Memorial Day is designated as a day for the United States to mourn all U.S. military personnel who died while serving in the United States armed forces.  Memorial Day is observed as a federal holiday in the U.S. on the last Monday of May.

Though the wisdom of some military conflicts may be questionable, those we honor today made the ultimate sacrifice so that future generations would have the opportunity to live in a democracy where all are equally subject to the rights, privileges and obligations of the founding documents.

On this day that honors many, I wanted to share the story of one. A young Marine who was killed in Vietnam in 1968. I mentioned him in a previous post about family discoveries.

Only a few months ago, I ran across the photo below while browsing the internet.

Polley Field Nelsonville, Ohio

It turns out that Polley Field is named for Richard Alan “Ritchie” Polley (1948-1968). It is a public park and sports complex in Nelsonville, a small town in southeastern Ohio not far from Lawrence County where Peyton Polley, my third great grandfather, and family settled in 1849 after securing their emancipation from slavery.

Ritchie earned the respect and admiration of his hometown as a exceptional student and star tailback on the high school football team. He was a member of the Class of 1967 at Nelsonville High School.

Ritchie Polley wearing his high school letter jacket

Following high school graduation, Ritchie volunteered for service with the Marines on November 30, 1967. He was sent to combat duty in Vietnam shortly after completing initial military training. Ritchie was mortally wounded in a firefight on June 4, 1968, only eight days after arriving in Vietnam.

His death was a shock to the small community of Nelsonville, which would lose four of its youth during the Vietnam War. A few years after the war, Polley field was named in his honor.

Pvt Richard A. “Ritchie” Polley, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st MARDIV

What I know about his brief time in Vietnam comes from entries on a virtual Vietnam wall that is maintained by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. There are a few remembrances of Ritchie from fellow Marines. One of them, an officer W. Killian, wrote that “the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines were part of Operation Mameluke in May and June of 1968, south of Da Nang in the Quang Nam Province. They had established some night positions including hillsides when they came under fire from the North Vietnamese equipped with concussion grenades and small arms fire. Polley and five others were killed in action, and 21 were wounded.”

Another entry from then-Cpl. Tom Keltner stated of Ritchie, “I carried you to the helicopter that I was crew chief on, (and) tried to breathe air into your lungs as we rushed you to medivac hospital. I was not successful, for this I am very sorry. You are not forgotten.”

Nelsonville remembered. In 2018, 50 years after Ritchie’s death, the city rededicated Polley Field in memory of those who Americans honor today.

Screenshot (120)

I never knew Ritchie Polley. I gather that he must have been an impressive student, athlete and young man for a town to name a popular public facility after someone who was only 20 when his life was cut short.

Click on the link below to see a short video of the rededication of the field in 2018. One of Ritchie’s friends makes a statement at 2:41 mark of the video.

Final Thought

Happy Memorial Day to those in the United States and other countries around the world who celebrate the sacrifices of their armed forces.