Ray LaPointe is never far from Tom Swisher’s mind. He wears his friend’s name on a scuffed metal bracelet.
“When it’s a nice day, I look up at the bright blue sky and think of him,” said Swisher, 71, who grew up in tight-knit East Taunton.
He looked up to LaPointe, who was two years older, and always good for a ride to the swimming hole past the airport. LaPointe would arrange to come back by in his 1961 Ford Galaxy.
“He’d pick us all up and bring us back,” Swisher recalled.
Lance Cpl. Raymond Roland LaPointe has been gone more than 54 years. He died on Sept. 10, 1967. He was killed by North Vietnamese fire, according to military records. LaPointe was one of 13 Tauntonians who died in the Vietnam War.
On Saturday, Nov. 20, a memorial Mass was said for LaPointe at Holy Family Church in East Taunton. The Catholic service was followed by a dedication of an updated family gravestone at St. James Cemetery.
Ray LaPointe’s nephew, Fred, 60, drove in from Mississippi for the memorials. While he never met Ray, Fred said he was talked about in the family as a great guy.
“He was a person that would try to make everybody happy. He was the type of person to do whatever needed doing,” Fred LaPointe said.
Speakers at the service included Mayor Shaunna O’Connell, City Councilor-elect Larry Quintal and Dave Levesque of the Taunton Area Vietnam Veterans Association. Taunton Community Access & Media filmed the ceremony and will be broadcasting it.
“To have this type of turnout 54 years later shows you how much he was loved,” Swisher said.
It took an unlikely series of events and tenacity from family, friends and local politicians to bring last Saturday’s memorial to fruition.
“We finally got it done,” Swisher said.
In May, the city dedicated a plaque at Pine Hill Cemetery to LaPointe. Swisher began talking with LaPointe family members about possibly erecting a memorial marker at St. James Cemetery, where other LaPointes are buried.
Jennifer Hammett, Ray’s niece, called Silva Funeral Home, where Quintal is funeral director, to make arrangements for the funeral of her father, Roger LaPointe, who was nearing the end of his life. As Swisher tells the story, Quintal put two and two together, asking her, “Did he have a younger brother?”
In order to make the updates to the LaPointe family gravestone, someone needed to sign off on the change. Roger LaPointe, Ray’s brother and a Marine himself, signed the paperwork in hospice before he died.
“Roger had a big, big smile on his face,” Swisher said.
Cemetery rules limit markers to one per family, however. Working with Quintal, a plan was worked out to use the blank back side of the LaPointe family stone to add Ray’s dates of birth, death, rank and place of death. Quintal also had the stone cleaned.
Swisher said the updated memorial wouldn’t have been possible without the work of Quintal, O’Connell, the Taunton Area Vietnam Veterans Association and others.
“He’s a solid human being,” Swisher said of Quintal. “If he says he’s going to do something, he’ll do it.”
The memorial Mass and gravestone dedication brought together not only the LaPointe family but also friends from East Taunton.
“LaPointes were very active growing up, very active in the community, in Holy Family Church” said Fred LaPointe, Ray’s nephew. “That was our way of living back then. Everybody knew everybody.”
According to the National Archives, Ray LaPointe was killed Sept. 10, 1967 by artillery, rocket or mortar fire in Con Thien, where the 3rd Battalion of the 26th Marines held a position just outside the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam.
Col. Harry L. Alderman called the battle during which LaPointe died, “The hardest fighting [the battalion] encountered since arriving in Vietnam,” according to the Marine Corp’s 1984 book, “U.S. Marines in Vietnam: Fighting the North Vietnamese 1967.”
Swisher, who graduated from Taunton High School two years after Ray LaPointe, and served in the U.S. Navy, said the memorials are for more than his friend’s valor.
“It isn’t because he got killed in Vietnam,” Swisher said. “He was one of the nicest young men who ever came out of East Taunton. Anyone that needed a favor, Ray was there at a young age. I really loved him. He was a friend.”
Taunton Community Access & Media filmed the dedication ceremony. It will be broadcast at a later date, and available for viewing in the TCAM archives.
Edward J. Andrade
Lawrence T. Andrews
Edward J. Dull
David A. Francis
James E. Henry
Douglas J. Lamaire
Raymond R. LaPointe
Paul R. Lee
William C. Murphy
John J. Raymond
Wayne T. Severino
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