Part of a series we’re calling “40 Years Later: A Return To Vietnam,” on the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the final evacuation of U.S. troops.
BOSTON — Forty years ago today, on April 29, 1975, two Marines stationed in Boston came to the door of Charlie McMahon’s childhood home in Woburn.
They were there to deliver devastating news to the Marine’s parents, Charles and Edna: Their 21-year-old son had been killed in Vietnam.
McMahon was one of the last two U.S. service members to die on the ground during the Vietnam War, killed in a rocket attack by North Vietnamese troops on an airbase in Saigon while on a security detail.
What McMahon’s parent didn’t know at that point was that in the chaos of the U.S. evacuation of Saigon, Charlie’s remains, and those of the second Marine killed, Darwin Judge, were left behind.
The family turned to Sen. Edward Kennedy for help, and Kennedy quickly responded.
“I think that was something that came to him almost innately,” longtime Kennedy aide Paul Kirk said in an interview. “By that time in his life, his three older brothers had lost their lives in service to this country and there’d be a natural kind of empathy for those who wore our uniform half a world away and suffered or even paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
Kennedy, who had contacts in South and North Vietnam through his work on a Senate subcommittee on refugees, had focused on helping people fleeing the region in the wake of the fighting.
“He sent immediately a communication in May to Madame Binh, who was the foreign minister of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam, and he sent later communications to the North Vietnamese,” recalled Dale DeHann, one of Kennedy’s chief aides on the committee.
Kennedy also spoke to others, like the Vietnamese ambassador to France, and several officials at the United Nations.