WILLIAM HENRY BARTHOLOMEW JR.
April 9, 1948 – January 23, 1970
Billy was born in the small Pennsylvania Community of Catasauqua in the picturesque Lehigh Valley on the banks of the Lehigh River. His parents were William Henry Bartholomew (1926-2001) and Helen Pauline Fehnel Bartholomew (1929-2014). They had both been born in the Borough and were high school sweethearts. Father, William Sr., served in the Navy during WWII from early 1944 until the end of the war. Billy’s parents married in 1947 soon after Dad’s discharge from the Navy. Billy was to be their only child. All of the hopes and expectations for the continuation of Bartholomew’s residing there rested in Billy. After graduating Catasauqua High School, Class of 1966 Billy married Monica Ann Tassi Bartholomew (1949) who he had known his entire life. Soon after, Uncle Sam decided he needed courageous young men to help defend this country and Billy was selected. He reported for Basic Training in November of 1968. On the day before Thanksgiving in 1969, Billy touched down in Vietnam in the 4th Infantry Division. Billy decided if he were going to be there, he would do the most he could to make his bride and family proud. He volunteered for the LRRPs (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol) of the 4th Infantry Division. In the initial stages of the United States presence in Vietnam, the clear lack of real-time intelligence nearly allowed the NVA to overrun our forces in the Ia Drang, a battle related in the book and movie “We Were Soldiers Once….and Young”. Shortly after that hard-won battle, the 1st Cav was replaced by the 4th Infantry Division with the mission to “Tame the Ia Drang”. One of the first decisions was to determine how best to know the enemy. The solution was to insert 4-man teams of Rangers, then called LRRPs, to surreptitiously live in the jungle amongst the enemy. They would be inserted into the jungle for extended missions and patrol an area of suspected enemy concentration to uncover weaknesses and eliminate when possible. Later, in 1969, an Army-wide re-designation of all LRRPs transitioned them into Company K (Ranger), 75th Infantry (Airborne). Billy and the teams from K/ 75th Rangers went to battle running missions out of Pleiku and An Khe as well as the infamous Firebase “Oasis” in Kontum Province. His decision to volunteer was courageous and dangerous, but no young soldier who proudly wore the “Tiger Stripe Fatigues” ever regretted that decision.
His initial team assignment was to Team Romeo-28 and on December 19, 1969 Team Leader Jim England (Opelika, AL), ATL Chuck Weidner (Bethpage, NY), Dean Borneman (Dumont, IA) and Billy Bartholomew (Catasauqua, PA) set out on their first mission together. It was a non-specific Recon of a steamy jungle area 35 KM NE of Pleiku. While as LRRP missions went, it was uneventful, England and Weidner knew instinctively Billy would be a valuable and reliable member of their team.
By January of 1970, R-28’s four-man team of TL England, ATL Weidner, Borneman and Bartholomew were confident they had found “the groove”. They were all very comfortable with each other and had grown to be fast friends. Each knew they could count on the courage of the other. TL Jim England was sent on Rest & Relaxation leave (R & R) in late January. Rather than allow the team to remain dormant in his absence, Charlie Weidner was made Team Leader and an additional Ranger was assigned to temporarily fill the missing position. So it was, the four warriors of R-28 were inserted into the jungles to face the awaiting danger. On the 23rd, a Friday, the team made contact with a superior enemy force. Billy was mortally wounded in the initial violent volley and Dean rushed to attend his friend. His courageous, selfless action knowingly exposed him to the enemy and he quickly sustained mortal wounds. Charlie Weidner was able to render aid to both fallen men while they held the enemy at bay awaiting relief from gunships and a reactionary force. Both Billy and Dean succumbed to their wounds and were mourned by the entire Company. TL Jim England who had arrived back from R & R too late to lead this mission, carried with him and often spoke of the survivor’s guilt for 45 years until his own death in 2014. We honor both fallen Rangers of Romeo-28 on the 50th anniversary of their loss. They have never been forgotten.
Both of these fallen warriors joined K 75th despite the extreme risk, perhaps because of it. Many people have asked why would one do that. There are as many reasons for their choice as there are men. All share the trait of courage and willingness to give their all for their brother Rangers and their country. Some Rangers are never placed in mortal danger, while others seem to attract it. The circumstances of their death cannot diminish the courage and heroism shown by these young warriors the moment they chose to become Rangers. Some Rangers are destined to die surrounded by expended brass and the bodies of their enemy, others will die many years after their service, unharmed, in a warm bed surrounded by their loved ones. All will be remembered as having been among the best this nation can send to war. All are heros. They never needed to show their courage with results, their decision to risk everything for the promise of nothing made that un-necessary. Each Ranger carries with them a bit of the honor earned, with great sacrifice, by each other Ranger. Fifty years have passed while we hardly noticed. Our lives have now been mostly lived, yet we’ve continued to carry their memories and maintained their fellowship in our hearts for all this time without once forgetting their sacrifice. They, as well as all the courageous brothers we lost, continue to inspire us today as certain as they did when they were causing havoc to our enemy in the violent Central Highlands.
A happy and fulfilled life with his new bride was not to be for Billy. Despite the honorable life led by both his parents and himself, their “branch” of the family name perished with their only son Billy. His young widow, Monica Ann Bartholomew, married a wonderful man, Thomas, and went on to have two children. Two children that might have been Billy’s had fate allowed. There is no doubt, this weighed heavily upon the minds of Billy’s parents. The death of their son did nothing to diminish the love they had for Monica and her new family throughout the years. Upon the death of Billy’s mother, Helen, in 2014 the obituary named Monica’s family as survivors; “her daughter-in-law Monica Tassi and husband Thomas; “grandchildren” Tara and T.J.; and 4 “great grandchildren”. While Billy’s name was not carried forward, we would like to think his spirit was allowed to survive and continue with honor in the family of Monica and Thomas. Clearly, Helen had every right to be proud of the family she was leaving behind.
William Henry Bartholomew died at the age of 21. and Dean Allen Borneman 3 days after his 21st birthday. Their names are inscribed and honored on the Vietnam Memorial Wall, Billy at Panel 14W Line 60 and Dean at 14W Line 58 in Washington, DC by an eternally grateful nation. In addition and perhaps more importantly, their names are inscribed forever in the hearts and memories of every Ranger. In 50 years, the admiration and respect for these men has not diminished even slightly in the minds of all who know of them. They were Rangers who truly “Led the Way”.