Note: This blog post is about my husband’s uncle, Bill Dutches, who lost his life in Vietnam. It contains an on-going excerpt written by his brother, Frank Dutches, along with edit and input from Brenda Dittfield, Peggy Barrios, and George Dutches, William (Bill) Dutches’ siblings. This excerpt was written and is intended to appear in the book, The Helmet, which is currently being written by friends of Bill Dutches. I’m posting this in his honor and to celebrate his memory.
Bill’s helmet was discovered and has been in memorabilia collections around the world. It eventually settled in Canada. The collector did, in fact, get in touch with Bill’s sweetheart, BettyLou, who had possession of the helmet. She has since returned it to the collector in Canada where the helmet currently resides. The collector’s intention is to visit Bill’s birthplace in Hawthorne, New Jersey, on Flag Day, 6/14/21 (covid permitting) to learn more about the young man, his life, his family and the town he grew up in. The family will then receive Bill’s helmet.
I decided to publish this post on my site to showcase Bill Dutches’s love for country and family. To this day, Bill Dutches is esteemed and beloved by all he touched – his family, friends and his community. He was a true testament to family, integrity, courage and honor.
Please note this blog was not publicly posted on my website. I’m sharing this story privately in my husband’s uncle’s honor.
Our Brother Bill
We grew up in an Irish Catholic family with six kids; three boys and three girls: Diane, Brenda, Billy, George, Peggy and Frank. There was a twelve year age spread from oldest to youngest. Our parents Bill and Helen brought us up with family and faith at the center of everything.
The Early Years
During the first few years of Billy’s life the family lived with our grandparents the Adderley’s at 282 Lincoln Ave in Hawthorne New Jersey. Brenda remembers their time there; both Billy and George were born there. She remembers her and Diane and Billy playing in the snow in the backyard. She also remembers that Billy was born one day prior to her first birthday. She could never quite understand for the next couple years as young kids, how come Billy’s birthday came before hers even though she was older.
In 1948 with a fifth child on the way, Peggy, our parents built a new house at 127 Kingston Ave in Hawthorne New Jersey. It wasn’t a long move as you could walk though the backyards to our grandparents. It was a small three bedroom one and a half bath Cape style home. So with six kids and our parents in the house; to say we grew up close is probably a bit of an understatement. This was the homestead for the Dutches family; this is where Billy and all of us grew up. With six kids it wasn’t always calm and peaceful. There were arguments over any number of things or some made up game like the shoe fights , boys against the girls using the stairway going upstairs as the throwing area. But there were a few things that always brought everyone together, Sunday dinner around the dining room table, cooking out and relaxing under the stately oak tree in the backyard during the summer and holidays with the family.
Kingston Ave was a middle class neighborhood or maybe by todays standards lower middle class. No one had money but everyone enjoyed a pretty good life, it was a simpler time. It was a great street to grow up on, there were more kids than you could count. In just four houses on our side of the street, the Brogans, Newby (Birds), Dutches and Mastertons there were 17 kids. The Brogan and Dutches families being the Irish Catholics each had six. As Brenda and Peggy remember there were always kids outdoors playing some game. The boys were always playing a game of something on the street or going up to Lincoln School to play stick ball or basketball. Billy enjoyed sports especially baseball. George remembers Billy was a really good baseball player. He played for St. Anthony Reds, the premier little league team at the time and later for Ray Rhodes Agency in the JD league. While playing on Rhodes he got to play teams in the Paterson league, a bit tougher competition including playing against the likes of future major leaguer Johnny Briggs. Billy was a Brooklyn / LA Dodger fan; George thought it was because Grandpa Adderley took him to Ebbits field to see the Dodgers play.
