LOWELL F. VAN WAGENEN, 1LT, USMC
Lowell Van Wagenen '70
Date of birth: November 25, 1946
Date of death: August 2, 1973
From the 1970 Lucky Bag:
From Class of 1970 40th Reunion Book:
After high school graduation in 1964, Lowell Van Wagenen’s interests were in SCUBA diving off Palos Verdes, California, and fall hunting season in Utah. When the Army called, Van chose the Marines. Once a Marine, he realized he should have stayed in school; thus, NAPS and USNA became part of his future.
Van followed an unconventional path at the Academy, with his greatest interests beyond its walls. After graduation, with wife Madeline and son Lowell II in tow, Van attended The Basic School at Quantico. In March, 1971, he began flight training in Pensacola and received his wings a year later. In March, 1972, Van and family arrived in Orange County, California, where he reported to MAG 16, HMM 161, MCAS (H) Santa Ana to fly CH-46 helicopters. In June, 1973, Van was assigned to an unaccompanied tour on Okinawa for one year. Near midnight on August 1st, he phoned home. An hour later, he was called on to co-pilot a nighttime medevac of a fallen Marine in the mountains of the Northern Training Area in Okinawa; the medevac helo crashed and all aboard died. A young man’s dreams extinguished, another routine fatality to preserve the nation’s security.
The huge hangers at MCAS (H) Santa Ana are now surrounded by housing tracts; the runways of nearby MCAS El Toro have turned to weeds, one day to become a "Great Park." The Van Wagenen home is still there -- on the futile off-chance that Van might someday find his way back.
Looking back, forty years later, at the antics of the Class of 1970 still brings laughter and pure joy at the memories of youthful audacity. Lowell Van Wagenen, forever young in our memories, would still have a big smile across his face, and take this opportunity to say a heartfelt "thank you" to his wonderful friends, the steadfast classmates who conspired with him and supported him during those years by the Bay in order to make it through to graduation. Cheers! Madeline Van Wagenen
From The Courier-Journal from Louisville, Kentucky on December 13, 1981:
LAGUNA NIGUEL, Calif. A few days after Veterans Day, Madeline Van Wagenen took an 8-year-old American flag, attached a letter to it and sent it off to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, D.C. "I am returning the flag that draped my husband's coffin in August 1973 " she wrote President Reagan. "He was a Marine helicopter pilot killed during a rescue attempt. "If you can reissue the flag for someone else's coffin, you will be able to save a few more much-needed dollars."
Bitter though it sounded, the letter underscored the fury felt by Mrs. Van Wagenen and a growing number of Vietnam-era military widows, who first lost their husbands and now are losing the survivors' benefits the government promised the soldiers when they signed up. Widows of active-service military men were to receive payments until their dependent children were 18 and the children themselves were to receive benefits until they were 22. Now, under a section of the Reagan administration's budget cuts, the payments for mothers will cease when their children reach age 16 and the children will forfeit payments when they reach 18. The result the widows say, is financial difficulty for them, and the loss of a college education for their children.
And, they say, there is a deeper principle involved. "You just don't send a man out to die and then tear up his contract" says Mrs. Van Wagenen.
Late last week, a bulky package appeared on the doorstep of Mrs. Van Wagenen's home in California's south Orange County. Inside was the American flag that had journeyed to Pennsylvania Avenue, only a few miles from Arlington National Cemetery where it had draped Lowell Van Wagenen's coffin. Along with the returned flag was a letter, written by Anne Higgin, Reagan's director of correspondence. The president could not keep the flag, Ms. Higgin wrote. As for Mrs. Van Wagenen's acerbic letter, it had been forwarded to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Veterans Administration.
"The president sends his best wishes," wrote Ms. Higgin. "He certainly appreciates the deep sentiments which have led you to do this." But Mrs. Van Wagenen and other widows remain intent on spreading nationally their opposition to his survivors' budget cuts, by way of a network of widows and orphaned children called Survivors of Sacrifice or, not coincidentally, S.O.S. They feel, say Mrs. Van Wagenen, Diane Morgan and Mary Maclean, that they have already lost enough for the U.S. government.
None of the women realized their benefits were involved in cuts in the nation's Social Security program until recently. During the summer, Mrs. Van Wagenen says, she suddenly realized that an overall cut in Social Security might have some impact on the $1,000-a-month payment she receives for herself and her 13-year-old son, Lowell Finley Van Wagenen Jr. "I thought they were talking about civilian widows," she said. "I thought it couldn't affect me my husband gave his life for this country!"
But on Aug. 13, Mrs. Van Wagenen's birthday, Reagan signed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, which went into effect Oct. 1. The bill cut the mothers' benefits by two years (effective in 1983) and the children's benefits by four years. Those children now in college will receive some benefits until 1985, but those not enrolled by May of next year will not qualify for any benefits.
"Then I just stewed for a couple of weeks," says Mrs. Van Wagenen, "I was appalled that they were doing this to men who died. "I didn't mind the idea of sacrifice. I just thought that everyone else should make a huge sacrifice, too. We were still supporting the tobacco industry, and we are still porting the dairy industry ... Because they didn't die, they're doing better." First Mrs. Van Wagenen consulted a lawyer with the idea of suing to retain her and her son's benefits. That idea soon died, given the high cost of fighting a years-long battle in the courts. Then she began writing letters to congressmen, to official bodies in Washington, D.C What she got in return were computerized form letters, politely thanking her for her interest in the budget.
So early this fall, she decided to try another tack. Publicity. She made the rounds of community newspapers and talk shows, and together with other widows held a press conference on Veterans Day announcing her Intention to send back her husband's flag. Then the women formed Survivors of Sacrifice, a soon-to-be nonprofit organization whose goal is to point out that the sons and daughters of soldiers killed in action will still be eligible for student loans, just as civilians are.
"It was not aimed at the Vietnam War, or Korean War military survivors," said John Trollinger, a Social Security spokesman. "That was not of consideration. The main consideration was reducing ancillary benefits, things helpful in reducing program costs." Trollinger noted that the Social Security cuts are across-the-board, affecting both the military and civilians. But the survivors point out one difference.
"We're on Social Security because our men did what the government told them to do," said Mrs. Van Wagenen, eyes flashing. "Our husbands had definite contracts with the government that required them to pay (into the benefits program). Then they die for their country and they take it away."
Mary and Billy Joe Taylor had not been married two years. He had seen his son Michael only once in the hospital where he was born. Michael receives $227 a month in survivors' benefits. Now Michael, 14, says he is learning about Vietnam and his father and trying to ignore those who have told him that soldiers who fought that unpopular war were "stupid."
"It may hurt as much as he if had been killed right now," says Mary Maclean, who remarried several years after Taylor died. "His father was a brave man who gave his life for something he believed in the freedom of all people. "Now the Social Security thing . . . he's going to lose out again."
Michael Taylor wants to attend California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, then become an officer in the military medical, corps. Without the benefits until age 22, there will be no college. Without college, Michael will not be accepted into officers' training school. "Society now is such that if you don't get a college education you will not make it in life," Mrs. Maclean said. "We're barely middle class. Without help, there is no way that he will see his dream come true."
James Smee '70 was also in 29th Company.