William Gary Chandler

At just 24 years old in August of 1972, William Gary Chandler, a captain in the United States Army on his second tour in Vietnam, was killed in combat while serving as an intelligence advisor to Army of the Republic of Vietnam Regional Forces.

 

Bill’s life was much more than his final act.  He was a loving husband, a caring and proud father of two daughters, a thoughtful son and brother to three siblings.  He was a great friend to many in his hometown of Springfield, Pennsylvania and to his fellow soldiers with whom he served.  Dedicated, he was an officer who professionally did his duty with honor and distinction despite his private misgivings about our nation’s involvement in Vietnam.

 

His legacy isn’t defined nor is his story punctuated by his heroic and selfless death.  With character initially forged by his parents William and Jayne, he defined his own legacy through the meaningful life he lived, the people he influenced, and the positive differences he made.  His legacy is the rich and fruitful lives lived by his wife Bonnie and their daughters Samantha and Abigail.  It’s the families and careers each of them made in the years since his tragic death including Bonnie’s third daughter Meredith and, later, her 35-year loving marriage to the late Larry Warren.  It’s Bonnie’s beautiful but brief memories and those of his sister Cherie and brother-in-law Ted, brother Chris, and sister Holly.  It’s the lives and memories of his friends from Springfield and from Team 88, U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam.

 

This page celebrates Bill Chandler’s life and legacy; it pays tribute to his roles as a husband, father, son, brother, friend, soldier, leader, and fallen hero; it memorializes him because we must remember him in his entirety, not just his brief service and ultimate sacrifice.

 

This tribute is for the Springfield community and Bill’s friends and classmates.  It’s for the men with whom Bill served on Team 88 who’ve struggled with their friend’s death and who’ve reflected on their own service in Vietnam for over 46 years. This page is for all Americans, really all humanity, to understand one man’s sacrifice and that of his family. Most importantly, it’s for Bonnie, Samantha, Abigail, Cherie and Ted, Chris, and Holly who think about their husband, dad, brother and brother-in-law, every day.

Bill Chandler’s maternal grandfather, Merrill Hamburg − educator, author, and aviation pioneer and enthusiast – established and operated the Timbers Boys Camp in Alpena near the northern tip of Michigan.  It was at the camp one summer during the 1930s that Merrill and his wife Florence’s daughter, Jayne, met a handsome young camp counselor named William Chandler. The relationship soon developed on the banks of Mullet Lake.

After William and Jayne married in 1939, William entered the military during WWII.  Stationed and living together on an air base in the vicinity of Panama City, Florida during the war, William served in the Army Air Corps while Jayne provided architectural renderings for the War Department.

In 1945, while in Florida, the couple had their first daughter Cherie. After the war, they returned to Michigan and settled near Detroit; it was there, in Mount Clemens, where Bill in 1947 and Chris in 1951 were born.

William and Jayne moved to Springfield in Delaware County, Pennsylvania in the mid-to-late 1950s, taking possession of a pretty brick home at 46 Longview Drive.

Soon after, in 1957, William and Jayne had their fourth child, Holly.  The community with its good schools and their neighborhood with its grassy yards and quiet streets were ideal for raising a family. The older Chandler kids attended Springfield’s public schools and the family attended Covenant United Methodist Church at the corner of Saxer Avenue and Springfield Road.  During this time, Cherie, Bill, Chris, and Holly flourished. Unfortunately, on December 26, 1959, when the kids were just 14, 12, 8, and 2, William suffered a heart attack and passed away.

Faced suddenly with raising their four kids alone, Jayne met the challenge head-on.  Having been imparted with a ceaseless ‘can-do’ attitude from Merrill and Florence, Jayne, a graphic designer, established her own advertising agency. She created architectural renderings at her drawing board and designed advertisements, labels, and promotional materials for Breck Shampoo, Hershey, and other products and businesses.  She painted and lettered signs for businesses and, for many years, she prepared Springfield Township’s annual report. Creative with the ability to articulate compelling arguments and stories, she worked for a time as a speech writer for a Pennsylvania senator.  Jayne was a powerful force who did her part in advancing the influence of women professionally in our society.