The story of Kingston Ave isn’t complete without the Brogan / Dutches family connection. We were close growing up and still maintain those ties to this day. Age or schools created some natural friendships; Corky and Diane, Jim and Bill, Ron and George, Mike and Frank. The mothers, Rita and Helen always helped each other out and provided a sympathetic ear when needed. And Mr. Brogan (Leo) would love to kid Ma (Helen) about her over packing for trips, asking if she brought earmuffs to the Jersey shore just in case it got cold. Jim and Billy however were the closest of friends, they played together, they worked together and on more than a few occasions they got in trouble together. They were alter boys together and they nearly burned down the Brogan’s garage sneaking around smoking cigarettes together. They went to Dom Bosco together and got thrown out together; they joined Omega Gamma Delta fraternity together and worked at Kodak together. They traveled to Bermuda together and ultimately they both joined the Marine Corps.
The Middle Years
Life at 127 Kingston Ave was never dull; Diane and Billy often added to the excitement. They were known on occasion to sneak out after Dad went to bed, pushing the family car down the street before starting it up, then drive to Viola’s Pizza in Paterson. I’m sure on nights like this there were some conflicts between their better angels and the devil on the other shoulder; the devil had his share of wins. On another occasion Billy alone was sneaking out, climbing out the bedroom window assisted by George only to fall crashing to the ground. As he looked up there was Dad.
Christmas in the Dutches house was full of tradition. The tree was always a real tree with some ornaments dating back to our father’s childhood tree. Dad insisted that the tinsel had to be put on one stand at a time so it would hang straight. Christmas day would be at our house and there would be relatives over with the standard fare of music by Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Orchestral Organs and Chimes playing in the background. Peggy remembers one year Billy brought home a Johnny Mathis Christmas album. From then on it was added to the Christmas tradition
Money wasn’t something that you were handed in the house , it was something you had to work for. Brenda recalls not seeing much of Billy during their high school years because they went to different schools and they always had some kind of a job. Peggy remembers Billy and George always working, delivering newspapers, caddying or getting up early on snowy days to go shovel driveways and coming home with pockets of money while she would finish shoveling at home and our neighbors and her reward was cake from Mrs. Newby, nice but it wasn’t pockets full of money. Billy worked hard but as he would admit he knew how to spend it better than save it. Peggy remembers he spent some of that money on special Christmas gift one year, a poodle stuffed animal that was her favorite toy.
In George’s words “ Billy, my brother, my teacher. Most skills that I learned came from Billy and Jim or one of the other 4 Dutches kids or the other 5 Brogan kids. We were a close knit group through many years and adventures. I learned many job skills following Bill from job to job. I took over for him first, from his paper route, then caddying, to the supermarket and even a short order cook. I always looked up to my brother and loved him for all he taught me, and how he treated me like an equal and a friend. I felt this even more when he had me inducted into Omega Gamma Delta fraternity, a highly sought-after membership by most people. I was lucky to have a brother who was so well respected, leading the way for me. “
Billy joined Omega Gamma Delta Fraternity, Iota Chapter while at Dom Bosco along with Jim Brogan. He later transferred to Beta Chapter when he moved to Hawthorne High. The fraternity was an important part of his high school years. Most of his closest friends were fraternity brothers, much of his social life centered around the fraternity. He was well respected within the fraternity. In 1964, his senior year he was voted by his fellow brothers to receive the Andrew F. Milne Brother of the Year Award. As an aside George still has Billy’s pledge paddle.
Billy’s high school years were school, work, Omega and Betty Lou. Bill and Betty Lou made a great couple and he loved spending time with her. I (Frank) remember while he was still in High School taking me to the Hawthorne Theater with Betty Lou. In those days you walked to most places, so we walked from Kingston Ave to Central Ave to meet Betty Lou then to the theater on Lafayette Ave (my guess about 20-25 minutes). We saw “The Longest Day” and had some popcorn. I was really happy to spend some time with my big brother.
