Ken Beaton: 51 years, but not forgotten
Pour yourself a mug of coffee and get comfortable in your favorite chair with this newspaper. I’ve got a persistence-pays-off story for you.
Sgt. John R. Sibilly, like so many of our servicemen who served in Vietnam, was a baby boomer, born April 8, 1946. He enlisted in the USMC Reserve and served in the 3rd Marine Division, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine, Weapons Company. Their motto is “Fortune Favors the Brave.” 3rd Battalion had three rifle companies, India, Kilo and Lima, a Headquarters Company and a Weapons Company with machine guns and mortars.
Sgt. Sibilly was in India Company. “Sibilly experienced a serious casualty which ultimately resulted in the loss of his life on September 7, 1967. Died through hostile action, artillery rocket mortar.”
One of Sgt. Sibilly’s best friends was Richard “McAvoy” Layne. McAvoy wrote the following letter to Mrs. Sibilly the day after he was KIA:
“Dear Mrs. Sibilly,
No letter of commendation from John’s buddies over here or from the President himself can justify or rectify in the slightest the grief you must be burdened with today.
But there are things that cannot be left unsaid about John Sibilly. The way he lived and the way he died was an inspiration and a credit to all of us Marines and as Americans.
John and I were always on different ends of the perimeter. His having a squad of guns and my having a squad of mortars. But whenever there was a generous beer ration we could count on seeing John, with beer in arms, coming to talk of the war, the Republican Party and home.
John was one of those rare leaders in the Marine Corps who was able to command without the usual sacrifice of being well liked; a rare quality anywhere in life.
Today, John and Sgt. Bliss were to receive their Bronze Stars for their actions in Cam Lo. John had told Bliss facetiously. ‘Well now that we’re heroes, we can sit back and take it easy.’
Just the opposite turned out to be John’s fate. When his squad was assaulting enemy positions yesterday, when John could have been sitting back taking it easy, he was leading his men into that assault. In the end, it was as he would have wanted it.
You must be very proud Mrs. Sibilly with us; very sad and very proud.
If I am ever in New York, I would like to come and see you.
Cpl. ‘Night Train’ Layne
And all of India3/3”
Night Train’s, AKA McAvoy, letter was sent to 320 Park Avenue New York City, her work address. The letter bounced around the country for months. Finally, it was returned to McAvoy’s mom.
In May 2018 McAvoy was carpooling with Marguerite “Pearl” Sprague to a luncheon for historians. He mentioned his total frustration about not being able to locate Mrs. Sibilly. Pearl volunteered to try to locate Mrs. Sibilly. To shorten a long story, Pearl located John’s brother, Frank’s Facebook page. Frank had a picture of John on his page for Memorial Day. Pearl sent a message to Frank to contact McAvoy. A few weeks later Frank contacted McAvoy.
McAvoy sent his original letter by USPS certified mail to Frank in Hilton Head, SC 29928. The certified letter was received on June 26, 2018, nearly 51 years later.
Frank told me, “My mother had not seen her oldest son in almost 52 years. She spent the first year worrying about his safety and then realizing that he would be heading home safe in 9 days. Now, she was missing him every day.”
“I brought McAvoy’s letter home to my mom and delivered it privately with my only sister and spouses present. We weren’t sure what her reaction would be. We were pleasantly surprised. It was a gift from God. The next day family and friends were all together. I presented them with photo copies of the letter. There were nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews. Now they had the privilege of knowing John. Receiving the letter 51 years later, gave us more joy than if it had been delivered in 1967.”
Being a close friend of McAvoy Layne, Guy Farmer gave me the story, “It’s a Ken Beaton feel good story.”
If you ever visit Washington, D.C., and you’re standing at the Vietnam Memorial Wall with 58,318 names, go to Panel 26e, Line 31 and do a rubbing of Sgt. John Richard Sibilly. Each time you read his name, say a prayer for him and the other 58,317 names. Think about it, they never had the opportunity to experience all that you’ve experienced.
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.