The Brunswick Road overpass bridge above the Golden Center Freeway does more than provide a platform for transportation. It also bears the names of local lives lost in the Vietnam War.
The memorialized names are something Seth Curtis, a Grass Valley resident, is using as inspiration for a book he is developing to bring light to the history of the soldiers.
“I’ve been seeing the plaques all the time and I wondered if anybody really knew about them,” said Curtis, who said he has so far completed three of the 17 stories about each veteran.
“Then I got an idea to write the book and it took me about three years to get the courage to start it, but I’ve finally started it and I’ve been writing it about a year.”
Curtis is asking anyone who knew a local Vietnam veteran to contact him in order to gain as much information about the soldiers as possible. Though Curtis did not serve in Vietnam, he was in the Marine Corps from 1980 to 1984.
As he seeks to find sources for the stories, the relatives and friends of the veterans, Curtis says he scours military sites online.
“I’ll find that they all have associations and fights for their units,” Curtis said. “I can usually find emails of guys they served with or roughly the time they were in and just do trial and error.”
Kay Moon was contacted by Curtis. Moon served in the 199th Light Infantry with James Deeble, a local veteran who was killed in combat in April of 1970.
“He was somebody that I counted on literally every day of the week, 24 hours a day,” Moon said of Deeble. “We were in an infantry company in the jungles and I couldn’t have asked for a better person to stand by me.”
One day, Moon, who lives just outside Atlanta, Ga., watched the Hallmark movie “The Christmas Card,” which features Nevada County. He knew Deeble was from Nevada County and found it interesting to see where his friend grew up.
“I was watching it and thought ‘Is this a real town?’ And I had a cousin who spent 30 years as a cameraman for one of the news stations in Sacramento and he said he had been up there many times and that’s what it looks like,” Moon said.
“The movie brought home a lot of what I had seen and knew about Deeble and his family and it put together a better big picture for me of what (Curtis) was doing.”
Moon said many Vietnam veterans received a bitter reception upon returning home after the war, and appreciates the ability of Curtis’ book to bring a level of respect and honor to the Nevada County’s Vietnam veterans.
“A lot had been done over the years trying to get the respect and honor that they were denied,” Moon said. “There was a lot of lies and misinformation (about the Vietnam War). A lot had been done over the years trying to get the respect and honor the veterans were denied.”
The commemoration of veterans continues today, as the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War was recognized this month and a plaque dedication will be hosted March 30 at the Gold Star Memorial Bridge, sponsored by the Nevada County chapter of Blue Star Mothers of America.
“We don’t want to forget those who had to give the ultimate sacrifice,” said Cindy McVay, president of the Blue Star Mothers local chapter, whose son served in the military for the past 11 years.
Curtis has opened the door for people to learn more about their own family members who served during Vietnam.
“I think he’s doing a really nice thing for the families of the fallen soldiers. He put a new perspective on it for me,” said Charlene Cranford, Yuba City resident, whose brother was killed in service when she was young.
“Because he opened this, I found out so much, that my brother was a hero,” Cranford said. “It was just a wonderful experience. He was in only for two months after the Tet Offensive and he was defending the Y bridge.”
Curtis notified Cranford through email, which led her to contact the brother of her sister-in-law, who was friends with her brother.
“He let me know how to get a hold of people I could talk to that remembered my brother,” said Cranford, who also learned about her father. “My dad never talked about the war and (Curtis) told me about him hopping the islands to Japan and he was like a little hero and we never knew that.”
The list of men Curtis plans to write about are Pvt. 1st Class Philip Alon Tritsch, Spc. 4th Class Ronald James Walber, Spc. 4th Class Michael Dennis Goeller, Capt. John Stuart Seeley, 1st Lt. James Frederick Deeble, 1st Lt. Kenneth Wesley Scurr, Pvt. Thomas William Cranford, 1st Lt. Ernest James Stidham, Spc. 5th Class Harry Lee Theurkauf, Pvt. 1st Class David Edward Freestone, Cpl. John Rober Kunkel, Sgt. Douglas Alfred Rix, Cpl. Gary Ames Miller and Capt. Bruce Allen Jensen.
Curtis also seeks information on those who were not given a plaque because their family did not provide written consent, including Sgt. Alan Robert Haugen, Cpl. Donald Ray Webb and FTG2 Edward Allan Joseph Ownby.
He will also include Scott Whitney, who died of cardiac arrest due to spinal meningitis during basic training at Fort Lewis; and Lt. Michael L. Belli, who died in a helicopter crash in training at El Toro base after his tour in Vietnam.
Curtis said he just hopes to raise awareness of those who dedicated their lives. If anyone has information on local veterans, contact 530-477-5596 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I just want to honor these guys,” Curtis said. “I think they deserve it.”
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4230.