The Marine Corps Years
No one is quite sure why Billy joined the Marine Corps; but Peggy seemed to think it had something to do with a JFK event he attended in Paterson and JFK’s “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”. Whatever the reason, he made the choice and was proud of it. We were all proud of him, and maybe a little worried as well. When he graduated from Boot Camp at Parris Island our parents drove down. I (Frank) was 10 at the time and lucky enough to go with them. I’m not sure we made it to the entrance to the Garden State Parkway (about 10 miles) before my father was ready to put my mother on the side of the road. He could have a heavy foot, it was pouring rain and she tried to offer helpful driving instructions from the passenger seat. She eventually closed her eyes and settled into saying a rosary and all was well. Those were the days before I 95 so this was a multiday trip. My father had a friend from work who’s son was a Marine officer so he made arrangements locally for us. Being on the base was exciting. But seeing Bill in his uniform and watching him graduate was a thrill. My parents were proud of him but also just happy to see him and spend some time with him. Twelve years later I would put on that Marine Corps uniform following in the footsteps of my big brother.
After Parris Island he was stationed with the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune. Whenever he could get any leave or a 96 hour pass he would make his way home usually alone but occasionally with a friend. They would either catch a ride with someone on base or just hitchhike in uniform, in those days it worked pretty well. He would stop in to see the family then off to see Betty Lou. But he would make sure he and Betty Lou would be home for Sunday dinner.
Bill was a reasonably prolific writer of letters home, keeping the family informed of where they were and where they were going and how he was doing. Well in 1965 his battalion was supposed to be on a Caribbean Cruise (Marine Corps type cruise not pleasure cruise) with some training in Panama. Instead of Panama they ended up in Santa Domingo when the fighting broke out. This was the first time the family had to deal with reality of knowing the real thing and not the movies; Billy was in harms way. In one of his letters he talked about his friend Rowe, who he brought home from Lejeune one weekend, he was hit and seriously injured. All we could do was keep sending letters and prayers back to him. He appreciated both.
When he was home on leave after Santa Domingo, George remembers the conversations they had about how bad combat can get. He encouraged him that when the time comes enlist rather than get drafted and to go into the Air Force or Navy and learn a skill, anything but the infantry. That is message that he repeated throughout his time in Vietnam. And although not the Air Force or Navy, George did enlist in the Army went to communications school which led to a good career with the phone company.
In the Fall of 1965 his company boarded ships again, this time headed to Europe for an exercise and training in Norway. The cruise did have some good liberty ports in England, Ireland, Germany and Sweden. The letters from here were fun to read because he was seeing new and exciting places. Peggy remembers he bought her a small bottle of perfume while in Europe which she treasured and kept for the longest time.
After getting back to the states he eventually got orders for Vietnam. Before he shipped out he had leave and spent the time at home with the family, seeing friends and spending lots of time with Betty Lou. George had gotten a car and gave it to Billy to use for most of his leave, George was back walking again. Brenda remembers Billy and Betty Lou visiting her in Midland Park. Brenda has a great picture of Billy and Betty Lou in front of her Christmas tree holding her daughter Susan and Diane’s son Billy.
In early 1966 he left for Vietnam. He spent time in Camp Pendleton for training. As soon as he got to Pendleton he called home looking for Jim’s address so they could connect before he shipped out; and they did. In March of 1966 after training was complete at Camp Pendleton he flew to Vietnam by way of Okinawa. He was assigned to G Company 2nd Battalion 9th Marines on the perimeter of the Da Nang airbase.