Much like her parents, she instilled in her children that they could overcome adversity and achieve anything they wanted so long as they were resilient, continuously worked hard, and tried their best. She encouraged them to be bold and independent.  Jayne’s teachings resonated with her kids including Bill.  Her self-reliance and drive influenced his personality and his direction.

Social and likeable, Bill had many friends.  He was a good friend too, the kind people liked to have.  He was usually up for an adventure and tended to let his mischievous side show. His 6th grade teacher, Mrs.  Sharon Goebel, now Taylor,  said Bill "infused all of those elements of his life with an unfailing cheerfulness, enthusiasm, and above all, sense of humor.  He loved to laugh and did it often." You can read more from Sharon here.  During the same period, he and his childhood friend and neighbor Tim Black called themselves the Maverick Brothers from the ABC TV show of the same name − Bill was Bret and Tim was Bart.  

Although the Springfield Bret and Bart drifted apart in high school due to differing interests, they reconnected later a few times when they were both in the Army.  Tim wrote a little about his friend and about visiting the Vietnam Memorial Wall with his daughters in Daydreams and Diaries, a book co-written with his daughter Taylor.  Another close Springfield friend, Joseph Clark, recalls many antics with Bill as a teenager. His story is available here.

Growing up, Bill had a passion for archery and riflery.  He was a member of the high school’s rifle club and spent a good amount of his time at a nearby range. He was known to be quite a marksman.  His brother-in-law Ted Wilks remembers that Bill liked to be challenged and considered an easy target shot as a waste of a bullet. 

Bill had many interests in addition to target shooting. He adored animals with the family always having a cat or two and, over the years, a number of very loved dogs.  He enjoyed and appreciated music.  Holly remembers him playing Barbara Streisand on his reel-to-reel audio tape player. He was an avid photographer and was often the one behind the viewfinder, rather than the lens side, of a camera. His cameras and his picture taking made indelible memories for many.  

Ted and Bill’s brother Chris recall a story where Jayne’s advertising business and Bill’s shooting hobby intersected.  Jayne had as a client a Media-based company that sold various riot control and protective equipment to police departments.  One day at her home office, two company representatives had a bulletproof vest they touted as impenetrable to any pistol-fired bullet.  Bill told them that it wouldn’t stop a bullet from his gun.  Not asking the caliber of his pistol, the representatives, with confidence, took him up on the challenge.  With the vest propped up against one of the large ash trees behind the Chandler house on Longview Drive, Bill fired two shots from his .44 magnum revolver.  Each round passed through the expensive vest and into the tree.  All agreed the protective vest didn’t meet their original assertions!

While in high school, the township established a public pool at the Springfield Country Club. A strong swimmer with an eye towards an interesting summer job, Bill earned his certification at the Chester YMCA and became a lifeguard at the new pool.  As both a protective big brother and guard, he made his little sister Holly pass a swimming test above and beyond the pool’s requirements before he’d let her swim in the deep diving board area of the pool.

Bill would try to make light of nearly any situation. His classmate Kae Kalwaic (Malinowski) recorded the fun time she had next to Bill during their high school graduation on June 15, 1965. With great humor, she described the night along with many memories from her time in Sabold to Springfield High School in her blog here.  An excerpt of graduation with Bill is here.

After graduation, perhaps looking for both money and adventure, Bill joined the crew of a tanker ship from the Port of Marcus Hook. He worked hard as a merchant marine for about two years, transporting oil along the East Coast.  Later, he’d tell stories and offer the perspectives he’d gathered from that experience.  After his time on the ship’s crew, he attended for a time Millersville State College (now Millersville University of Pennsylvania) in Lancaster County. Eventually deciding that Millersville and college weren’t right for him, with his being drafted likely and recognizing the advantages of volunteering for service, Bill enlisted in the Army on January 15, 1967.

After basic training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and advanced infantry training at Fort Ord, California he attended Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Benning Georgia. 

At OCS, Bill had a chance encounter with his friend and Springfield High School classmate Felix Ciarlo.  Felix describes this event here.  After OCS, in January 1968, Bill was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Infantry Branch.  His first duty assignment was at Fort Lewis near Tacoma, Washington where he served as a counter insurgency/counter guerrilla warfare instructor.

