RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
On this Memorial Day, many people will take special notice of the monuments and markers in their towns commemorating sacrifice in war. In some parts of the city of Boston, you can spot markers on nearly every corner with the names of those who died in combat. This morning, we're going to hear more about the life behind one of those names. Steve Brown from member station WBUR begins on a street corner in Boston.
STEVE BROWN, BYLINE: I'm standing at the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and Colborne Road here in the Allston-Brighton section of Boston. On one corner near the trolley line is a small sign with two American flags. Staff Sgt. John H. McCarthy Square, it reads. McCarthy lived just up the street but never returned home after his second tour of duty to Vietnam.
RICHIE MCCARTHY: He loved the country, and he thought that - you know, that we were at war and that he wanted, you know, to fight for his country. And he thought that was the right thing to do, and that's what he did.
BROWN: Richie McCarthy still gets emotional when talking about his big brother, Jack. The two brothers, born about two years apart, were close growing up in Allston-Brighton. The boys' father died when they were toddlers. As a child, Jack developed a talent. He liked to paint. He was a perfectionist.
MCCARTHY: A lot of times, he did these paintings, and he'd do it and say, it's a beautiful painting. And the next thing I know, he'd have painted over it so he could paint again, or he'd tear them up or throw them out. I don't know. I guess he didn't think they were good enough.
BROWN: By 1960, Jack McCarthy developed an interest in the military and on his 17th birthday, enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.
DAN DALEY: He was, like, a tall, good-looking kid, and he looked like a Marine.
BROWN: Dan Daley was one of Jack McCarthy's childhood friends.
DALEY: He was probably like 6'1", maybe 215, muscular type of kid. When you saw him in his uniform, it was impressive. I mean, he could be a poster boy for the Marines.
BROWN: And by all accounts, Jack McCarthy thrived in the Marine Corps. In 1962, he was chosen for a training exercise observed by President John F. Kennedy. Later that year, McCarthy was assigned to a ship deployed during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He was sent to Vietnam for the first time in 1965. He was assigned to work with local South Vietnamese villagers and root out the Viet Cong. He wrote home about it in November of 1965.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Reading) Dear mom, I'll really miss some of the people in this village. All the kids call me by my name and most of the older people, too. We've had a few more brushes with the V.C. in our area, but we are getting smarter than them because we have been killing them. And they haven't hurt us for a long time. Your loving son, Jackie.
BROWN: After 13 months in Vietnam, Jack McCarthy returned stateside. But by late 1967, his brother remembers, McCarthy got the call again to return to Vietnam.
MCCARTHY: We had conversations before he went back the second time, and he told you that he thought, you know, something could happen.
BROWN: And something did happen. On the morning of February 18, 1968, McCarthy stepped on an enemy explosive device and was severely wounded. He was evacuated to a naval field hospital in Da Nang and was able to send some letters home.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Reading) Dear Mom, sorry to not have written before, but I'm feeling better now. I'm going to be OK. I'm lucky it wasn't any worse, but I've lost my right leg and the sight of my right eye. Don't worry about it, please. Your loving son, John.
BROWN: McCarthy was eventually transferred to an Army hospital in Japan. But despite the efforts of surgeons, he died on the morning of March 25, 1968. He was 24 years old.
DALEY: When I think of him, I just think what a shame it is he couldn't really live his life.
BROWN: Jack McCarthy's friend, Dan Daley.
DALEY: You know, when I'd see his name on the wall - like, I was in D.C. recently - or the stone in front of the station, that's all I think of. What a shame, poor kid. He was so young. He never really had children or - he didn't have a life. He was just starting out and snuffed out. It was sad. He had a lot of potential, and just - it wasn't realized.
BROWN: Not realized, but not forgotten. For NPR News, I'm Steve Brown in Boston.
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