SPRINGVILLE—Specialist 4 Dennis R. Heinz will be honored Sunday, Sept. 30 by the Charlie Company Memorial Team. Heinz, was a member of Charlie Company 2nd 506th Infantry BN 101st Airborne Division. The Springville resident was killed in action on April 16, 1970.
Born July 12, 1948 Heinz went to Griffith Institute where he captained the football team. He graduated high school in 1966, then attending Suomi College in Hancock, Mich., and Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich. Heinz returned to Buffalo, where he worked at the Agway Inc. feed mill.
He was the son of Ralph and Jean Heinz Jr., of Springville, and was married to Jeanne R. Heinz. Heinz was brother to Steven and the late Lawna Heinz and grandson of Ralph and Gladys Heinz Sr., of Springville and Louis and Assunta Liberatori, of Ridgeway, Pa.
He became a part of Charlie Company 2nd Battalion 506th Infantry Regiment 101st Airborne Division in December 1969, after being drafted in July.
Heinz was part of the battle of Firebase Ripcord, which took the life of 139 American soldiers, including Heinz. The 101st Airborne Division was tasked with reopening the strategic firebase overlooking A Shau Valley. The battle lasted almost five months and is remembered as one of the deadliest in South Vietnam.
Heinz was killed by a booby trap on April 16, 1970, about 25 miles west of Ripcord, in Hue, Vietnam. He was one of 19 men lost from Charlie Company. He was 21 when he was killed in action.
“There were 80 of us originally, hailing from Connecticut to California. Most of us were barely out of high school or college. We had anxious families waiting for us back home, watching the news with horror and hoping against all hope that we would make it out alive,” reads a press release from the Charlie Company Memorial Team. “For those of us who did survive, we returned home with deep wounds and memories we wished we could erase. But we also returned with deep, unshakeable bonds, and memories of men we hoped we’d never forget.”
Though some members of Charlie Company kept in touch after the war, it wasn’t until 2005 that the company came together for its next mission.
“We questioned ourselves when this began. It had been 46 years since we had returned from Vietnam,” said Gary Gilliam, a member of the Charlie Company Memorial Team. “We have been having organized reunions since 2007 and then we visited our platoon sergeant Dominic Smigliani in 2015 and our lives changed, we knew we needed to visit each one.”
Shortly after the visit, the Charlie Company Memorial Team was formed. They’ve since visited 17 of 25 gravesites of the Charlie Company 1970-71. Gilliam said there are seven more “brothers” the team has to visit before they’ve officially completed the mission.
“We’re committed to getting the job done,” he said. “We’re going to visit every brother.”
Though it is almost 50 years after they returned, Gilliam said visiting the gravesite of their brothers brings peace to those still living. More importantly, he said, they hope to bring peace to the loved ones of their fallen brothers.
“The army notified families of their loved one's death with one line explanations and the family had no idea of what truly happened to their son, husband, brother or dad,” Gilliam said. “The main thing they found is their loved one did not die alone. We were brothers and were there for them. Many of them died in the arms of their brothers who loved them as brothers and some died trying to save them.”
The Charlie Company Memorial Team is made up of veterans from across the country. Each year, they host a memorial dinner where the names of their deceased brothers are read aloud. That, combined with the gravesite visits, allows the Charlie Company Memorial Team to keep the memory of their lost brothers alive.
They are inviting family, friends and classmates of Heinz to attend the memorial and pay tribute. Heinz is memorialized on the Vietnam Wall, Panel W11, Line 13.
“I promise you, it is not about us, it is showing we will never forget our brothers even after 48 years,” Gilliam said. “We want family and friends to know [Heinz] is not forgotten.”
The ceremony for Heinz will be Sunday, Sept. 30 at 1 p.m. in the St. Aloysius Cemetery.
*Editor’s note: The Charlie Company Memorial Team is trying to track down members of Dennis Heinz’s family. Please contact 716-794-3072 or email Editor@SpringvilleJournal.com if you can help.