On the first weekend of March 1968, always looking for adventure and ever bold, Bill called the switchboard of nearby University of Puget Sound and asked the operator if she knew where he and three of his friends could find dates for the evening. The operator, also a student at the college, excitedly called her friend Bonnie who had just returned from shopping for Rod McKuen’s new album.  A sophomore at the college and member of Gamma Phi Beta sorority, it didn’t take Bonnie long to find three interested friends.  That night, the four of them went on a quadruple blind date with Bill and the other lieutenants.

Bonnie Jean Monk, the daughter of Gene and Dorothy, grew up on her parents’ wheat farm in Edwall, Lincoln County, Washington, 36 miles from Spokane.  She was the Monks’ fourth child after Sandy, Bill, and Susan.  

While the date didn’t lead anywhere for the other six, Bill and Bonnie discovered some chemistry between them.  It wasn’t long before they fell in love.  In just five months, on August 2, 1968, they married in a military wedding, complete with saber arch to salute the new couple and traditional saber ‘welcome to the United States Army’ for Bonnie, at Fort Lewis’ Evergreen Chapel. 

In October, after Bill received orders to Vietnam and Bonnie withdrew from Puget Sound, they drove across the country to Pennsylvania.  With the intent to save money and create a nest egg over the following year, Bill moved Bonnie in with Jayne and 11-year-old Holly who now attended Sabold Elementary School − Cherie had married Ted Wilks in 1965 and Chris, now 17, lived away at Milton Hershey School.

 After 30 days of leave, two weeks of jungle warfare school in Panama, and another few days with Bonnie, now several months pregnant, Bill departed for his first tour in Vietnam on December 19, 1968.  In a letter to Bonnie, typed by her and available here, he wrote a moving account of his thoughts and feelings on his first flight to the war.

Upon his arrival in country, which was during the region’s comfortable dry season, Bill was assigned as a platoon leader in the 6th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, at a fire support base four miles from Dong Tam in the Mekong Delta.  As an infantry platoon leader in a rifle company, Bill would have led approximately 35 enlisted men.  He and his platoon sergeant would have led their platoon on offensive and defensive operations from their firebase, usually as part of a larger company or battalion-sized operation.

 

Bill often expressed his thoughts and feelings about his disdain for the war he and his men were sent to fight, his love for his family, and his concerns and hopes for the future through poetry.  One of his poems from this time period follows:

Off to a war.

I really know so little about.

It’s five years into running

time seems to be on its side; endless.

 

Off to war.

Hand in hand,

Rifle in one and strength in the other.

Wondering, and not wanting to belong.

 

Off to war.

I go because of my father and his forefathers.

A wish having been long established,

A wish that someday, God granting,

My son won’t have to.

 

I am an American -

A proud American

After only about a month in the 6th Battalion, on January 15, 1969, the very day he was promoted to first lieutenant, Bill was wounded, receiving shrapnel to his left arm from a booby trap detonated nearby.  Initially assessing his wound as significant and that he’d endure a long recovery, the Army evacuated him back to the States and sent him to its Valley Forge General Hospital in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. 

Whether it was Bill’s faster-than-anticipated recovery or the fact that he had a very pregnant wife just 45 minutes away, Bill was released from Valley Forge in time to be with Bonnie on February 16 when she went into labor and gave birth to Samantha at Delaware County Memorial Hospital.

Due to his injury, Bill’s tour in Vietnam with the 9th Infantry Division was curtailed. Instead of returning to Vietnam, he received orders back to Fort Lewis. The Chandlers, along with their dog Max, were at Lewis for about a year and during this time, Bill was promoted to captain. 

Although he wasn’t pursuing a career in the military (he jokingly said to Bonnie in a letter that he wanted to have 25 kids and raise dogs as a living) he did want to eventually become a field grade officer and maybe have an assignment for their family in Europe.

 

In addition to his promotion to captain at Fort Lewis, with anticipation of interesting and intellectually stimulating assignments that didn't involve walking through rice paddies, Bill transferred from Infantry to Military Intelligence (MI). 

Bill’s transfer to MI resulted in his reassignment from Lewis to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) with duty at the Pentagon.  On his way there, he attended MI training for several months in the spring and summer of 1970 at Fort Holabird in Baltimore, Maryland. Bonnie’s fond memories of those months with Bill and little Samantha was of frequent trips to the beach.  Given they were jut a few hours drive to Springfield, living in Maryland allowed occasional visits to visit Jayne, Holly, and Bill's lovable German Shepherd Dama.

