Monday, May 27, 2013

The Face of Memorial Day

Today we celebrate our freedoms and realize the great cost.  This is a day of mourning and gratitude.  The faces of Memorial Day should not belong to actors, actresses and personalities who are spending their holiday happily grilling steaks or offering mega-deals for cars and furniture, under the guise of “Happy Memorial Day!”  Somehow we have lost our way, with this sacred holiday.  Memorial Day is a day for those who died in service of our country.  Here is a face to help us re-focus on what this day is really about:

Meet Paul Phillip Sonstein who was born March 26, 1946 in Pleasant Hill, CA.  Paul’s Army Vietnam tour began October 10, 1967 as an infantryman in Charley Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, the 199th Light Infantry Brigade (aka “Redcatchers”).  A little over four months into his tour, on February 21, 1968, he died from two head wounds, in Gia Dinh Province, South Vietnam.  He was 21.  On this Memorial Day, we also remember the 741 souls from the 199th who died in Vietnam.

We learned of Paul’s story through one of his best friends, and TOP participant—good friend to Paul and Vietnam veteran Wallace Woolfendon (pictured below with TOP in a leprosy village, not far from where he served).

Wally shares about Paul, “He and I went through basic together right from the beginning when we ‘stepped forward’ at the Oakland Induction Center and a sergeant started yelling at us since we were no longer citizens.  We were separated after graduation; Paul went airborne on the promise of ‘no one jumps in Viet Nam’, washed out of jump school because he broke his leg on a hard landing, and found himself in the 199th.  During the Tet Offensive his outfit was operating around where my unit was camped near Long Binh and Bien Hoa and a battalion of the 199th was then sent to Saigon.  He was obviously with them.  We corresponded; then the mail stopped.  When I returned home, I dropped by my parents' place where I had my mail sent, picked up the mail and went through it.  The last letter I had sent to Paul was returned, stamped ‘Deceased’.  I knew in my gut what happened.  I pocketed the letter and told no one about it.”

Wally has been in touch with Paul’s family.  (The meaning of Memorial Day is understood by all who lost their loved ones).  A member of Paul’s family told Wally that, "For nearly 30 years we never really knew how Paul was killed.  Paul was reported as MIA Feb 21, 1968 but in reality was recovered that same day and delivered to a local Viet Nam morgue for processing and ID-ing.  The ID wasn't confirmed until March 9, 2008 and it was some time after that time that the Army notified the family that he was KIA.  He had two entry wounds to the back of his lower skull area that killed him during some sort of fire fight.  My father was so distraught over the loss.”

“Paul's last letter home was Feb 11, 1968 which he said he hadn't had any rest for two weeks (Tet) and was mentally and physically exhausted but he said not to worry about him.  All his letters home were positive and he showed no sign of fear whatsoever.  He said that he respected the enemy but that they weren't very good with small arms so again said ‘don't worry about me’.  I know that the search and destroy missions he was on were long and hard with little time to rest with only jungle accommodations in the rough."
Today as we all go about Memorial Day … or, any day … keep Paul’s image in your hearts—grieve for him; say a prayer of thanks.  Please mindful of the pain and grief friends & family feel, especially on this special day and time of year.  (Although many of those close to Paul did not fight in a war, they did fight on another battlefield.)

When we all are pulled in the direction of holiday traditions unrelated to the meaning of this day, please do not lose sight of what today is really about.  As we go about our lives and each Memorial Day, remember Paul (pictured below) … and all the many others who gave everything for our freedoms which we celebrate today.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Cold Case Files -- Belles

Case #1

John D. Belles


Since the 1990's we have been recovering personal effects from Americans, left behind in Vietnam.  We have returned many of these treasures to both surviving families and veterans they belonged to.  Please visit our list at:

Sadly, there are some "Cold Cases" where we have been unsuccessful in finding either the families or veteran recipients.  After exhausting our resources, without result, we have decided to reactivate many of these cases and begin a new phase of appealing to the public to help us find the deserved recipient of each effect.  This is the first of many cold cases to come:  We hope that you (the public) will know the names we present, the families, veterans, or soldiers who served with the name on the personal effect we publicize.  In this age of social networking, perhaps everyone of reads about these cases will kindly share them with friends, families, veterans and become involved in reuniting these precious and meaningful effects to recipients who deserve them.

Perhaps you can play a role in helping families and veterans put a "period" on their story -- help surviving families find healing and closure from the Vietnam experience by help TOP (Tours Of Peace) Vietnam Veterans return these objects, many worn next to the heart, to those who need something to symbolize closure.

Our first cases will focus on American soldiers Killed-In-Action personal effects, of whom we have not been able to locate their direct surviving family.

Case #1 is a dog tag belonging to John David Belles.  John was born August 26, 1948, and was from Chicago.  John was a Marine Corps Corporal and on October 13, 1968, he was killed-in-action by small arms fire, in the Quang Tri region, not far from the DMZ.  His USMC military occupation was 0351:

Assaultman Marine Corps MOS 0351 USMC Military

John's dog tag was recovered by TOP in Hue, 2007.  Hue is the largest city nearest the Quang Tri province.  Corporal Belles served in a hot bed of activity during a very bloody year ... the year of the 1968 Tet offensive, especially violent in the city of Hue.

Our policy is to return the effect to the nearest surviving family member. For example, John's father and/or mother, if still living. John's information is available to the public on sites such as; therefore, as you can imagine, anyone could make a claim to the effect, who is not a family member--consequently, we hope you understand that it is important we ensure the effect is returned to a verified family member. One way we do this is match up the information on the dog tag with information the family provides. For example, John's tag contains some additional unpublished information: Blood Type, Religious Preference (as well as gas mask size). Additionally, it is most often the case that family recipients provide rich details which assures us that we are indeed sending the effect to a bona fide close family member.

We take great care in protecting this treasure and look forward to reuniting this treasure with family.  Otherwise, the tag could fall into the wrong hands. Thank you, in advance, for your understanding and any
assistance in finding John Belles' nearest direct relative who can also verify a match.

We recovered this dog tag in 2007 and look forward to a 2013 homecoming -- 6 years (actually, decades later) -- we will be honored to return this treasure to your family.  Please help TOP accomplish this mission.

For a complete list of Personal Effects recovered by TOP (Tours Of Peace) Vietnam Veterans, please visit:

Thank you for your help in reuniting this treasure with the surviving family of this fallen American hero.