By: Sharon Aron Baron
It was moving day from their rental home in the Glen Isle development and Jeremy Teitler was having one last look in the attic to see if there was anything they left behind when he discovered an old suitcase. He carried it downstairs, but neither he nor his girlfriend Meghan Burns recognized it. When he opened it up, he knew that the contents were special.
“Meghan, I think that this is important,” he told her.
Inside were military medals, pins, awards, letters, and a folded flag. The items inside said they belonged to Private First Class Geoffrey Douglas Radcliffe Saunders who had died on April 26, 1968 at the age of 19 while serving in Vietnam. Knowing nobody by that name, they contacted Coral Springs Talk to see if we could help them find a relative who would be missing these precious items.
Department of the Army Headquarters Company C 2nd Battalion (Airborne) 501st Infantry 2nd Brigade 101st Airborne Division
June 1, 1968
Mrs Christine Saunders
215 SW 19th Avenue
Miami FL 33135
Dear Mrs Saunders,
I extend my most profound sympathy to you on the recent loss of your son, Private First Class Geoffrey Saunders, who died in the service of his country on 26 April 1968. Our company was engaged in combat operations against North Vietnamese Army forces to the north of Hue. Your son was mortally wounded by fire from a North Vietnamese machine gun which struck him in the head and stomach. It may afford you some consolation to know that death was instantaneous and he was not, therefore, subjected to any undue suffering.
The news of your son’s death came as a great shock to all who knew him, and his loss will be felt keenly in this organization. I sincerely hope the knowledge that Geoffrey was an exemplary soldier and died while serving his country will comfort you in this hour of great sorrow.
The Battalion Chaplain held memorial services for your son at our battalion base camp north of Hue, Republic of Vietnam. All of your son’s comrades attended the service for him and the other men of this unit who gave their lives in this service of their country.
Once again, personally, and for all the officers and men of this unit, please accept this letter as a symbol of our sympathy.
Kenneth D. Buch
Lt Infantry Commanding
But how did Private Saunders lose his life at such a young age? His mother received some answers in this one letter from W.P. Fallon, Jr Colonel GS Chief of Staff:
June 28, 1968
Private First Class Saunders distinguished himself on a combat operation near Hue, Republic of Vietnam. Company C was sweeping through a thinly wooded area known to contain a number of enemy bunkers and trenches that were capable of producing supporting cross fire on any force attempting to overrun their positions.
As the company moved into the woods the right flank came under increasingly heavy fire from a series of bunkers to the right and front. Private First Class Saunders squad was caught in a deadly cross fire and immediately tried to maneuver out of the area. When he saw his squad leader hit by a burst of automatic weapons fire, he immediately began to work his way toward him. Several men got to the squad leader first and began carrying him to the rear over exposed ground.
Knowing that their movements could not be hurried, Private First Class Saunders exposed himself in order to give them covering fire. He fired continually in the general direction of the bunkers putting out a heavy volume of fire covering the extraction of his squad leader. He moved back and forth between the enemy and the rescue party until they had reached safety and the wounded man could be evacuated. Private First Class Saunders’ personal bravery and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect real credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
Saunders’ mother was obviously heartbroken, and was holding on to his possessions. Perhaps she is no longer alive and gave them to a relative whom she trusted to hold on to them. The original owner of 432 NW 111 Avenue where Meghan and Jeramy were renting was Spiro Pappas. He built the home back in 1987 and lived there until 2005. That’s when Ken and Wendy Fretz bought it and rented it to them. They believe during this time there were some other renters that may have put the suitcase in the attic, or the owners themselves put it in up there from one of their other properties.
They are holding on to the items, but would like for them to go back to a family member of Private Geoffrey Saunders. Meghan contacted the funeral home in Miami listed on the papers and they said that Saunders was born in Jamaica, so she is hoping someone in the South Florida Jamaican community knows of someone in this family. Saunders was born on November 14, 1948 and his race is listed as white.
Coral Springs City Commissioner Lou Cimaglia wants to help find the family and sit down with Broward County VA agent Floyd White as well as his own son who is a Veteran’s agent in Wilmington MA and see if he can look up Saunders name and help find his family.
“I don’t know where else to go,” said Cimaglia. “It’s really difficult to chase people. We will definitely do the research to find his family.”