Lance Cpl. Darwin L. Judge, of Iowa, and Cpl. Charles McMahon Jr., of Massachusetts, were the last two men killed in Vietnam. They died on April 29, 1975, as Americans were evacuating Saigon.
They were guards at Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base as the North Vietnamese overtook Saigon. The base was hit by a mortar attack, killing the two men.
Ken Locke, a Warsaw resident, was a longtime friend of Judge’s.
“He and I grew up together,” Locke said. “Basically, we were Cub Scouts when we were 6 or 7 years old.” They then became Eagle Scouts together, in Troop 310, in Marshalltown, Iowa, and went to high school together.
Judge was approximately a year older than Locke.
Locke remembers Judge came to the high school in his Marine Corps uniform one day. Because there were so many feelings against Vietnam then, many students made nasty comments or laughed at Judge as he passed them by. Judge had finished Marine Embassy Guard School and told Locke he was being sent to Saigon.
It was the last time Locke saw him.
“The thing I really remember most about him is he always wanted to be in the military. It’s all he talked about,” Locke said.
Looking back, Locke wonders if Judge knew he wasn’t going to be in this world very long. Judge was a little guy, Locke said, but a leader and not afraid to try anything.
Locke said, “He being a year older, he was my hero.” Whatever Judge achieved in Scouts, Locke worked to achieve.
The day Judge died was an emotional one for Locke.
“I was a senior in high school,” he said. “I was working at one of the grocery stores in Marshalltown.” He knew of the evacuation in Saigon. But then, over the radio, he heard that Judge was killed. Locke remembers going to the back room and crying until he couldn’t cry anymore.
“It’s one of those events that really shapes you, shapes your life,” he said. “It feels like it was only yesterday. It doesn’t go away.”
The town had a memorial service for Judge a few days later in the high school gym. It was packed. Judge’s body was not returned to the United States until a year later.
“I think it taught me, first, that life is short,” Locke said. “You don’t think about that when you’re a senior in high school. From him, personally, I learned ... to set goals and go for them. He died doing what he wanted to do.”
Whenever Locke goes home to Iowa, he said, he always puts an American flag on Judge’s grave. Judge is buried near Locke’s grandfather, who served in World War I, and Locke’s father, who served in World War II.
Saturday, 25 years after the fall of Saigon and Judge’s death, Locke will return to his hometown for a memorial service for Judge. Judge’s parents will be there, with whom Locke has kept in touch over the years.
Thomas Vilsack, Iowa’s governor, will be one of the speakers. National media outlets are expected, too.
“Right now, 50 percent of Darwin’s unit is going to be there (at the memorial service) who were at the fall of Saigon,” Locke said.
A Marine Embassy guard graveside service will be held for Judge, and Judge’s family will be presented with awards for Judge, something that didn’t happen years ago because his body was returned a year after he died in Vietnam.
While Judge’s name may be mentioned many times during the ceremony, Locke said, “We’re doing this to honor all the men and women who served in Vietnam.” The theme of the ceremony will be “Honoring Those Who Served.”
Tom Brokaw, “NBC Nightly News,” will include a story on the fall of Saigon during the news broadcast Friday, featuring an interview with Locke on Judge.
There were 58,178 Americans who died in Vietnam. Of those, 1,532 were Hoosiers.
Along with the service, a commemorative patch has been developed with proceeds going to a permanent endowment in Judge’s honor to provide scholarships for Scouts to attend camp.
Patches may be obtained by sending $2 and a self-addressed stamped envelope to Association of Christians Through Scouting (ACTS), P.O. Box 1473, Warsaw, IN 46581-1473, or by calling 269-7937 for more information. Locke organized ACTS in honor of Judge.
“Every once in a while I hear someone talking about Vietnam, saying ‘what a waste’ or something to that effect,” said Locke. “My friend’s death was not a waste. I worked at a Salvation Army camp in Kansas a few years ago where children of Vietnamese immigrants were attending. They were laughing and playing, enjoying the freedom we have in this country because of the thousands of Americans who served and some who never returned to their homes and families.
“We have the privilege of freedom today because of veterans. I miss my friend. He was the greatest this country has to offer and lived the Scouting ideals of duty, honor and country. We must never forget that freedom comes with a price.”