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Memories live on of sailor killed in '67

1 of the ‘La Salle County 33’ who died in Vietnam

The late Boots Diamond had a premonition that came true one September day in 1967.

Diamond, 40, lived with her family on Route 71 just beyond a curve west of 4-H Road.

“She had it in her mind that she was going to make the curve and there were going to be three cars parked in the front driveway,” her daughter, Shirley Johnson, recalled. “And that day she made the curve and those three cars were there.”

The visitors were there from the Navy to notify Diamond that her son — Seaman William T. Diamond Jr. — had been killed in action in Vietnam on Sept. 15. He had been due to return home in less than a month.

“I remember it seemed like a long time before his remains arrived back in Ottawa,” Johnson said of her brother.

It was Sept. 18 that the news ran on the front page of The Daily Times and not until Sept. 23 that Diamond was buried with military honors in St. Columba Cemetery after a funeral service at St. Patrick Church.

“He was a fun-loving person, people loved him for sure,” Johnson said. “He was just an all around nice person and he had a great group of friends.”

Living along the Illinois River, water skiing was one of Diamond’s favorite pastimes.

“He was an amazing water skier, and he was out on the river from way too cold to way too cold,” Johnson said.

His weakness was school.

“School was not his friend,” Johnson said. “I think he dropped out maybe his senior year.”

In those days, without a disability or deferment, young men were very likely to be drafted into the military.

Diamond was working at Caterpillar in Joliet when he signed up for the Navy.

“Our dad had been in the Navy during World War II and served in the South Pacific,” Johnson said. “I think that and also that he wanted it to be his choice which branch of the service he went into was how he made up his mind to join the Navy.”

On the day he was killed, Diamond was serving with River Assault Squadron 11 delivering soldiers in the 9th Infantry Division to a combat area when the Navy flotilla was ambushed.

The four-hour battle resulted in battle damage to 18 boats. There were 110 sailors wounded and three killed — Diamond among them.

His actions that day earned him a posthumous Silver Star medal “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action.”

The Silver Star citation reads, in part: “With automatic weapons fire hitting all around his gun mount, Seaman Diamond calmly and accurately took the enemy positions under fire.

“When the first of six enemy anti-tank grenades struck his boat, wounding him and causing his gun to jam, he took immediate action to clear his weapon and continued to lay down an effective base of suppressing fire until he was fatally wounded by another enemy rocket round which scored a direct hit on his gun mount.

“Due in no small part to Seaman Diamond's actions, and the enemy fire which he drew as a result of the effectiveness of his own weapon, the troops … were landed successfully and without casualty at the designated landing site.

“His courage and devotion to duty in the face of intense enemy fire were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.”

'Moving Wall' honors the 'La Salle County 33'

Seaman William T. Diamond Jr., of Ottawa, was just one of 33 La Salle County men who died in Vietnam.

They and others will be remembered by the visit to Ottawa of "The Moving Wall" — a half-size replica of the Washington, D.C., Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

The memorial honors service members of the U.S. Armed Forces who fought in the Vietnam War, service members who died in service in Vietnam/Southeast Asia, and those service members who were unaccounted for during the war. The actual memorial complex sits on two acres.

The wall arrives Wednesday, June 6, at the UAW Pat Greathouse Center, 1000 E. Center St. An opening ceremony is planned for 5 p.m. Thursday, June 7. On Friday, June 8, a live bald eagle will be on display from noon to 5 p.m. A pancake breakfast will be Friday; a candlelight vigil at 8 p.m. Sunday, June 10; and the closing ceremony at noon Monday, June 11.

For event information, contact Roger Reynolds at 630-853-3713, or tacpusmc@sbcglobal.net.

The event is sponsored by the La Salle County Veterans Tribute Group, which is seeking community support in the form of funds, donations and volunteers.

The cost for the wall is $7,500. Funds also are needed for sound equipment, chairs, tents, lighting, staging, publicity and other items for the event.

The goal is to raise $20,000 to $25,000 to cover all anticipated expenses.

Donations can be made to the La Salle County Veterans Tribute Group at Ottawa Savings Bank or online at gofundme.com/bring-the-moving-wall-to-ottawa-il.

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