Done with training at Holibird, Bonnie , Bill, and Samantha, moved to Hillcrest Heights, Maryland, just southeast of Washington, DC for Bill’s assignment with the DIA. Meanwhile, life was changing for the Chandlers back in Springfield. ​

After graduating high school, Bill’s brother Chris was drafted into the Navy in 1970.  Chris recalls a conversation between the Navy recruiter and his brother where Bill explained that Chris was partial to getting seasick and, if destined for sea duty, needed to be on a very, very large ship.  Chris attributed that conversation to his being made an aircraft sheet metal, hydraulics, and flight control technician on an aircraft carrier − skills that led him work in the aviation field for his duration in the Navy and then as a Navy civilian until he retired.

In 1971, Jayne married her longtime friend and widower Lyle Reeves at a ceremony at Covenant United Methodist Church.  Lyle, his first wife Jean, and their sons Jeff and Bob, lived on Locust Avenue in Springfield, the next street over from the Chandlers.  The Reeves were family friends of William and Jayne and then moved to northern New Jersey in the 1960s.  A few years later, Jean died of cancer.  Through the move and the passing of their spouses, Jayne and Lyle remained friends.  The year after they married, Jayne and Holly moved to New Jersey to join Lyle and his boys and then, in 1973, after Lyle retired, they moved to South Casco, Maine on Thomas Pond.

While Chris eagerly learned about repairing aircraft and Jayne found renewed personal happiness, the same wasn’t true professionally for Bill.  He did not enjoy serving at the DIA and Hillcrest Heights was not to their liking. Bill sought something better for both himself and his family away from the DC area.  Additionally, he wanted to be promoted to major and believed, probably rightly, that he needed the experience and credit of a full combat tour to be on par, competitively, with his peers.  Finally, he made the reasonable prediction that, if sent to Vietnam as an MI officer, he’d likely serve on a staff in a battalion or brigade headquarters rather than have a direct combat role like he did as an infantry platoon leader.  For these reasons, in consideration of his and his family’s alternatives, he volunteered to serve again in Vietnam with follow-on orders to West Germany​.

After approximately a year living near DC, with Bonnie pregnant again, trepidation about Bill’s upcoming tour and their pending separation, and excitement about their growing family and the adventures they were sure to have in Europe, Bill and Bonnie left Hillcrest Heights.

With Bonnie and Samantha settled in Spokane close to her parents, with his camera and cassette tape audio recorder packed in his duffle bags, Bill began his second tour on January 26, 1972.

When he arrived that late January day, U.S. troop levels in South Vietnam were approximately 133,000, down from the 1968/1969 peak of about 549,000.  As the number of U.S. forces rapidly decreased, President Nixon’s plan was to strengthen the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) to make it capable of independently defending its country.   Given the troop reduction and this policy known as Vietnamization, Bill was not assigned to a traditional U.S. Army organization, instead, he was assigned to the joint-service Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, known as MACV. 

MACV was tasked to advise the Vietnamese government in regards to security and to assist their military in a variety of ways to bolster their capability.  Operationally, it was divided into teams assigned to either ARVN divisions or to geographical provinces.  The teams, organized to align with both the civilian and military functions of local government, were co-located with and were supported by their South Vietnamese counterparts. Bill was assigned to MACV’s Advisory Team 88 in the Kiến Hòa, later called Bến Tre, Provence located in, as was the case in his first tour, the Mekong Delta region.  Kiến Hòa was at the time comprised of nine districts and its capitol, the provincial city of Bến Tre.

Headquartered in Bến Tre, Team 88 had been led for over three years by a retired US Army lieutenant colonel, Albert L. (Buck) Kotzebue, who was a well-respected leader and experienced veteran of WWII.  Mr. Kotzebue, the Provincial Senior Advisor, was skilled at building and maintaining complex relationships and fostered trust both within his team and with his ARVN counterparts.  During Bill’s time in MACV, Mr. Kotzebue’s deputy was Lieutenant Colonel William H. Tausch, Jr., a veteran of Korea and the epitome of the classic tough professional infantrymen. 

