suffered great loss while in the war, both a limb and friends' deaths, he said he is greatful for every
moment of life and the faces he has seen in the classrooms and at home.
Sitting on his brown couch across the living room from his wife, DeWitt, who was 27 when he went to Vietnam in 1965,
calmly straightened his posture and said, "OK, what do you want to now about the war?"
He began by explaining that the country of Vietnam is beautiful, a place he would have liked to return to one day under
"Sgt. Johnson," he murmured. "Sgt. Johnson was the only guy I lost."
His eyes swelled up and he said, "Have you ever fallen and hit your knee on the ground and the skin didn't break, but
there were red marks, indentations? Well, Sgt. Johnson stepped on a landmine and had those marks on his entire body, but
there was no blood."
While waiting for a chopper to transport Johnson, DeWitt repeatedly told his friend he would pull through the injury. He
knew Johnson was shocked that it had happened and was badly hurt, but he didn't think that would be the last time the two
would ever speak.
"He died. They worked on him for a few moments I was told, but he died," he recalled. A piece of metal, a third the size
of of a dime, pierced the sergreant's chest, catching the corner of his heart, causing it to hemorrhage.
While in combat in Vietnam Fred lost his right arm from a friendly fire incident when a shell from a 155-mm Howitzer
exploded in the trees above his platoon. "I was the one who was injured the worst," he said. There was no self-pity,
hate or anger after the incident. His wife said, "I don't think I've ever heard anything bitter about Vietnam or the
President (Lyndon Johnson)". Fred added that losing is arm never hurt, "... and maybe that's why I never had a hard time
with it. I do everything I want to do, always have."
When Fred recovered and returned to the states, he became a survival assistance officer for the Army. "I drove my own car
and would go to homes of men who had been killed in action and inform the family of the loss. I still have the speach
memorized." Phyllis said, "I think it helped those families a little to have the news come from Fred. They could see that
he had lost something in the war too."
While in Vietnam Fred was exposed to Agent Orange, and as a result he contracted chronic lymphocytic leukemia cancer in
later years. Fred said, "As far as cancers go, I always said that I got the best one." He stays as healthy as possible
and has a checkup every six months.
One of the most meaningful surprises of Fred's life was that when he retired from teaching in 2005, his Summit Ridge
Middle School students gave him an American flag which had flown over the USS Arizona Memorial at the exact date and time
that he lost his arm in Vietnam.
In an essay for a scholarship application about a person who had inspired her, a student wrote about Fred, "He didn't
care about what anyone else thought. He still marched to the beat of his own drum."
"My experiences are my own, and I don't want people doing something because of my choices", Fred says of students who ask
him if the military would be right for them. "I always tell people two things: I will always tell you the truth and you
can ask me anything you wish. If there is something I can do to help you, I will."
RIP Fred DeWitt, from your Cacti brothers.