Local community dedicates Memorial Drive to fallen Vietnam soldier –
By Patricia Beech –
April 22, 2014 – Two elderly men, one seated in a wheelchair guided by the other, slowly make their way down the length of the black granite Vietnam Wall Memorial. Inscribed with the names of 54,000 Americans who fought and died in one of America’s most divisive wars, the Wall is a lasting memorial to the men and women who died in defense of liberty. Stopping before Panel 37, the old man, a veteran of World War II, rises from his chair and presses a white sheet of paper against the cold stone. He carefully fans a pencil back and forth across the paper until the name of his son emerges – Teddy R. Sininger.
The youngest son of Carl and Bessie Sininger of West Union, Teddy was killed in action in Vietnam on Dec. 15, 1968 while on a medivac rescue mission, one month before his 21st birthday.
The Siningers were well-known in the West Union area where they raised their four children – Sandy, Denny, Teddy, and Pam. Carl delivered fuel to homes and businesses and Bessie worked at the local hospital. Teddy was their youngest son.
“Teddy was a great example of a post-war American boy growing up in a Norman Rockwell community,” West Union Mayor Ted Grooms said in a speech honoring his friend during the dedication of the Teddy R. Sininger Memorial Drive. “He was a friend to everyone, with an infectious, addicting smile. No one could talk to Teddy without smiling, but we were simply smiling back because Teddy always smiled first.”
Those who knew him say his smile and sense of humor were inherited from his father.
“Teddy looked liked Dad and talked like Dad,” says his sister, Pam Davis. “If you knew my Dad, you knew Teddy.”
Like most boys in small American towns in the 1960’s Teddy liked hanging out at the local gas station with his friends.
“We boys always hung out the Sinclair Station,” said David Gifford, a boyhood friend of Sininger’s. “Teddy loved cars and he was an excellent mechanic, he could fix anything, but he especially loved fixing up old cars.”
At an early age Teddy demonstrated a strong work ethic and a high level of mechanical skill.
“There were customers like Art Smith, the President of the National Bank, who didn’t want anyone but Teddy working on their vehicles,” Davis recalled. “That was really his passion, working on cars, he had a real gift for it.”
Teddy was drafted into the Army in 1968, but according to his sister, Sandy Berry, joining the military wasn’t something he had any interest in. “He was a simple, loving boy who would never have gone to war,” she says. But, after scoring well on his aptitude tests the Army offered him a position as a helicopter mechanic and he voluntarily changed his status from “drafted” to “enlisted”.
“That was like a dream come true for him, to be in Vietnam, and have the opportunity to work on helicopters,” said Davis, who was left in charge of Teddy’s ’49 Ford fixer-upper. “He wanted me to drive it to keep it running, so I’d take kids to the drive-in, and he’d always want to know how many miles I’d put on it, he didn’t want me to over-drive it.”
Teddy never had the opportunity to finish his car, but in the ears after his death, his father Carl saw to it that the finishing touches were placed on his son’s car.
While in Vietnam Teddy served as a Specialist 4th Class Crew Chief on a UH-1 MediVac Helicopter. He and the three men with whom he worked – a medic, a pilot, and co-pilot were shot down over the Binh Dinh Province on Dec. 15, 1968.
Teddy and the medic were killed in the crash. The pilot and co-pilot survived but had to spend the night in the jungle.
For many years the questions concerning the details of Teddy’s death went unanswered. The military wouldn’t allow his coffin to be opened so that his remains could be identified. “Bill Lafferty ran the funeral home back then,” said Davis. “Teddy’s military escort never left his side and he wouldn’t let Bill open the casket – we thought that was very curious.”
Years later the Sininger family would have the opportunity to meet the pilot and learn the full story about what had happened to their son and brother.
“They were on a rescue mission when their helicopter ran into trouble,” said Davis. “Teddy saw the helicopter backfiring and warned the pilot who said he hoped there were no trees under them – but there were.”
Teddy’s body was returned to his family the last week of December in 1968. His eulogy, written by the Sininger’s long-time friend and neighbor, Jane Harsha, expressed the shock and pain that followed news of his death:
“It is difficult indeed to accept the premature passing of the quiet, contented little neighbor boy who grew so quickly before one’s very eyes into quiet, contented young manhood and then went away to give his life so soon in a foreign land. Wars with their human losses are universally tragic, but never so keenly felt as when the loss becomes personal to oneself, one’s close friends, one’s own street, and personal to the little community where a native son has been so well known and so sincerely loved. The one consoling thought for all of us who hold Teddy’s memory deep within our hearts is the certain knowledge that he is not in enemy hands, but in the everlasting arms of his Heavenly Father.
A soft spoken and gentle boy, life in West Union was very dear to Teddy. More quiet than gay, more considerate than careless, he found happiness in a warm comradeship with his family, a great love of little children, a real companionship with his dog, a genuine courtesy toward his neighbors, his teachers, and his many friends from all ages in all walks of life. He took pride in the work of his hands, working patiently and precisely at every task he undertook. He gave freely of his time and skills to help others. He obeyed his parents, he respected the law, he honored his country. Teddy was never a part of the world’s problem; he was always, in his modest and unobtrusive way, a part of its solution. Out of the brevity of his life emerges its shining quality. This was youth at its best, and young manhood at its finest. This was a good life that Teddy laid down. May God take it up, enlarge it, expand it, and bear it on wings of mercy to Eternal Glory.”