Veterans Day & the Vietnam War

Vincent S. Coles was only 17 when he was sent to Vietnam to fight and had just turned 18 when he was killed in action. A native of Newark, Coles grew up on West Kinney Street and attended West Kinney Junior High School as well as Newark Vocational School. He left school to join the U.S. Marines Corps and began his basic training at Parris Island on March 23, 1967. After his basic training concluded in May, Coles was sent to Camp Pendleton, CA, and Fort Sherman in the Panama Canal Zone for specialized jungle training. He began his tour of duty in Vietnam on Feb. 19, 1968, as a rifleman with the rank of private first class assigned to the 1 st Marine Division, 3 rd Battalion, 27th Marine Regiment, I Company. Coles lost his life in a combat operation in Quang Nam Province in the northern part of South Vietnam just three months after his tour began — on May 16, 1968. It was during what became known as the North Vietnamese “Mini-Tet” offensive. The area was known for heavy fighting because of its proximity to communist North Vietnam. The official account of the circumstances surrounding Coles’ death was that he “died through hostile action, small arms fire.” He was killed during one of the deadliest weeks for American soldiers in the entire Vietnam War and at a time when American and North Vietnamese negotiators were in Paris conducting peace talks. The Newark Evening News reported that, in his last letter home from Vietnam, Coles mentioned that two of his service friends had been seriously wounded and he felt “something is going to happen.” Coles was one of more than 1,500 New Jersey residents and almost 60,000 Americans who died in the Vietnam War. Only 3,000 of that total were 18 years of age or younger. On the day the U.S. Defense Department announced Cole’s death, it also reported that nine other New Jersey servicemen had died in the Vietnam conflict, one of the state’s largest weekly casualty lists of the war. Coles’ photo was on the
front page of the Newark Evening News with a story after the list was made
public. Among his commendations, Coles was awarded the Purple Heart for his valor, and his name was later inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. He was buried in Woodland Cemetery as a lance corporal. Coles left behind both his parents and a sister.

Research by Guy Sterling.

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