‘Old Friends’

Vietnam War hero lives in hearts and minds of loved ones

By LeAne Rutherford
June 2022

Pumped by youthful pride, patriotism and the possibility of doing something significant, in 1969 four young men from Sacramento volunteered for military duty in Vietnam. Greg Gannon, David McNeil, Arnold Zuniga, all 18, and Thomas J. Fox Jr., two months shy of 18.

Four left. Three came home. Fox died in that war on May 19, 1970. Gannon was a special escort for Fox’s final homecoming. Memorial events on the fifth, 25th and 50th anniversaries of his death have kept Fox in the hearts and minds of those who knew him.

At a memorial mass at Sacred Heart Church last December, Zuniga eulogized Fox for the 50 people attending. Another friend, Kathy Rehm, was the organizer and catalyst for the memorials.

To know Fox was to love him. He was described as the epitome of an all-American boy—sweet-faced, good natured. He was an altar boy at Sacred Heart. He was on the football team. He relished attending games, going to dances, listening to Simon and Garfunkel, drinking beer and having a good time.

Gathering with friends in schoolyards and backyards, Fox was surrounded by playmates and classmates. Bishop Armstrong High School, now Christian Brothers High School, was the last in a sequence of schools they attended together.

People were drawn to Fox. He was handsome. He was a good kid of good character who “knew right from wrong, protected women and defended the underdog,” Zuniga shared at the December memorial.

Fox was the sort of person who volunteered to carry a 50-caliber machine gun critical to his unit’s defense, no small task. The news of his death in Vietnam from a rocket-propelled grenade just 30 days before he was eligible for an early discharge devastated his family and friends. His mother, who had to give permission for Fox to volunteer, was notified of his death on Mother’s Day.

“Tom’s death was a dose of reality,” says another close friend, Ed Moriarty. Zuniga adds, “We thought we would go into the Army, come home and go on with our lives. It was a loss of innocence for us and for our nation.”

Fox received six major combat medals, including the Bronze Star, posthumously awarded. Bronze, a tin and copper alloy, stands for durability, but only to those who remain and know its significance. Ruefully, Moriarty says, “We’d rather have Tom than a Bronze Star.”

“Fox, Thomas J. Jr., USA” is inscribed on the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Capitol Park. His high school class of 1968 donated a baby grand piano to the Christian Brothers Music Department in his honor. Lifelong friends meet monthly at Old Ironsides in Midtown to reminisce, recall and retain Fox’s spirit.

“Remember Tom when you hear Simon and Garfunkel sing ‘Old Friends,’” Zuniga says. “’Preserve your memories. They’re all that’s left you.’”

LeAne H. Rutherford can be reached at lrutherf@d.umn.edu.

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