 

Bill was assigned to the provincial team located at the Team 88 headquarters.  As the team’s S2 advisor, he provided intelligence support meaning he gathered reports and information from various sources, did independent analysis, and provided what he knew and thought about Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army strengths, weaknesses, activities, and objectives within Kiến Hòa and its surrounding area.  He was also responsible for gathering and analyzing information collected and passing it up to his Delta Regional Assistance Command headquarters.

Districts had Team 88 elements with District Senior Advisors, normally majors, in-charge tasked to directly support each district’s chief, usually an ARVN lieutenant colonel.  The ARVN operating in the Kiến Hòa districts were, for the most part, lightly armed Regional Forces.  Within the Regional Forces (RF) there was a local-level segment called Popular Forces (PF). Collectively, the RF and PF were often referred to as Ruff-Puffs. 

 

Although Bill’s regular place of duty was within the tactical operations center at the Team 88 provincial compound, it was not unheard of for him and others from the province team to be required to go out to the districts for various reasons.

 

District-level advisors, conversely, directly participated in tactical operations and civil projects, literally alongside the ARVN and civilian counterparts.  In the Delta, these operations were always on foot or, especially during the rainy season, by small boat known as a sampan.

Bill became friends with several of the others serving on Team 88 both on the provincial team at Bến Tre and out in the districts.  Just some of them were Captains Mike Delaney, Dave Godby, Ed Blankenhagen, and John Haseman.  Junior officers all, these young men grew close as they served together.

 

While Dave Godby passed away in 2001, the rest have vivid and fond memories of their service with Bill.

 

To illustrate Bill’s genuine authenticity, Mike Delaney described him much the same as did Bill’s teacher Sharon Taylor and his high school friend Joe Clark.  Mike remembers Bill as “...a great comrade. Conscientious, smart, curious, and gregarious with a wickedly mordant sense of humor.”  Mike said that he, Bill, Dave Godby, and the others would routinely gather in the evenings in Bill’s quarters and solve the world’s problems over board games.  According to Mike, Bill had a fine baritone singing voice.  After all this time, he can still hear him singing "Old Man River" at the top of his voice in the team shower room.

Like back at home, Bill was always behind a camera and was quite a capable photographer. His professional style Mamiya RB-67 camera was ever-present.  He sent many photos home, in slide format, to Bonnie.

 

He continued to capture his thoughts, moods, and feelings through poetry and letters. His writing expressed his deepening dissatisfaction with the nation’s policies in Vietnam.

In one letter, he wrote, “There should be no wars − especially the kind of war we are engaged in at the present.  If I honestly felt I was helping someone, or had won something for someone I’d have a different attitude, but as is, we’re fighting and killing and being killed and at the end of the day, what do you have?" Despite his views, he took his oath of office seriously and, as a sign of his character, he carried on and did his duty with great professionalism.

Although he sent letters back to Bonnie, he preferred recording his messages and sending cassette tapes.  Bonnie found his deep calming voice soothing as she tended to life in Spokane, raised Samantha, prepared for Abigail’s arrival, and generally worried about him.

On May 16, 1972 with Bill somewhere on the Mekong Delta, Abigail did indeed arrive!  Around Independence Day, the Army allowed Bill to return to Spokane for 10 days on paternity leave.  It was a blessed visit where Bonnie and Bill, together, cuddled their new daughter and embraced and played with now 3-year-old Samantha.  

Bill hated to return to the war, especially this war, but his mid-tour rest and recuperation (R&R) leave with Bonnie in Hawaii was right around the corner.  The anticipation of that trip, the love for their daughters and each other, and their mutual excitement for what life brought them after his tour ended in January gave them the resilience to say goodbye.

Unfortunately, Bill returned to a worsening tactical situation in the province that would ultimately lead to his fate. 

On August 6, a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regiment crossed the My Tho River and infiltrated Kiến Hòa's Ham Long District.  One battalion of the regiment was assigned to occupy the pro-government village of Tan Loi.  Characterized by its prosperous market and bustling activity, the village was located in the northwest of the province along the Tan Loi River approximately 5 km west of the Ham Long District compound; itself about 15 km from Bến Tre.  Over the next several days, the NVA battalion closed-in on Tan Loi with its ground and mortar assault beginning at 2:00 A.M on August 11.

