By Alex Robinson
A Richmond Hill war hero who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor is set to be honored at his Briarwood high school.
Louis Willett was given the prestigious award after he was killed at 21, fending off Vietnamese forces to save his outnumbered comrades. A group of alumni from Archbishop Molloy High School’s class of 1963 has been organizing a ceremony to commemorate the memory of their dead friend.
“I wanted to make it right for him and I wanted the students of Molloy to know what kind of graduate went to their school,” said Larry Seible, one of Willett’s friends from high school who is helping the school’s alumni association organize the event. “Back when some Vietnam vets came off the plane, they were spit on and weren’t given their due. I want him to get his due.”
In November, more than 80 members of the class of ’63 attended their 50th reunion. Many of them did not even know Willett had been awarded the Medal of Honor and a number of the attendees agreed to do something to commemorate his memory.
Seibel has been trying to obtain a copy of Willett’s Medal of Honor, which he wants to give to the school at the ceremony next November.
The day of Willett’s death was a clear, warm one, with no clouds in the sky, according to a report Willett’s captain, Edward Northrop, submitted, recommending the fallen officer for the Medal of Honor.
His squad was set to do a security sweep in Kontum Province Feb. 15, 1967, when it made contact with a large North Vietnamese force. Willett and his comrades were suddenly pinned down on the ground by steady fire from Vietnamese guns when the Queens man decided to take the situation into his own hands, Northrop said in the recommendation.
“Willett, with complete disregard for his life, rose to his feet and by expert use of fire and movement gained a position affording him a clear field of fire on enemy positions,” Northrop said.
The Richmond Hill man fired on the enemy soldiers, killing 11 and refused an order to return to where the rest of his squad lay, Northrop said in the recommendation.
The Vietnamese returned heavy machine gun fire at Willett’s position, hitting him multiple times, but he continued to fire back at them, providing cover for his comrades to retreat.
“Willett knew full well that his refusal to return to the squad would deny him an avenue of escape, placing the lives of his comrades above his own,” Northrop said.
His body was not recovered until the next day.
Willett was awarded the Medal of Honor the following year, but his younger sister Mary Ann Willett said it was little consolation for the family’s loss.
“It was devastating. And to be honest I don’t think the medal made much difference,” she said. “You want your brother back. The medal was an honor, but I wanted my brother. It didn’t give us much solace, but it did give us peace of mind because we found out exactly what happened to him,” she said.
Willett was born in Brooklyn and raised in Richmond Hill. He attended SUNY Maritime and was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1965 when he withdrew from school.
His family and friends as well as some Vietnam Veterans who were there the day Willett died will attend the ceremony, Seibel said.
Two other alumni from the class of ’63 were killed in Vietnam and will be honored at the ceremony. Cosmo Pacetta, of Far Rockaway, and John Reilly, of Milddle Village, both died in action.
Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.