Laura Dean Bennett
We underestimate our young people if we think that they do not value America’s history or recognize their place in the future of our nation.
The Vietnam War was an “undeclared war” in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia which lasted from November 1955 to the fall of Saigon in April of 1975.
For thousands of West Virginian Vietnam veterans, that war will never be forgotten.
Pocahontas and Webster counties suffered the highest per capita casualties of all counties in West Virginia.
The sacrifices of the past have left an indelible impression on the memories of many families.
For some families, their history is shaping the character, and possibly the future, of their youngest members.
At the Green Bank home of Peter and Alycia Bickford, there’s a young man who intends to follow in the footsteps of his great-uncle.
Forty years after his great-uncle, 2nd Lt. Richard “Rit” Bickford, died in Vietnam, Jacob “Jake” Bickford was born.
Eleven year old Jake has always been fascinated with the heroism and sacrifice of his family’s military service.
Jake is a fifth grade student at Green Bank Elementary School.
For his social studies project this year, Jake decided to focus on the life of his great-uncle, Lt. Bickford.
“My great-uncle was an officer in the Army,” Jake said. “He died in Vietnam. I knew I wanted to do my project about him.”
On October 18, 1968, 1st Lt. Richard Bickford was guiding in a scout helicopter that was forced to land in his company’s forward position during severe weather conditions.
The helicopter crash-landed and when it pitched forward, 1st Lt. Bickford was struck by the rotor blades.
He was flown to the evacuation hospital to Quang Tri, but tragically, he died en route.
“After he died, the Army gave him a promotion to 2nd Lieutenant,” Jake said.
“And they gave him the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. And I got to include them with my project,” Jake added, as he showed the medals.
His project won a blue ribbon at the Pocahontas County Social Studies Fair this year, qualifying him to move on to the regional social studies fair at Oak Hill High School, where it took second place in its category.
Jake’s mom, Alycia, said that Jake was really passionate about the project.
“He did all the research himself, and he made the board himself,” Alycia explained.
“He talked to his grandfather a lot to get all the facts, and he got a lot of memorabilia from him, too, that he included with his project.
“I only helped him write his speech. He really earned that blue ribbon.”
After all the judging was over, Jake gave the project board to his grandfather.
“Jake’s a great kid,” his mother said. “We’re really proud of him.”
Although winning second place among so many deserving projects was an honor, Jake was disappointed about not winning first place at the Regionals.
“I did want to win first place, but the project that won was about the Titanic, and it was really good, so it probably deserved to win,” Jake said, graciously.
There was history and heart in Jake’s project.
“I knew right away I was going to do my project on Uncle Richard,” he said.
“I admire him. He was dedicated to his country.
“He was a great man and a great soldier who lost his life too soon.”
Although Jake is growing up around horses – that contently grazed in the background during our interview –he has other interests.
“I’m more into sports,” he said. “I like to watch football, and my favorite sport is soccer.
“I’d like to play sports- like basketball and soccer in high school. And I’d like to play baseball some day.”
Like Jake, his Uncle Richard also loved sports.
He played varsity baseball, basketball and football.
He was all state football and basketball in his junior and senior year at New Canaan High School, in Connecticut.
Jake knows a lot about his great-uncle, and he put a lot of biographical information about him in his social studies project.
Richard Bickford was born May 8, 1943, and died October 18, 1968.
“My uncle died in Quang Tri Evacuation Hospital in October of 1968,” Jake said.
“Uncle Richard was twenty-five years old when he died.
“At home, his nickname was Rick, but in the Army his buddies called him ‘Rit.’
“He was my grandfather, Peter Bickford’s, brother. My grandfather was in the Air Force, and he was also in Vietnam.”
Jake comes from a military family.
His great-grandfather, Richard’s father, served with the Army Combat Engineers in Italy during World War II.
Richard’s brothers, David and Peter, were serving in the Air Force when Rick was killed in Vietnam.
His sister, Terry Lynn, joined the Air Force shortly after Richard’s death.
Richard’s youngest brother, Alfred, also joined the Air Force in 1976.
Jake shared his prized possessions – his grandfather’s scrapbook containing his brother, Richard’s letters, pictures, and commendations and the mounted and framed bayonet presented to Lt. Bickford at his West Point graduation and his medals.
As the guns of war raged in Vietnam, Richard began his military career at West Point, where he graduated with the class of 1967.
“I admire what he did and how he treated people,” Jake said proudly.
“His commanding officer told Uncle Richard’s family that he wasn’t only a great soldier, but a great friend.
“I want to go into the Army.
“But I don’t know, I sort of would like to be a Marine, too, or maybe go into the Navy. But I don’t like the water so much, so that’s probably out.
“But all the branches of the military are good because they all protect us.”
Like his Uncle Richard, Jake would like to go to the military academy at West Point.
“You have to be good in school to get into West Point,” Jake explained.
“I especially like math, reading and writing. And I like studying about U.S. history.
“I’m pretty good in school. My grade average is 3.8.
“And I haven’t gotten one write-up all year.
“I know I have to keep getting good grades, and I can’t have any bad behavior,” he explained.
Kelli Tallman, Jake’s homeroom and social studies teacher, agrees that Jake takes his school work pretty seriously.
“He’s a good student, and I think he did a good job on that social studies project,” Tallman said. “You could tell he’s really proud of his uncle.”
Jake’s looking forward to summer vacation.
“My grandparents live in Canaan, Connecticut, and we’re going there in June,” Jake said, smiling.
“They’re taking me to see West Point, and we are also going to a few museums.”
Richard is buried in the cemetery at West Point.
“We’re going to visit my Uncle Richard’s grave, and we’ll put flowers on it,” he added.
“I think my Uncle Richard needs to be remembered and known, but so do all the veterans.
“They deserve recognition, too.”
So says young Jacob Bickford, a young man who already has a deep understanding and appreciation of Memorial Day.