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Ashland’s All-American Boy

For those of you who have lived in Ashland all your life, and are baby-boomers, this story will probably bring back some difficult memories. For the rest of our readers, this is a story of an all-American boy who became a model soldier. He lived a part of his short life in Ashland, but there are those in town who still remember Joey Seaman, and as the plaque in the Ashland Library indicates, he was a scholar, an athlete, and a hero. The plaque appears to have been given by the Ashland High School class of 1965, of which Joe Seaman was a popular member.
Sergeant Joseph A. Seaman rests eternally and in honored glory in Lot 383 on Schneider Way, of Wildwood Cemetery, next to his parents William and Margerite, and his mother’s parents Catani. His mother died in 1988 at age 62, and his father, a US Navy veteran of World War II died in 2005 at age 82. At the corner of Joe’s flat, government-supplied, brass grave marker, is a small plastic grotto of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was placed there lovingly by his sister Cathleen Seaman Iacono of Milford who tends the family plot, and is the only immediate surviving family member. Freshly-planted flowers were already there in early April.
After graduating from AHS, Joe went to college in Pasadena, CA obtaining an Associates degree while living with his mother had moved there after Joe’s parents divorced. He found some work, fell in love, and things were good until he received a draft notice in early 1969. He didn’t like the idea of being drafted, and chose to enlist in the Army, obligating himself to three years service instead of the two required under the draft. After basic training, Joe Seaman found himself in Viet Nam by October 1969, as a rifleman in Company A, 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry of the 9th Infantry Division. The battalion was one of the most decorated units of the war, its three companies experiencing heavy combat on a regular basis. The Division had been in Viet Nam for several years, and it was the only American division with responsibility for the security of the Mekong Delta. The Delta was a vast network of riverbeds , ideal for growing rice, but a nightmare for the 9th, as it was a hot-bed of activity for the irregular forces of the Viet Cong. By day, they were simple farmers and shopkeepers, but by night they became a formidable enemy, supported by the regular army of their allies, the Communists from North Vietnam.
Early in 1970, the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved a plan to push American forces into Cambodia, to seek out and destroy the enemy forces that took refuge there. Field commanders had been arguing for years, that the enemy was using neutral territory to escape pursuing American and South Vietnamese forces. President Nixon ordered the incursion into Cambodia, towards a finger of Cambodian territory that jutted into South Viet Nam. Joe’s 2/60 Infantry battalion was part of the Allied Force. Oddly enough, at about the same time, the President started bringing units back to the States. As the mission into Cambodia was meeting its objectives, the 2/80 Infantry began its retrograde movement.
Sometime in this period, Joe did several things. First, he bought and mailed home two gold necklaces, one for his Mom, and the other for his sister. There was a peace symbol on each chain. Second, Joe had received news that they would be putting him up for promotion to the rank of Sergeant. By such things, the Army lets soldiers know that they would like to see the individual make a career of it. But he also got news that he would be rotated back to the States before his one-year tour was completed. He wrote his Mom that he would be back home in 56 days, and a “wake up” in the lingo of the soldiers. He wrote to her that they were going to assign him to an “office” job, and he would only have to “go out” on one or two more occasions. Third, Joe and his platoon-mates were setting up tents to establish a base camp near the Cambodian border. Suddenly, and without warning, enemy mortars rained down on the troops, one round catching Joe before he had time to even “hit the ground”. His wounds were mortal, and he died before medics could get him to a field hospital. Others were wounded, but survived.
Back home in California, Joe’s mother had been away for the weekend. When she returned, an Army staff car was waiting in the street, and she knew right away. When she called her daughter Cathleen, it took several minutes for the words to become understandable. Both women received their gold chains on that day. Cathleen received her jewelry two hours before her mother called.
Sergeant Seaman was promoted posthumously, awarded a Bronze Star and another Purple Heart. He had received a head wound shortly after arriving in Viet Nam, and had spent ten days in a field hospital, but was returned to duty. One of the Purple Hearts is in the care of his sister, and the other was buried with his mother.
His Sister Remembers
Joe was 23 when he died. He had been born in Framingham, and the family lived in that city until Joe was 11 years old, moving to 16 Denise Drive in Ashland. It was only a short walk through the woods, and Joey could fish at the Ashland Reservoir as much as he wished. In fact, he would get up at 4 a.m. and go fishing before school, having dug for worms in the prior evening. They would go swimming after school, and play baseball in the cul-de-sac, and go to school together. They were close enough in age to be in the same class.