While in Vietnam he continued his habit of writing home as often as practical. He tried to keep the family informed without making everybody worry too much. Although he talked about the miserable conditions where they were stationed especially the heat, he never dwelled on it. He talked about the patrols and sweeps they would go on. He would also talk about how he was doing what he could to make sure the men in his fire team and their equipment were ready when they went out; he took this responsibility seriously. His letters were most often focused on the family at home. He wanted to know how Ma and Dad and his brothers and sister were doing, how Diane and Brenda’s kids were doing and how their families were growing. He gained an appreciation for the simple things from home that he missed, sitting in the shade in the backyard, drinking an iced tea or a cold Ballantine while something was being cooked on the grill. In every letter his love for his family came through and in spite of where he was and the danger he faced it was always the family that was in his prayers. There was one letter that stood out from the rest, it was sent to Dad, not to be opened by anyone but Dad. In it he was wishing him a happy birthday but more importantly he wanted to share what it was really like on the ground but not wanting to worry Ma any more than she already was. It wasn’t sent because Billy was thinking of himself but rather to make sure Dad stayed on George to make sure he didn’t find himself in the infantry in Vietnam. He was looking out for his brother. Most of us never saw that letter until years later. Letters were important, as long as they came regularly you knew Billy was OK, when there was a break everyone worried a little more. Billy loved all the letters he got from home from everybody. In one letter he talks about a funny birthday card he got from Diane, he said my big sister always made me laugh and she still does. He and his fire team also appreciated the regular care packages our father would send; his favorites were canned ravioli, peperoni and anything that could make the water taste better. He was always grateful for all the prayers sent his way.
June 14, 1966, Flag Day
The day Billy was killed was the saddest of days in the Dutches family. He was just 21 years old and had already spent two birthday in combat on two different continents.
George was home by himself, it was an off day during high school graduation week. When the front doorbell rang his worst fears were realized. At the door, was a catholic priest and a Marine Corps officer. After he recovered from the shock, he had to contact Ma, Dad and Betty Lou. Later he would pick up Peggy from school and break the news to her. Three weeks later George would leave for Boot Camp at Fort Dix.
In the days that followed our house was a never ending flow of family and friends and neighbors stopping by to pay their respects, offering condolences, prayers and Mass cards. Mayor Louis Bay and Monsignor Brestel came by. At the end of the day it was the strength of the family and our parents unshaken faith that allowed everyone to hold together one day at a time.
When Billy’s body was returned home he was accompanied by a Marine escort, Ray Ramirez. The wake was held at Scanlan Funeral Home in Paterson. The number of people who came by was overwhelming. The Bishop came by which gave our parents great comfort. The brothers from Beta chapter of Omega Gamma Delta came by in their fraternity sweaters. The Holy Name and Rosary Societies were both there for the saying of the rosary. Between afternoon and evening viewings, it would be back to Kingston Ave for something to eat. Diane with her sense of humor and cutting wit would try to keep things light only to go home at night and cry herself to sleep. Billy was buried at Maryrest Cemetery with Military Honors. To this day, the playing of Taps is an everlasting reminder of that day. Over the years our parents would regularly visit the grave site say a prayer, attend to the ground around it, place flowers or wreaths on it depending on the time of year. Today Ma and Dad also share that grave site and Brenda has taken on the task of looking after it and placing the flowers or wreaths.
Billy was a good man, a good Marine, a good friend, a good brother and son who gave his life in the service of his country. He was blessed with many friends, a family who loved him and he loved. He physically left us much too soon but his memory will always live on in our hearts.
They say, A man who has friends is a rich man indeed. Billy was certainly rich with friends. Friends that never forgot all these years later. Friends like Jim Brogan and Leo Fiorilla who led the efforts to have Kingston Ave also named LCPL William G Dutches Way USMC, dedication of a bench in his name at the Hawthorne Library and a plaque at St. Anthony’s school in Billy’s honor. And all the friends that have shown up at these events to remember and honor him.
Jim Brogan’s newest book “The Helmet” is a labor love on Jim’s part that will share a story of the friendship that has lasted 70 plus years.
Billy’s memory also lives on in the book Small Town – Big Sacrifice by Paul Chepurko.
As we grow older memories of individual events fade away, get blended together or get forgotten all together. The above thoughts and memories of our brother Bill are the combined recollections of Brenda, George, Peggy and Frank. If Diane was around there would surely be more stories to tell; instead her and Billy are looking down laughing and sharing stories together. We thank Jim for the opportunity to share our thoughts and quite frankly be reminded of them as we talked through our respective memories. Although some of the individual moments may have faded, Billy’s memory never will. He will always burn brightly in our hearts and minds.