'Look At These Beautiful Boys': In 1969, Life Magazine Published The Faces Of Americans Killed In Vietnam05:33
Download

Play
On June 27, 1969, Life magazine published an issue that sparked controversy and emotion across the country. It featured the names and photos of more than 200 American troops who had been killed in just one week in the Vietnam War. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
On June 27, 1969, Life magazine published an issue that sparked controversy and emotion across the country. It featured the names and photos of more than 200 American troops who had been killed in just one week in the Vietnam War. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

On June 27, 1969, Life magazine published an issue that resonated across the nation.

On the cover was the face of a young man from upstate New York. His name was William Gearing. The headline over his face read, "The Faces of the American Dead in Vietnam: One Week's Toll." Inside the magazine were the names and photos of more than 200 young men who had been killed in the war in just one week of combat.

Turning the pages is like looking at a high school yearbook. The faces are mostly young. Some of them are in civilian clothes, others in uniform.

James P. Hickey's picture is on the first page. He's wearing his Marine dress blues. Hickey — everyone called him Jimmy — was a 19-year-old private when he was killed in a mortar attack on a hill southwest of Da Nang on May 27, 1969.

That was a long way from home, which was Quincy, Massachusetts, where he and his Irish American family lived on Ellis Street.

"It was just a normal childhood," says Jimmy's sister Chris Hickey Silcox, who was 17 when he was killed. "[We] went to school, some skipped school, but really nothing, and then his friend passed in Vietnam and these boys joined up and off they went, and that was the end of childhood."

That friend was another young man from Quincy, David Pitts. He died in Hue during the Tet Offensive in 1968. Jimmy and five of his friends dropped out of high school not long before graduation and joined the military.

"Remember, these kids grew up and you still heard a lot about World War II, [they were] very patriotic, very," Chris says. "And they joined something that was not remotely even close. It was a mess, it was a mess."

John Hickey was a year older than his brother. They were tight.

"We hung around together. He had his group of friends and I had mine, but we mingled a lot together. We used to hang around down at the beach, and the Quincy Quarries was one of our spots," John says. "He would always show up with his crew. We got along very well."

Marine Pfc. James Hickey of West Quincy, Mass., was killed in action in Vietnam on May 27, 1969. He was 19 years old. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Marine Pfc. James Hickey of West Quincy, Mass., was killed in action in Vietnam on May 27, 1969. He was 19 years old. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Jimmy's mom Carol was home with a cousin when two Marines and the parish priest arrived with the news that Jimmy was dead.

"She was coming down the stairs and my cousin opened the door. And she knew," says Chris, who had taken the bus to North Quincy High School that day. But when she got there, she says she turned around walked away and spent the day wandering around.

Her friends found her at Burger King that afternoon and told her she had to come home. Chris thought she was in trouble for skipping school. It was much worse that that.

John was at work, having lunch and playing cards with fellow workers, when he found out.

"I was dealing and I looked up and my father was standing there," he says. "I knew just like that. And he said, 'It's Jimmy,' and I knew."

"Their families provided most of these photographs, and many expressed their own feelings that their sons and husbands died in a necessary cause," the editors of Life wrote in the text that accompanies the photo of Jimmy Hickey and the others. The death toll, they wrote, translated to "direct anguish in hundreds of homes all over the country, we must pause to look into the faces."

Jimmy's siblings Chris and John did that again recently, with Chris softly fingering the faded pages as she turned them, choking on tears, before she saw her brother.

"All these boys, look at these beautiful boys, look at them," she says. "Oh, there he is."

The death shattered the family, especially their mom Carol.

"She was never the same," says Rose Hickey, who's married to John and watched the anguish unfold. "There was nothing left of her. That was it. It just killed her."

Carol Hickey died in 1973, just four years after her son. Her family says she had a broken heart and just wanted to be with Jimmy again. She was only 42.

Fifty years later, Chris says she remembers her brother's death like it happened yesterday. She says she still thinks about the day Jimmy and his friends quit school and left for Vietnam.

"Six went and five came home," she says.

This segment aired on June 27, 2019.

Related:

Alex Ashlock Twitter Producer, Here & Now
Alex Ashlock has been a producer for Here & Now since 2005. He started his WBUR career as senior producer of Morning Edition in 1998.

More…

Support the news

+Join the discussion
TwitterfacebookEmail

Support the news