From Teammates and Friends to Heroes
Written By: James MacIsaac
Follow the link below to the Belmont Citizen-Herald article.
In 1964, a remarkable Belmont High School undefeated football team captured the Class B State Championship. This upcoming season will mark the fiftieth anniversary of that team’s run to greatness. The ‘64 team is also historically significant for reasons that reach way beyond the hard work and preparation that goes into building a winning team.
At a spring awards ceremony at BHS this year, my son, Kyle, was awarded the Teddy Lee and Donald Ray Memorial Scholarship. Knowing nothing of what these two young men had done or why there was a scholarship in both their names we set out to learn who they were.
Edward “Teddy” Lee and Walter “Donny” Donald Ray grew up in Belmont, were teammates on the 1964 Class B State Championship football team at BHS, graduated in 1965 and joined the army and were eventually sent to Vietnam. As so often is the case when individuals join ranks and form teams there is always an individual who appears larger than life. Someone whose character and charisma sets him apart from the rest and Edward “Teddy” Lee was that someone.
Teddy grew up on Bradley Road with his two sisters. When Teddy was ten years old his father passed away. According to Teddy’s younger sister, Barbara Hanley, Teddy took his father’s passing to heart and felt he needed to become the protector of not just the family but everybody. Barbara said that even though Teddy took on the additional responsibilities, he did everything with a smile on his face. Teddy spent his summer days working for Skippy Viglirolo and playing a variety sports with friends on Town Field. When I began to ask those that knew Teddy in his youth, the adjective “Legend” was used to describe him. He was physically imposing and good at everything but most of all he was a true friend and this made Teddy a very popular kid around Belmont.
When Teddy was a freshman he was a mere 5’3” 115 pound kid who was not allowed to play football. By his senior year of high school, Teddy had worked himself into a physically imposing stalwart on defense playing linebacker. Teddy’s tenacity on defense helped the 1964 BHS Football Team go undefeated and win the Class B State Championship Title. Teddy’s teammate Bill Skelley described Teddy as tough as nails and recalls that he had a never quit attitude that displayed itself at the end of the season when teammates learned that Teddy had played and finished the season with a broken foot.
After graduation, Teddy could have gone on to play football at Northeastern University but instead chose to enlist the Army and serve his country in Vietnam. During his first tour in Vietnam, Teddy was severely wounded in the leg and received two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star. The wound was his ticket home but Teddy reenlisted, this time joining a newly formed, volunteers only, Long Range Patrol (LRP) Field Force attached to the 101st Airborne.
It was September 1967 when fellow LRP Rick Ogden met Sgt. Edward Lee. Mr. Ogden was not aware that Edward Lee was called Teddy here in Belmont. In Vietnam he was known simply as Lee. According to Ogden, Lee was still fighting infection in his leg when he joined his unit. Mr. Ogden, who resides in Oklahoma, said Lee was one of the bravest and most fearless men I have ever known and a day does not go buy that I don’t think of Lee. Mr. Ogden went on to tell me that on two separate occasions he found himself in dire combat situations along with Lee. He said on both occasions that Lee disregarded his personal safety and did what had to be done to tip the scales in their favor. In the eyes of the men that served with him, Lee was the ultimate combat soldier. Rick paused and said, “I don’t like the term but for lack of better words, he was like.. John Wayneish.”
Having just a few months left to serve in Vietnam, Teddy Lee was set to embark on another stage of his life at Northeastern University in the fall of 1968. On May 13, 1968, Lee and his men were on a long range patrol deep in the jungles of
BinH Dinh Vietnam when a snipers bullet found him. I asked Rick Ogden how the men in his outfit took the news of Lee being killed. Rick said, “To be honest, in May 1968 a lot was happening in Vietnam. More soldiers were killed in May 1968 than any other month but Lee getting killed; that shocked all of us and we were not easily shocked at that time.” When discussing Teddy’s death, his sister Barbara said, “Teddy lived life to fullest and though he died young, he died full of life.”
I asked Mr. Ogden if Lee was one to brag about his exploits or if being called “Hulk”, due to his muscular physique, led Lee to believing he was somehow above his fellow soldiers. He paused and said there were very few guys like Lee. There were plenty of good soldiers that were not good people or friends but Lee was special. He never bragged and was always counted on by his fellow soldiers.
He said everybody in the outfit had “Lee” Stories. Mr. Ogden wanted the people of Belmont to know that Lee cared deeply about his friends and relatives in Belmont. After one mission General Westmoreland happened to visit their area and Lee and the General had quite a talk about their hometowns. Mr. Ogden also wanted us to know that Lee cared deeply for the Vietnamese people and took the time and interest to learn their language.
I spoke with Paul MacAuley who was a friend of both Teddy Lee and Donny Ray. Paul also went to Vietnam as a soldier. Paul told me Donny Ray grew up on Oak Avenue and after graduating from BHS, Donny enlisted in the Army and joined the 173rd Airborne. Paul MacAuley said he was heartbroken when in November 1967, he learned that Donny Ray had been killed in a week’s long battle in Kontum. A bloody battle that would ultimately claim 158 US Soldiers Killed in Action and another 33 missing in Action. When Paul learned that Teddy had been killed he was shocked. To this day he ponders how these two strong, tough kids were killed over there and he made it out.
I had a conversation with Bill French who grew up around Town Field and new Teddy though he was younger than Teddy. Bill said Teddy was a legend to the younger kids. He was strong, friendly and a great athlete. Bill told me a story about how his friends were playing baseball at Town Field when Teddy stopped by in full uniform on his way to his second tour. Bill said Teddy dropped his duffle bag, hopped the fence and asked if he could hit a couple and then went on the hit two monster home runs. Teddy hopped back over the fence, picked up his bag and told the kids, “I’ll see you in a few months.” That was the last time Bill French and his friends ever saw Teddy Lee.
Bill Skelley, former Belmont Selectman and teammate of Lee and Ray, founded the scholarship in their name. Fifty years ago, Skelley, Lee and Ray played on a team that the Belmont Herald labeled “The finest team in history.” I’m glad Bill has been able to keep the Scholarship going all these years and it demonstrates how competing in team athletics brings people together and often times provides the opportunity for communities and individuals to connect across generational lines. Lee’s and Ray’s name are joined with seven other Belmont citizens on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. If you’re planning on visiting the Washington DC area this summer please stop by the Vietnam War
Memorial and take the time to touch the names of two Belmont’s residents who were teammates, friends and heroes.
Other Belmont residents killed in Vietnam: Robert Larson, Allen John Eastman, David Hugh Holmes, John Clifford Chaves, Creighton Rooney Grant, Taher Fathi Ghais.