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John Price Pickett
Courtesy Cynthia Mullens

West Virginia Veterans Memorial

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John Price Pickett
1946-1969

"What is astonishing about the social history of the Vietnam war is not how many people avoided it, but how many could not and did not."

John Gregory Dunne

John Price Pickett was born on November 13, 1946, in Morgantown, West Virginia. His parents, Ann Louise Goodwin Pickett and James Harvey Pickett, worked in the dry-cleaning business. James Pickett drove a truck, and Ann Pickett was a bookkeeper. In 1950, they were joined by James “Jay” Pickett, a brother for John. John Pickett attended Morgantown High School and West Virginia University. After graduating from WVU, he married Lana Black. In November 1968, he joined the military and became a Marine. His tour began in July of 1969 as a basic infantry officer. He became a second lieutenant in Company G, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. He planned to return to Morgantown and go to law school.

In October 1969, Company G was near Hill 953 (Que Son Mountain) in Quang Nam, South Vietnam. The 7th Marines had been operating in the area for most of 1969. Summaries of the unit’s actions and significant developments were written each month and sent to the commanding general at headquarters in San Francisco from the commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines. The reports, now declassified, describe the primary mission of the unit, the weather, the accomplishments, the losses, the new personnel coming in, the numbers of enemy killed or captured, and the basic intelligence of operating conditions, inventories of weapons, and what they noticed in their tactical area of responsibility.

Research did not uncover the date that 2nd Lt. Pickett joined the 2nd Battalion in Vietnam, but his tour is recorded to have begun in July 1969, when the 7th Marines were aggressively patrolling their tactical area of responsibility and providing security in the Da Nang vital area. Emphasis was on surveillance and interception of the enemy. The main threats in the area were due to mines and booby traps. The 7th was getting help periodically from local persons. Enemy activity increased in the area.

In August, the 7th moved to the Que Son District, where it assumed control of the 2nd Battalion. The mission changed with the move; it changed again when the enemy was found operating in the area. The 2nd Battalion was moved to a position in the north of the tactical operating area of responsibility to block movement of the enemy. In August, 61 Purple Hearts were presented. As the summer wore on, the weather would increasingly play a role in the unit’s operational issues. Temperatures were high in August, and some critical supplies were not easily replaced. Company G, where it is assumed that John Pickett was positioned by this time, was under orders to aggressively seek out, establish contact with. and destroy the enemy.

In September, enemy contact occurred almost nightly. Unlike in recent months, the growing threat from the enemy was small arms, automatic weapons, and grenades replacing mines and traps. The 7th collected 6,500 pounds of rice, a continuing effort to disrupt and shorten the supplies of the enemy. High temperatures, high humidity, and steep terrain continued to hamper movement and create heat casualties. Additionally, mosquitos became another enemy. Notes in the monthly report indicate that every man in the unit was to take maximum precautions to avoid contracting malaria.

In October, the weather took a turn for the worse. Due to the monsoons, torrential rains washed out the only road between Landing Zone Baldy and Fire Support Base Ross. The 2nd moved from FSB Ross to LZ Baldy and had contact with the enemy nearly every day. Two tons of rice were collected. Unit mobility was hampered due to the rain and mud, but heat casualties were reduced, due to better planning, the October monthly noted.

On October 13, 1969, Company G lost 2nd Lt. John Price Pickett to small arms fire. According to the monthly report, while on patrol, the point man received small arms fire, which resulted in the death of a Marine. Though the monthly doesn’t mention this man’s name, the date and description of the place and context matches other sources that identify 2nd Lt. Pickett. Another Marine was wounded in action. A helicopter was called for their evacuation, but the request was denied due to the weather. From other sources, the location was Que Son Mountain, Hill 953. Two other Marines stayed with John Price through the night and carried his body, out of the jungle, through the mud and rain the next day to a point where his long trip home to Morgantown could begin. It would be three days before word of his death reached his parents, eight days before he was buried in East Oak Grove Cemetery.
military marker

2nd Lt. John Price Pickett’s military marker in East Oak Grove Cemetery. Courtesy Cynthia Mullens

In the November 12, 1995, edition of the Morgantown Dominion Post, Ann Pickett, John Pickett’s mother, was quoted in an article titled “I’m Sorry Johnny Went.” Mrs. Pickett said that John Pickett didn’t write about himself, but he wrote home letters expressing his worry for his brother Jay. He was trying to find a way to get Jay Pickett out of Vietnam and home. Ann Pickett said that the tone of John’s letters changed, that he was becoming more dejected, and was desperate to get Jay out. Jay Pickett returned home for his brother’s funeral and didn’t go back, despite his plans to rejoin his unit. He’d been in Vietnam only five months at the time he went home. Jay felt a sense of letting down his comrades in arms. According to his mother, “He spoke so much of the friends he left there and never got to say good-bye to.” John Pickett had been there only three months. As with most of the families affected by the controversial war, the Picketts had mixed emotions, pride in their son’s service, regret that their son might have died in vain. Ann Pickett concluded, “He said to me and his dad that he wouldn’t be able to face his friends that came back if he didn’t do his share. His conscience and his friends, that’s what made him go.”

Jay Pickett died nine years later in a car accident.

memorial

Tribute from fellow Marines. Courtesy Cynthia Mullens

John Pickett’s selflessness and leadership were honored in August, 2005, when a memorial was placed at his grave by his fellow Marines. It says:

We gather here today to Honor our fallen leader, rather big brother and friend. For most of us it is our first time. You may ask why did it take all these years to bring us here, the simple truth is, a part of us has always been here with John and always will be. John was a good leader, we called him “JP” most of the time. JP was not much on the Officer stuff and he could care less about yes sir – no sir or the hand salute. He cared about us, and how he would do everything in his power to keep us safe. JP you have been in our daily thoughts and prayers. As the years pass by, the memories of you never fade.
Semper Fidelis
Your Marines Golf 2/7

Article prepared by Cynthia Mullens
May 2017

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John Price Pickett

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