Valley family seeks justice for Vietnam Vet
Courtesy of Tiia Dickerson Bullen
The family of Chief Petty Officer Donald Dickerson, shown here, continues to fight to have his name engraved on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
Thirteen days before Christmas in 1971, a U.S. Navy plane took off from Naval Air Station Cubi Point, Subic Bay, in the Philippines. It was en route to Tan Son Nhut Airbase, Saigon, Vietnam, on a “scheduled logistical support mission” during the Vietnam War.
Unfortunately, it never made it. The plane went down with 10 sailors in the South China Sea from undetermined causes. No survivors were ever found.
One of the men on board the plane that day was Petty Officer First Class Donald E. Dickerson, 34, from Chowchilla. He left a heartbroken wife and three daughters. On the evening of Dec. 13, 1971, the Dickerson family was officially notified of the crash and that the search for survivors was over.
No remains had been found, and the Navy extended its deepest sympathies, adding that their husband and father had “died in the service of his country.”
After the construction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, DC., the Dickerson family directly petitioned the Navy, through official Navy channels, to have Donald Dickerson’s name placed on the Wall. However, today, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the crash, none of the names of the crew, or passengers, of flight RG-407 are inscribed on the Memorial.
Donald Dickerson’s survivors are described as being “shocked, disappointed and heartbroken.” Numerous attempts have been made to rectify this omission, but thus far those efforts have fallen on deaf ears.
According to current Department of Defense guidelines, service members are eligible for inscription on the wall if they have died within the defined combat zone of Vietnam or while on a combat/combat support mission to/from the defined combat zone of Vietnam, or died within 120 days of wounds, physical injuries, or illnesses incurred or diagnosed in the defined combat zone of Vietnam.
Since the plane was en route to Tan Son Nhut airbase, Saigon, Vietnam on a “scheduled logistical support mission” during the Vietnam War, Dickerson’s family has renewed its efforts to have his name engraved on the Wall.
“As long as we are alive,” writes Tiia Dickerson Bullen, “my father is alive. But once we each pass, the memory of my father will fade and he will truly be gone forever. Without his name on the wall, future generations will forget he existed and the sacrifice he made for our country. We cannot allow this to happen. This is a matter of preserving the names of our loved ones and ensuring they are rightfully added to the Wall.”
As fate would have it, Dickerson’s family have an indefatigable ally in the person of Chief Petty Officer Christopher A. Patti (retired).
Dickerson had been stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland, from 1965-68. While stationed there, he was recognized as a stellar performer and awarded a Joint Service Commendation Medal.
On Sept. 10, 1976, after a year-long barracks renovation, one building was dedicated to CTOC Donald E. Dickerson.
Ironically, Patti would one day be housed in “Dickerson Hall.” Struck with curiosity, he wondered about Dickerson’s identity. His search to answer that question led him to discovering the story of Dickerson’s demise as well as the reluctance of the Navy to place his name on the Vietnam Wall.
This led him to make contact with Tiia. From that point, Patti, armed with considerable research skills, threw himself unreservedly into a determined drive to correct the injustice perpetrated on Dickerson and his family. That effort continues to this day.
One of Dickerson’s daughters, Beth, lives in Madera, as does her mother, Betty. Tiia, lives in Kerman. A third daughter, Penny is deceased.