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Interactive Map: New Jerseyans Who Lost Their Lives in the Vietnam War

Almost 3 percent of Americans who died in Vietnam were from the Garden State's villages, towns, and cities

Monday is Memorial Day, and this year, which marks the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, seems like a good time to remember New Jerseyans who died in the conflict.

The National Archives is the custodian of details about those who were killed; the data originates with the Defense Casualty Analysis System. It includes information about 1,487 New Jerseyans who died in Southeast Asia between 1960 and 1975. (This information is also available online via an interactive database.

The United States' involvement in the Vietnam conflict began with small numbers of advisers and military seeking to defend South Vietnam from attacks from the communist-controlled North. It escalated in 1964 with the Tonkin Gulf Resolution following an attack by North Vietnamese on a U.S. warship. Eventually, more than a half-million soldiers were deployed. The war, and the draft that helped provide enough troops to fight it, was unpopular at home. American troop withdrawals began in 1969, but fighting continued. In April 1975, the fall of Saigon marked the end of the war.

The Defense Casualty Analysis files contain the names of 58,220 U.S. military personnel who died in the war, beginning in June 1956. Almost 3 percent of those who died were from New Jersey. They give a picture of the young men and one woman -- Eleanor Grace Alexander, a 27-year-old Army nurse from River Vale, one of only eight women listed as killed in Vietnam -- who died:

  • New Jersey's Vietnam dead were young, with an average age just over 23 years old. Twenty-six were 18 years old. The oldest was William John Zalewski, a 51-year-old Marine from Clifton.
  • Almost six in 10 were regular military personnel, about three in 10 had been drafted and the rest were military reserves. Those percentages mirror the national data.

  • Some 62 percent were Army soldiers, about 29 percent were Marines, with the remainder split between Air Force and Navy personnel.

  • They held 185 different titles, but most of those who died were infantrymen (469) and riflemen (214).

  • More than half of New Jersey's municipalities lost at least one son. The largest number of casualties were, not surprisingly, from some of the state's biggest cities: 110 were from Newark, 58 from Jersey City, and 51 from Trenton.

  • Less than a quarter were married. Almost half were Catholic. About 85 percent were white.

  • Some 96 percent died in South Vietnam, but about 60 were killed in North Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand.

  • About 30 percent of the casualties, a plurality, occurred in 1968 at the height of the fighting. The first death was in August 1960 of 29-year old Richard Edward Stephan, a Navy chief petty officer from Pennington. The last to die was Robert Charles Davis, 38, an Air Force major from Burlington, on May 2, 1975.

  • While most of the deaths were directly attributable to the conflict -- 1,046 were listed as killed in action -- about 17 percent were listed as other causes, including accident, illness, and suicide. The three most common causes of death accounted for about 60 percent: small arms fire, grenade, and explosive device.

  • The remains of about 3 percent of the dead were never recovered.

New Jersey has a memorial dedicated to the state's Vietnam veterans in Holmdel. There will be a memorial service there on Monday at 11 a.m.

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