William Charles Fitzgerald
|William C. Fitzgerald|
Fitzgerald as a midshipman
January 28, 1938|
Montpelier, Vermont, USA
|Died||August 7, 1967
Co Luy, Vietnam
|Service/branch||United States Navy|
|Years of service||1956 - 1967|
National Defense Service Medal
Vietnam Service Medal
Republic of Vietnam Campaign ribbon bar
|Other work||USS Fitzgerald is named in his honor.|
William "Bill" C. Fitzgerald (January 28, 1938 - August 7, 1967) was a United States Navy officer who was killed in action during the Vietnam War, while serving as an advisor to the Republic of Vietnam Navy. He received the Navy Cross posthumously for his role in fighting off a Viet Cong attack.
Fitzgerald was born in Montpelier, Vermont, the second child and first son of Louis and Mildred Mary Fitzgerald. His father was a career Navy man who retired as a Chief Petty Officer. Fitzgerald grew up in the local area and graduated from Montpelier High School in June 1956.
Following graduation, Bill followed in his father's footsteps and enlisted in the United States Navy, As an enlisted sailor, Fitzgerald served in USS Samuel B. Roberts (DD-823), USS Hugh Purvis (DD-709), and USS Gearing (DD-710). Fitzgerald also served with Utility Squadron Six at NAS Norfolk, Virginia, while working on the Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter (DASH) program.
Fitzgerald excelled in naval education, softball, football, fencing, basketball, and tennis.
Service as a commissioned officer
Midshipman Fitzgerald graduated and was commissioned in the United States Navy on June 5, 1963. He then reported to the destroyer USS Charles H. Roan (DD-853), where he rose from "boot ensign" to weapons department head.
Following Roan, Lieutenant Fitzgerald reported to Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, California, where he attended counterinsurgency training. Upon completion he was assigned duties as the senior U.S. advisor at Coastal Defense Group Sixteen in Vietnam. This group's compound was located adjacent to the village of Co Luy, near the delta of the Tra Khuc River, and about 70 miles southeast of Da Nang. In this position, he advised the Republic of Vietnam Navy on defense measures and on the capture of military supplies and contraband destined for Viet Cong forces.
At about 0300 on August 7, 1967, Coastal Defense Group Sixteen's compound came under vicious attack by two Viet Cong battalions. The assault began with an intense mortar barrage followed immediately by the advance of troops. Fitzgerald, the senior American commander, immediately ordered a retreat of the civilians within the compound. Because of the compound's location adjacent to a river and the aggressors' position, the only escape route was via water in small boats.
Lieutenant Fitzgerald and three others delayed their retreat as long as possible in order to provide covering fire and to direct fire from surrounding friendly forces. Many calls were made to orbiting gunship aircraft, artillery units, and Fast Patrol Craft to provide defensive fire. The Viet Cong attack, however, was swift and well coordinated. It soon became apparent that the South Vietnamese forces were decimated and that the American bunker was the sole remaining source of resistance. As the situation deteriorated, Fitzgerald ordered his last three remaining defenders to retreat while he used arms fire to cover their escape. Fitzgerald was mortally wounded in this action.
Awards and legacy
In honor of Lieutenant William C. Fitzgerald's loyal and selfless dedication to his people, he was posthumously awarded the U. S. Navy's second-highest decoration for valor, the Navy Cross. Additionally, he was awarded the Purple Heart, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign ribbon bar.
Lieutenant Fitzgerald was survived by his wife Betty Ann, and their children who continued to reside in and around Montpelier, Vermont.
The United States Navy ship USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) is named in his honor and was sponsored by his wife.