 

According to an October 6 letter written to Jayne from Lieutenant Colonel Tausch, the enemy force had, except for radio communication, completely cut off the village.  Throughout the day on August 11, Tan Loi barely held off the attackers from its hastily established defensive positions.  Its 49 defenders, a mix of PF, Rural Development Cadre, police, and People's Self Defense Force militia all led by the village chief determinedly fought against the vastly more powerful NVA battalion. Their only external support came from two 105mm howitzers located at the district compound that provided steady indirect fire on that first day against the attackers.  Without reinforcements, it was only a matter of time before the local defenders succumbed to the superior strength of the NVA. 

 

Ham Long District Chief Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Van Son, responsible to defend the entire province including Tan Loi, was compelled to quickly coordinate a relief effort. Unbeknownst to him at the time, two other battalions from the NVA regiment had his district headquarters compound as their immediate objective.  The District Chief desperately needed the tactical air, communication, other support, and the general boost of confidence that came with a Team 88 advisor; however, his district’s team had been closed and consolidated with others in May as part of the US draw down.  Because of the urgency, Mr. Kotzebue would need to immediately appoint an ad-hoc advisor to the threatened Ham Long District.

 

Possibly because of his infantry background, his training, his brief combat experience as a platoon leader three years prior, or just a sense of confidence in him by the Provincial Senior Advisor, despite his normal role as the team S2 advisor, Bill was chosen.  Likely to personally introduce him to Lieutenant Colonel Son and to acknowledge the gravity of the situation, Mr. Kotzebue either accompanied Bill to or met him at the Ham Long District headquarters.  Temporary as it may have been, as the district’s new advisor, Bill would, of course, accompany the relief force to the beleaguered Tan Loi.

According to Mike Delaney, Mr. Kotzebue personally took a photograph of Bill that late afternoon prior to his leaving the compound with the relief force.  Bill, clearly ready to go out the gate, is sitting on his helmet, holding the handset to his most important weapon − his AN/PRC-77 radio that sits on the ground next to him.  He’s geared-up for combat with two smoke grenades hanging from his load carrying equipment suspenders and a bandolier of ammunition visible around his chest.  His 9th Infantry Division patch on his right shoulder indicating he wasn’t new to the Delta and knew the dangers ahead. Despite his sunglasses, you can see he has a resigned expression on his face; he seems to have accepted the day’s turn of events that brought him to Ham Long.  His head is slightly turned to the right and he has a pondering gaze into the distance.  With the wedding ring placed on his ring finger by Bonnie clearly visible, one can only guess at his thoughts that moment.

As the senior advisor, the only advisor, Bill was with the headquarters element, surely walking with Lieutenant Colonel Son himself on the planned 5 km tactical movement to make contact with the besieging enemy at Tan Loi. While the main body, likely a mix of Regional and Popular Forces, moved on the elevated road initially heading northwest from the Ham Long compound, as standard practice, Son would have deployed security on the flanks in the woods and rice paddies.

 Slightly over 1 km out of the compound, just after crossing the little Tre Bong bridge, Son’s force was ambushed from the cover of trees from its left.

The element Bill was with came under intense small arms and rocket fire.  According to Lieutenant Colonel Tausch, at approximately 5:00 P.M., Bill − husband, father, son, brother, and friend to many − was killed instantly by a high explosive shell.  After the attack, and under pressure from the enemy, Lieutenant Colonel Son was forced to withdraw back to the compound. 

First assisted by the ARVN's 9th Division two days later and then reinforced by the district once the 9th Division relieved the enemy pressure on the Ham Long compound, the battle for Tan Loi continued until August 24 when the NVA regiment, badly damaged by tactical air strikes and artillery, finally withdrew across the Mekong River.

After Bill's body was brought back to Ham Long and evacuated to Saigon, he was brought home to the United States. His remains are buried at Willamette National Cemetery, Portland, Oregon.

Bill’s death was a shocking personal loss to so many including his teammates.  During the current tours of his friends, up until the spring and the recent NVA incursions, it had been relatively quiet within Team 88’s province with no team members killed.  After the memorial service at Bến Tre held on August 13 by the team’s Chaplain David Golden, Dave Godby and Mike Delaney, two of Bill’s close late-night board game mates, drove his personal effects to Saigon for shipment to Bonnie.  Mike says it remains the saddest drive he’s ever made.

