by Murray Montgomery
were normal high school boys – three young friends and classmates at Moulton High
School. Even before they graduated in 1966, Calvin Albrecht, Marvin Zatopek, and
Thomas “Tommy” Lenz, knew what they were going to do – the three friends were
committed to serving their country in the armed forces. |
Marvin and Tommy
joined the Marine Corps, on the buddy plan, while Calvin opted for the Navy. All
three of the high-school pals saw action in Vietnam – two survived and one, Tommy
Lenz, would die a month after his 21st birthday and just a week before he was
due to come home. He had volunteered to go on a mission to replace a man who was
ill and as a result, the young Marine from Moulton
was killed when his helicopter landed on a mine.
Photo courtesy Murray Montgomery
It came as no surprise to those who knew Tommy that he would volunteer for a dangerous
mission. When he was on his senior trip to South Padre Island, Lenz along with
Albrecht and several other Moulton
kids were involved in saving some people from drowning. It was part of Tommy’s
character to help others. So when the call came for a volunteer to go help fellow
soldiers, it was only natural for him to respond.|
Calvin Albrecht, who
is district clerk for Lavaca County, recently shared some memories of his friend.
He remembers Tommy as “easy going,” an average student, but not interested in
sports or the like. He enjoyed hunting squirrels and rabbits; he also liked to
go fishing. And just like most teenage boys, he was interested in girls. “Tommy
was just a regular good ol’ boy,” Albrecht said.
Calvin said that he doesn’t
recall that Tommy ever owned an automobile, but the two friends did like to ride
around in a car belonging to Tommy’s mom. “Our favorite song was ‘Pop-a-top Again’
and we would drink a cold beer while listening to the radio,” said Albrecht.
humor was evident in a letter he wrote to Mrs. Albrecht, after she had shipped
him some homemade cookies. He described how the other soldiers were hinting that
they would like to sample the goodies and his reply to them. “At first I told
them they could smell the wrapper when I was through,” wrote Tommy, “but when
I saw the look of a lynch mob come upon their faces, I decided differently real
Calvin’s mother, Mrs. Adlea Albrecht and Tommy’s mother, Mrs.
Elvira Schneider, were best friends. “My mom was visiting Tommy’s mom when the
two Marines came to the house to tell her he had been killed,” Calvin said.
and Tommy spent their high school years living in Moulton,
while their friend Marvin Zatopek lived in the country. Upon graduation from high
school all three were on their way to begin their military service. Lenz and Zatopek
headed for basic training with the Marines while young Albrecht would soon go
to sea with the Navy. All of them probably suspected that they would soon join
the many other young Americans who were fighting and dying in Vietnam.
Lenz arrived in Vietnam on May 1, 1968, and was assigned as an aerial gunner on
a CH-46 helicopter. He was a member of the 161st Squadron, flying combat support
missions. Before he was killed on April 22, 1969, Lenz had already seen his share
of combat. In September of 1968, he sustained minor injuries when his helicopter
was shot down. Then on November 13, 1968, he was wounded again when shrapnel hit
his aircraft. He was awarded the Air Medal for Meritorious Achievement and the Purple Heart for his involvement in those actions.
After Tommy was killed,
his mother received a letter from his commanding officer describing his last flight.
Lt. Col. D.L. Elam said that Tommy died in the vicinity of Vandergrift Combat
Base while flying on a helicopter assigned to an Army of the Republic of Vietnam
Troop Lift. According to Elam, the landing zone was sixteen miles west of Suang
Tri. “We all knew before the Suang flight departed Quang Tri that the mission
would be a difficult one since there were known to be numerous enemy in the immediate
vicinity of the landing zone,” wrote Elam. “The aircraft that Thomas was flying
in was the lead aircraft in a flight of six CH-46’s.
“On the initial wave
as the lead aircraft touched down in the zone a mine detonated, completely destroying
the aircraft.” Lt. Col. Elam ended his letter by saying that medical personnel
had inspected Tommy’s body and concluded that he had died instantly with no suffering.
Elam also said that young Lenz was a man to be proud of and that he was an outstanding
The citizens of Moulton
did everything they could to honor their fallen warrior. His body arrived at the
San Antonio airport accompanied by Honor Guard Lance Cpl. Thomas L. Mankins. Tommy’s
high school friend Marvin Zatopek, who had joined the Marines with him, was there
to meet the honor guard. Zatopek, Taylor Biehunko, Leslie Grieve, and Father Robert
Schmidt, escorted the remains back to Moulton.
Tommy Lenz’ other good friend, Calvin Albrecht, didn’t even know his friend had
been killed until after the funeral. Albrecht was still in Vietnam serving on
a ship providing inshore fire support against enemy positions.
business places in the city closed for Tommy’s funeral and the school closed for
the day as well; and although he was Lutheran, the services were held at St. Joseph’s
Catholic Church – not a common occurrence, but permission was granted by Father
Schmidt to accommodate the many people who wished to attend. Rev. Eaisey, pastor
of the Warrenton Lutheran Church, delivered the sermon. He was assisted by Father
Lance Cpl. Thomas Wayne Lenz was buried, with full military honors,
in the Florida Cemetery at Warrenton,
Texas – his name, along with that of five other Lavaca County soldiers who
made the ultimate sacrifice, is inscribed on the Vietnam War Memorial at Hallettsville.
To this day it is an emotional thing for Calvin Albrecht to talk about Tommy Lenz.
The spring of the year always brings back those bad memories about when his friend
was killed and the last time he saw him alive. Albrecht recalls that the day he
received word about Tommy’s death, his ship was called in to provide inshore fire
support to ambush an enemy convoy. The ship launched its rockets and some 40 enemy
troops were killed. That event, although it didn’t ease his hurt, made him feel
that he had a part in avenging the loss of his friend.
36 years have past since Tommy Lenz was killed, the memories of his Moulton
classmate will remain with Calvin forever and he occasionally speculates on how
things might have been. “For some reason, I feel like my life would somehow be
different if he hadn’t got killed – I don’t know,” said Albrecht.
May 2, 2005 Column
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