An auditorium at the Dayton VA Medical Center bears the name of local Medal of Honor recipient Joseph Guy Lapointe Jr. Killed in action in Vietnam in 1969, Lapointe is remembered for his compassion and fearlessness to help others.
A true homegrown hero, LaPointe Jr., known to his family as “Guy,” was born in Dayton on July 2, 1948. He was raised by his parents Mary Lee LaPointe, his stepmother, and Joseph Guy LaPointe Sr., a veteran of World War II. He graduated from Northridge High School in 1966 and married his wife, Cindy LaPointe-Dafler, soon after.
Cindy said she hadn’t known anyone else quite like Guy.
“He was the most compassionate young man I had ever met,” Cindy said. “I mean, 19 years old, so compassionate, so giving, would do anything for anybody. And usually, young men are pretty self-centered, (but) I suppose he had enough life experiences growing up that he was just very compassionate.”
As a teenager, Guy was often concerned with issues that extended beyond his own backyard.
When he was about 16, Guy and a friend tried to drive to Birmingham, Ala., in his old Opel to march with Martin Luther King Jr. Their car broke down on the way, and they had to limp back home. As an avid nature-lover, Guy would take Cindy hiking, camping and bird watching. He volunteered at the Aullwood Audubon Center in high school.
With the help of his personal hero and mentor Paul Knoop, well-known Ohio naturalist and educator, Guy was one of the youngest people in the state to be authorized to take plant and insect specimens from government property for research, Cindy said.
After high school, Guy wanted to go to college to study biology. His heart was outdoors, Cindy said. He dreamed of working for the national park system, the National Audubon Society or the Ohio Department of Natural Resources — whatever would keep him outside.
But while he was preparing for college, Guy received his draft orders.
“I really didn’t know anybody else that had gotten a draft notice and had to go, and it was a ‘What’s going to happen to us?’ kind of thing,” Cindy said.
Guy had asked Cindy to marry him a few times before he got his draft notice, and Cindy had considered it, but was sure that she wanted to finish high school before she thought about marriage. But when he got his papers, “he kind of quit asking, because he didn’t want to leave a widow.”
Guy hadn’t been thrilled about the war before, and when he got his draft papers, he declared himself to be a conscientious objector. He asked his pastor write a letter explaining that it was against Guy’s faith to take a life.
“His friends were trying to encourage him to go off to Canada, or try some other tricks, but he wouldn’t do it,” Cindy said. “He was not going to dishonor his father … he couldn’t, he couldn’t do that. And Canada wasn’t his home.”
Because he was a conscientious objector willing to accept military duty, in May 1968 Guy was sent to Fort Sam Houston where he was trained to be a combat medic. Guy liked the idea of being able to help people, Cindy said.
He was able to return to Dayton some weekends. After talking with their pastor, Cindy and Guy were married in August 1968.
“He came back for our actual wedding,” Cindy said. “We got married on Saturday, and he left Sunday back to Fort Sam (Houston). And then he came home for a month in October. And that was the whole of our married life together.”
After a month home, Guy was shipped off to Vietnam in October. He served with the 2nd Squadron (called B Troop), 17th Cavalry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
Guy would write back to Cindy about their future, she said. They would talk about their son, Joseph Guy LaPointe III, born Jan. 20, 1969, whom they called Joe. Guy would tell the more graphic details to his father and asked him not to share them with Cindy.
“He didn’t want his little wife to worry about it,” she said. “There was a lot he did not tell me.”
Cindy later found out about Guy’s experience in Vietnam from some of the men in B Troop. Fernando De Pierris, a helicopter pilot for B Troop, told her about how Guy would treat the Vietnamese children they came across, bandaging them and performing minor first aid.
He also shared the story behind the mission for which Guy was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.
His platoon was moving up a hill on April 12, 1969, when it was hit with artillery fire. Realizing there would be casualties, he ran toward where the first shell impacted. He didn’t pause to take cover as three more shells burst around him. Guy managed to treat 17 injuries, saving one man’s life.
Less than two months later, Guy was killed in action.
Guy and Cindy were scheduled to travel to Hawaii for rest and recuperation on June 3, 1969. Instead, Guy volunteered for a mission on Hill 376 in the former Quảng Tín Province of South Vietnam. Another medic was supposed to replace him, but his helicopter broke down. Guy ignored members of his troop who had told him to stay behind. He was determined to go, because his guys were not going to go out without a medic, Cindy said.
Shortly after landing, Guy’s patrol received heavy fire while going down the hill. They began walking back up the hill when two men, now in the front, were shot. They had been following a chicken that inadvertently led them in front of an enemy bunker, Cindy said. They called for a medic, and Guy ran through heavy fire to administer aid.
He was treating one man when he was shot. Despite the pain, Guy continued to treat his wounded comrade, shielding the other with his body. Wounded himself, Guy continued treating the wounded men until all three were killed by a grenade.
The remainder of the patrol were pinned down, waiting on reinforcements from helicopters that could not fly in the rain during the monsoon season. Of the 18 men who landed on the hill that day, 12 made it out alive, Cindy said.
Guy was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on Hill 376. Cindy said that his ability to run headlong into danger may have come from his adventurous nature as a child. Guy and a friend would take their bikes and ride for miles until they came to the Englewood Dam or the Aullwood Audubon Center.
“There was this line of trees, and they’d climb up to almost the top of the tree. They would swing back and forth and catch the next tree and catch the next tree and they were playing ‘Tarzan and Jane,’” Cindy said. “How many parents would let their 9- or 10-year-old do that today? I don’t know. Is it a boy thing, (thinking) that they can’t be touched? He never broke a bone doing that stuff. Hiking, invincible, just riding his bike everywhere. That was how he was, calculate it and just go.”
Guy is one of just three conscientious objectors to have been awarded the Medal of Honor.
Cindy and their son, Joe, didn’t learn the full details of Guy’s death until they visited Vietnam in 1999 with some of the remaining members of B Troop.
The group trekked up the hill for three hours, battling the same conditions that Guy had died in 30 years earlier. When they got to the spot where Guy and his comrades were killed, the group burnt rubbings of the names of the fallen that they had made at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
In addition to the auditorium at the Dayton VA, Guy has had several structures named in his honor, including a housing and medical complex in Fort Campbell, Ky., a medical heliport in Fort Benning, Ga., and, locally, an Army Reserve Center in Riverside. A portion of Ohio 49 has also been designated the “Joseph G. LaPointe Jr. Memorial Highway.”
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