William Chandler Medals Earned

If his death was shocking to his friends struggling back in Kiến Hòa, it was truly devastating to Bonnie.  Her partner and lover was gone.  Samantha, just 3 1/2 and Abigail, only 3 months would never know their dad.  No adventure in Europe or after the Army, no growing family, no growing old together. 

The pain for Jayne in losing a son was palpable as it was for Cherie, Chris, and Holly.  Jayne and Cherie had their husbands Lyle and Ted for comfort and Chris could bury himself in his work in the Navy; Holly, however, just 15 and a junior in her new high school in Maine, struggled with the loss of her oldest brother.  Her pain is quite raw still today.

 

His death had the most impact on Bonnie, Samantha, and Abigail of course. Bonnie, and perhaps little Samantha too in a different way, grieved.  Although they eventually came to acceptance, sadness and despair persisted.  Bonnie lost the future she expected and Samantha and Abigail were denied everything that goes along with losing a parent as a child.  More than four decades later, their sense of loss lingers.

Over time, Bonnie’s mourning tapered off.  She had to rise up, raise her kids, and figure out where her life was going. Having just turned 24 before Bill died, she was young and full of potential.  

The 1970s progressed and she began exploring relationships again.  She married David Ehlers, also a veteran of the Vietnam Conflict, and in 1976, she had a third daughter, Meredith Ehlers. They divorced in 1981.

On April 9, 1983 she married Larry Warren, a pastor in the United Methodist Church.  With Larry came her two step-kids, John and Anne.  Also in 1983, having left Puget Sound after her second year when she married Bill, she earned her undergraduate degree in sociology/religion at Whitworth University in Spokane.  Her growing faith led her to study, and to earn her Master of Divinity degree in 1987, at Vancouver School of Theology.

Bonnie pastored different United Methodist Churches in Washington including serving as a co-pastor with Larry at Renton First United Methodist Church.  In 2013, after studying at San Francisco Theological Seminary, she earned a Doctor of Ministry and became a Reverend Doctor in the Church.  To care for her ailing Larry, Bonnie retired as the pastor at Mason United Methodist Church in Tacoma in 2015.  Unfortunately, Bonnie was faced with another heartbreaking loss when Larry passed away in 2017. 

 

After retiring, still wanting to serve, Bonnie continued as a visitation pastor at First United Methodist Church of Olympia until 2018.  She has a reflective blog called Honestly Now and spends time with her kids, both biological and step, and grand-children whenever possible. 

Samantha’s and Abigail’s lives are dedicated to education. The women that they became, and the families they nurture are Bill’s and Bonnie’s direct and joint legacy.  By extension, Bonnie’s career in the United Methodist Church, Merry’s birth, life, teaching career, and three children, Bonnie’s marriage to Larry, and her relationship with John, Anne, and their families are also tied to Bill, his desire to have a better life for his family, his commitment as an officer, and his selfless sacrifice on the road to Tan Loi. 

Growing up, Samantha had a passion for theater and, after drifting away, rekindled it after playing Julius Caesar in a community theater production in the late 1990s.  A middle school teacher, she also co-founded The Olympia Family Theater.  She balanced these for a few years and then focused solely on managing the theater for four years.  She then took on an adjunct faculty role at St. Martin’s University in Olympia and then went back to teaching language arts at Nova Middle School in Olympia.  Today she shares her talent and love for the theater by directing the school plays and one show per year at The Olympia Family Theater.

Samantha married her wife Irina Gendelman, a professor at St. Martin’s. Together, they have a foster daughter Leah.

Like Samantha, Abigail also pursued a career in education, and then school administration, eventually becoming the principal at Carson Elementary in Puyallup, Washington.  She is married to Lenissa Grover.  Abigail has two sons, Tristan and William Gabriel Chandler.  Besides education, their family passions are travel, concerts and watching basketball - particularly the Seattle Storm!

Bonnie’s views of the war in Vietnam were jointly held by Bill when he was alive.  Hers, compounded by his death as a result of that war, intensified through the years.  Bonnie raised her kids as pacifists − to abhor war and the resolution of conflict through violence.  Perhaps more than Abigail, Samantha struggled to come to terms with the circumstances of her dad’s death, the risks he took, and the decisions he made that put him back in Vietnam when, in her eyes, it was not necessary.