Once, playing ball in the street, Joey hit a hard ground ball that hit the family’s small Pekinese Tawny, knocked the dog unconscious, and it died a few days later. So, the family got another Pekinese and named it Piper. Joey served mass at St. Tarcisius Parish in Framingham, participated in Cub Scouts, and did well in his studies. Upon reaching high school, the pair thrived in sports, but they both worked for spending money at Jordan Marsh, selling clothes and helping customers. He also had a paper route. By the time Joe was a senior, he was hired as a cook at Mickey’s, the local hang-out that eventually became Romeo’s Grocery, in today’s plaza on Union Street near Metropolitan Avenue. There, you could get hot dogs, cokes, burgers, and fried clams. It was an open kitchen at the restaurant, so Joe could be seen breading clams, frying potatoes, and generally doing a great job amidst older cooks. At times, the pair would go to Frosty’s Bowling Alley on Pleasant Street, near the original start line of the Boston Marathon. They would sometimes fish from the bridge, or use a canvas raft that they had to get away from the crowd. Because Joe worked, he had money to have an old, grey Plymouth Fury that he named Flicker. He also had a grey motor scooter, so the pair could go just about anywhere they wished.
Joe continued to do fine in school, though he didn’t have to study much in order to get decent grades. That gave him time for sports, primarily baseball and basketball, where he earned four letters in each sport. He did play football in his freshman year, but he was rather a skinny kid who didn’t fill out until after high school.
People loved Joe, and he had a charismatic personality to go with very fine good looks. He was popular with girls as well as with his buddies. He was the type of kid who was dogged in pursuit of his interests, and he performed well at whatever he liked, and was even a bit of a lucky fellow who would get noticed, and ingratiate himself to people.
His mother didn’t want him to join the Army, and she knew that there were ways to avoid it. Young men were doing it all the time in those days. However, as much as he loved his mother, it wasn’t his way to avoid his duties and obligations. He was confident that he would be fine. He wrote home often. After being in Viet Nam for 6 months, he took his R&R (rest and recreation) in Hawaii, meeting his California girlfriend Emma there. Joe’s mother sent him money, and against regulations, he flew to California to see her. It was a wonderful time, and Joe and Emma were very much in love. They planned to get engaged as soon as Joe finished his tour of duty. (Emma had been married to another soldier who died in Viet Nam, and after Joe’s death, she fell into a severe depression, requiring hospitalization for a long period.)
While in Viet Nam, Joe and some of his buddies wrote a poem together. In that poem there were two very clear messages. The first had to do with their attitudes about killing the enemy. The words clearly show an abhorrence of taking another person’s life, and they acknowledged that there was a family behind the soldier on the other side. The second point was that they were severely disturbed by the lack of support for them back in the States. They made it clear that without that support, they were fighting for one another, not the protesters back home. While a protester might have argued that they were protesting to save them, it appears that they felt they were doing their duty, as ordered, and deserved the respect to let events be shaped by time. They were never defeated on a battlefield, ever, and while hindsight offers many perspectives on that war, the individual soldiers felt the protesters were giving aid and comfort to the enemy that they had to deal with each day. It was a dirty, rotten war that had the country split unlike anything since the Civil War.
Joe’s mother was understandably grief-stricken for many years. She had not allowed the military to provide an honor guard detail at the funeral. Rather, she opted for students and classmates to put her son to rest. Her health failed and she died at age 62, twelve years after Joe died. The war surely claimed another victim, and she could have been listed on the Viet Nam Memorial Wall with her son at panel 08W, line 32.
Ashland has memorialized by name, the fallen in World Wars I and II on the monuments in Gordon A. Green Square across from the Fire and Police Headquarters. The stone dedicated to the fallen in Viet Nam does not have the name of Sergeant Joseph Andrew Seaman. This publication is not aware of any other soldiers, sailors or airmen listed as missing or dead from the Town of Ashland during the Viet Nam War. If there are any, we would like to be informed. For waiting to be honored by the town, perhaps the public would support re-naming a prominent street in his honor. His mother would be pleased, and perhaps rest a bit easier on Memorial Day.

by By John Kelley