The war in Vietnam ended officially almost 45 years ago, but on Sunday, February 23rd, 2020, that conflict and its human cost was fresh in the minds of Thomas Britten and about 70 members of the Island Country Club’s infamous “F Troop.” They came together to support their friend Thomas Britten and to honor his brother, Roger G. Britten, who was lost in that conflict in 1965.
“We wanted to honor the brother of one of our own when the Wall came to Marco Island,” said Bob Crine one of the members of the “F-Troop,” as they stood on Sunday afternoon awaiting the arrival of Tom Britten and his wife Barbara.
As their large group gathered by the entrance to the field holding the three-quarter replica of the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C., they shared their stories of when they met Tom and some stories of their golfing exploits. Both Tom O’Reilly and Phil Thompson beamed with pride and respect for their friend. “You couldn’t find a better man,” remarked O’Reilly while Phil Thompson looked on and nodded his head.
When Tom and his wife arrived in the parking lot and walked up to the entrance, they became aware of the assembly of his friends all wearing shirts with the Roger G. Britten name embossed across the front of the shirt in memory of him. The emotion of the moment immediately overcame him, and he quickly sank into the arms of his wife to regain his composure and dry his eyes.
He and Barbara then walked the line which acted as the “F-Troop’s” honor guard for their friend. Hugs and tears were in abundance, this the last day of the Wall’s trip to the island and the closing ceremonies as it soon departs to Garland, Texas and its next stop on the 2020 Tour.
“What was amazing to us all was the fact we were able to keep this a secret,” said Mike Hook one of the teams that organized the event as he and the assembled group shared a light moment.
Accompanied by his many friends who assembled for the occasion, Tom Britten looked on as a volunteer and kneeled at the panel which had his brother’s name etched in the black synthetic granite panel. A volunteer who manned the Wall would create a “rubbing” of Roger G. Britten’s name from his place on that panel.
It was then Tom’s time to kneel before that same panel, as he reached out to touch the name of his “Big Brother,” now gone almost 55 years and in a jungle nearly 9,000 miles from the home he and Tom had shared with their mother.
The group then moved on to the ceremony which would close the 5-day visit of the Wall to Marco Island. A special recognition was given by the American Legion Commander, Lee Rubenstein, as he acknowledges the ultimate sacrifice Specialist 4 Roger George Britten made in service to his nation on November 23rd, 1965 in the Pleiku Province of Vietnam, and the assembly held a moment of silence in his honor.
Rubenstein also recognized the contribution which the “F-Troop” had made to help financially with bringing the Wall to Marco Island, as well as their other philanthropical contributions to many countless good causes on the island.
When the ceremonies ended, the Britten family and their “F-Troop” supporters all met at the Island Country Club where they came together to honor Tom and Barbara Britten, while announcing they would be making a sizable donation in honor of Roger George Britten.
Sitting with Tom Britten later that day, we spoke about his brother. Roger was older by about 4 years and he and Tom had their share of disagreements, but Tom always knew that Roger had his back, and no one had a better pick on his younger brother.
While traveling out to college in the Midwest, Tom had called home from a payphone, only to find his brother had been given a short leave and he would be shipping out that next week. There was no way Tom could have returned home to the east coast in time to see his brother off, so in late August of 1965, Roger hugged his mother and said goodbye to his little brother. Then, on a night patrol, Roger lost his life after being in–country for only 6 to 8 weeks.
“I have great memories of hunting and fishing in the country with my brother We were brought up in the Montville, New Jersey, that was all country back then. It was vegetable and dairy farms back then in Morris County. Great memories from those days,” stated Britten.
“We were both raised in my dad’s tool and die business, and he was very mechanical. He was a great mechanic and ended up with the Big Red One as a tank mechanic initially,” said Tom Britten reminiscing about his brother.
Although he wanted to immediately sign up for the service, Tom’s mother would have never been able to deal with the thought of losing another son, so instead, he went on to graduate school and received a degree in the Bio-Science field. After graduation from Graduate School, he lost his draft deferment and was only four days from having to enter the service, but as a sole surviving son, he was declared as a 4-G status.
Britten recalled it was through the generosity of his dormitory’s Resident Assistant that enough money was raised so he could fly home. “I barely had enough money to even have something to eat. I was catching a connecting flight in Chicago when a very nice man came up to me and started a conversation. I told him about my brother and the need to get home. Out of the kindness of his heart, he provided me with the funds to ensure I could have something to eat. My greatest regret was I never got his name, he was just a kind person,” remarked Britten.
If Tom Britten was to describe his brother, it would involve his loyalty to those around him and his protective nature.
He was part of a generation that today we refer to as the ‘Baby Boomers.’ When called upon, they served their nation with distinction and honor. Today we watched as the Wall that Heals continued its journey into communities across our nation to allow others to seek closure and peace, as we say thank you to all those names etched on that Wall like Roger G. Britten, and their surviving family members like Thomas L. Britten, who will always keep them in their hearts.