 

Bill’s daughters couldn’t have known that his friends and teammates from Team 88 waited with him in anticipation and excitement for news of Abigail’s birth and the safety and wellbeing of both mom and daughter.  That they wished him safe travels when he eagerly went back home for paternity leave and welcomed him back fourteen days later, telling him it wouldn’t be long before he saw Bonnie in Hawaii.

 

In a way that Bill could never have imagined, the proximity of his bunk to that of teammate Brian Valiton in their living quarters would have a profound effect on his daughter over two decades later. 

 

Brian, also a captain, was the Province Engineer Advisor and spent most of his time off the compound focused on engineering projects across the province.  Because of this and because Bill worked in the tactical operation center, neither seized the opportunity to get especially close to the other. 

 

He bunked next to Bill from Bill’s arrival until he left for Ham Long with Mr. Kotzebue that August day.  There were only partial plywood walls between the men so tuning-out one's neighbor was the only way to provide privacy short of leaving. 

 

Although not listening to the words, Brian would hear Bill most every night after curfew quietly replay the latest cassette he received from home. It was plain to Brian that in the middle of that war, Bonnie’s and little Samantha’s voices both inspired and comforted him.  Brian recalls that when a new recording arrived, it put Bill into great spirits the next day.  Already such an enthusiastic and friendly person in the mornings, listening to his family seemed to put him in overdrive.

 

Single at the time, once Brian had a family in the 1980s, the voices of Bonnie and Samantha and the comfort it brought to his long lost bunkmate came back to him.  Brian felt the need to find Bill’s daughters and share this information.  It wasn’t until the Internet that he was able to finally find and contact Samantha in the 1990s.  A special relationship was formed between them that allowed her to understand her father in ways she previously didn’t know.  Brian was able to describe Bill’s obvious love for both wife and daughter by the peace he achieved from listening to their voices.  Like the way her and her mom’s voice brought her dad peace so long ago, learning this from Brian brought her peace as well.

 

Bill Chandler died but his legacy lives on. His story didn’t end in Ham Long.

 

May 2019

Richard Debany

Springfield American Legion Post 227

Acknowledgements:

 

This version of Bill Chandler’s story could not have been told if not for the information generously shared by the following people via phone conversations, e-mails, and text messages from January to May 2019:

 

  Bonnie Chandler-Warren

  Samantha Chandler

  Abigail Chandler

  Chris Chandler

  Holly Cook

  Ted Wilks

  Tim Black

  Joseph Clark

  Felix Ciarlo

  Kae Kalwaic

Sharon Taylor

  Ed Blankenhagen

  Mike Delaney

  John Haseman

  Brian Valiton

 

The operational and tactical information related to the August 1972 attack and defense of Tan Loi and the Ham Long District headquarters compound comes from The Battle of Tan Loi: Vietnamization at Work by John B. Haseman, published in Vietnam Magazine, August 2004, and from other information gathered from Mr. Haseman

Additional thanks to:

 

  • Walt Maxwell for facilitating contributions from his and Bill's Springfield High School class of 1965 classmates.

  • Georgine Slattery,  Jennifer Kozak, and David Tatum for their combined effort resulting in Georgine's October 2003 Upper Darby High School Vietnam War research paper on William Chandler.  Inspired by and under the guidance of teacher and two-tour veteran of Vietnam Mr. Tatum, Georgine wrote the story largely built on the research done by student Jennifer Kozak the prior year.  The story and the information she included provided much of the foundation from which this research started.  

  • Bill Smeck and Bill Lewis, Springfield American Legion Post 227, who gathered the initial information on William Chandler, including Ms. Slattery’s paper.

 

  • Bill Clark, Springfield American Legion Post 227, who coordinated much of the information received from William Chandler’s family and classmates.

 

  • Warren Debany, Jr, Bonnie Chandler-Warren, Holly Cook, John Haseman, and Brian Valiton for editing draft versions in whole or part.

 

Every effort was made to accurately, and with sensitivity, tell Bill Chandler’s story. If you identify an inaccuracy, please contact The Springfield American Legion Post 227.