Joseph Vincent Whelan

Meet Joseph Vincent Whelan, Green Beret, Vietnam Conflict, One of Cranford’s 86
Submitted by Don Sweeney

Since taking on the responsibility to tell the stories of the Cranford 86, I find myself gravitated to war movies on demand and in theaters as I spend hours researching the stories of our hometown heroes. The movies that have historical themes of real encounters are the ones that I am attracted to the most. The latest was the story of PFC Desmond T. Doss, a Medal of Honor recipient despite refusing to bear arms during WW2. The movie is Hacksaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson. If you haven’t seen it, you must. As I walked from the theater I said to my son, “I can’t believe this happened over 70 years ago and I have never heard this amazing story.” In the past year I have read stories much like this as we uncover the history of the 86 Cranford men who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of our country. Most of the people who knew these men and their stories have passed on, leaving the stories tucked away and untold to today’s Cranford inhabitants. The one that caught my eye in my six-inch stack of photocopies of old news articles was the story of Joseph Vincent Whelan, a Green Beret from the Vietnam Conflict. Born on February 1st 1942 in Bayonne, he lived most of his life at 126 Makatom Drive in Cranford, moving here when he was two months old. He graduated of St. Michael’s Elementary School before moving up to Cranford High School, where he was captain of his golf team as well as a valued member of the varsity football team. A note under his yearbook picture states “Joe [is] even-tempered . . . a nicer guy you couldn’t meet.” Joseph Whelan joined the Army immediately after graduation in 1959 and served for three years. Stationed in Greenland, he saw no action as this was after the conclusion of the Korean Conflict. As the Vietnam Conflict broke out, he reenlisted in 1965 and attended Officer Candidate School. After graduation, he was commissioned a second lieutenant and later attained the rank of captain. He was wounded twice during his first tour of duty in Vietnam when his Special Forces unit was overrun by North Vietnamese troops during the nearly two-month-long siege of Khe Sanh early in 1968. He was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for valor during that tour. Joseph was then sent back for another tour in Vietnam. He served with the 5th Special Forces Group (Green Berets) as commander of a joint Vietnamese and American platoon. He was killed in action while on a combat mission deep in enemy territory when his platoon was ambushed at landing zone Providence in Laos on October 25, 1969, three weeks after starting his second tour of duty in Southeast Asia. He was posthumously awarded a Silver Star Medal for gallantry in action. His Silver Star citation reads: Captain Whelan distinguished himself on 24 October 1969 while commanding a platoon of Vietnamese civilian irregulars during an exploitation mission deep in enemy-held territory. Subjected to enemy fire, the platoon was inserted by helicopter into the planned area of operations. After moving some distance from the landing zone, the platoon was attacked from every side by an estimated company of North Vietnamese armed with rockets and automatic weapons. Several Americans and Vietnamese were seriously wounded in the initial exchange of fire. Although rocket-propelled grenades exploded overhead and machine gun fire raked the area, Captain Whelan moved from cover through open terrain to a group of Vietnamese irregulars stunned by the suddenness and ferocity of the enemy’s attack. He quickly allayed the irregulars’ fear and disorder by forming them into a large squad and rallying others to join them. Shouting commands and encouragement to his men, Captain Whelan then led a bold rush against fortified enemy positions atop a nearby hill. Firing their weapons on the run, Captain Whelan’s squad, with him at the fore, broke through rank after rank of enemy soldiers. Although knocked down several times in his advance by the blasts ofexploding grenades, Captain Whelan struggled to his feet each time and continued to lead his men on. As the allies neared the crest of the hill, a last barrage of rocket- propelled grenades unleashed by the enemy mortally wounded Captain Whelan. Inspired by his unfailing courage and leadership, Captain Whelan’s men fought on and routed the North Vietnamese from their defensive positions. Captain Whelan’s gallantry in action, at the cost of his life, was in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army. In addition to the Silver and Bronze Stars for his gallantry under hostile fire, Joseph Whelan received many other awards for his service in Vietnam, including two Purple Hearts and the Army Commendation Medal. He left behind in Cranford his widow Dorothy (Gillespie) and a daughter Charlotte, then 18-months old. Charlotte later attended Clemson University and settled in South Carolina where she married the son of a South Carolina state senator. A service was held at St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church and Joseph Whelan was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Captain Joseph Vincent Whelan was one of America’s finest and one of our Cranford 86.

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