HOWLAND — Service has been a hallmark of Timothy Fonderlin’s life.
Whether it was 1964, when 17-year-old high school student Warren G. Harding signed a volunteer contract to join the United States Marine Corps, or a decision later in life for Fonderlin and his wife , Diane, to be among the first volunteers in the new Trumbull County chapter of Habitat for Humanity.
A Warren native, Fonderlin, now 75, one of three children, decided to join the army in the middle of his senior year because he thought he would be drafted as soon as he got his diploma. Fonderlin wanted to have a choice in how he would serve.
Her father, Harold, had served in the United States Navy during World War II. He also had two uncles who served in the US Army.
“I decided to join the Marines because I heard his boot camp was the hardest,” said Fonderlin. “I was an athlete, so I thought I could handle it.”
Fonderlin was trained as an infantryman. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Division. The unit flew a MedCruise, which allowed them to complete a series of landings, departures, and other combat training over a six-month period.
After returning to the United States, Fonderlin’s unit was briefed on what was happening in Vietnam, so naturally Fonderlin volunteered to be sent there – again, doing what he could to take control of their future, instead of waiting for an assignment.
Landing in Da Nang, Vietnam in June 1966, the U.S. Navy found the heat oppressive, with heat waves that could be seen rising from the tarmac at the Navy base into the air.
Fonderlin was assigned to Delta Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion at Chu Lai Base, Vietnam.
“I was surprised because we thought First Recon was the best of the best,” he said. “I didn’t know I was up to it.”
Shortly after, Fonderlin, who arrived in the country as a lance corporal, was promoted to corporal. The unit was formed to replace one of the first reconnaissance units in the region.
Fonderlin received a bronze star for an action that took place on December 14, 1966, while his unit was supporting Operation Sierra, near Nai Nhan, Vietnam. His platoon decided to set up camp for the night. The command post was set up centrally near the top of a hill with two units, including Fonderlin’s unit set up in a semicircle on either side of the command post.
He set up a listening post in a shallow foxhole dug about 15 to 20 yards from his unit. There was only brush and a few small trees hiding its location.
Fonderlin’s turn to listen for any suspicious activity, he heard a faint noise in front of him. But, due to the darkness making it difficult to see, Fonderlin wasn’t sure what it was.
Seconds later, Fonderlin saw dark figures on his left and right sides.
Claymore mines had been planted by the unit, but Fonderlin feared the enemy had turned them over to face his unit, so Fonderlin decided not to set them off.
Fonderlin fired his M-14 rifle from both sides, allowing him to step back a few feet, then throw two grenades into the area where he saw the movement. Almost immediately after throwing his grenades, two chicom grenades landed in front of the hole he had been in and exploded.
“Fortunately, they seem to explode more than they die out,” Fonderlin wrote in a report describing the incident. “I was still hit by scrap metal from the explosive devices.”
Fonderlin returned to his squad’s position ordering them to throw grenades and fire their rifles. He moved to several positions, directing their fire. The shooting lasted 20 to 25 minutes.
“Three of my squad members, including myself, were injured,” he said. “I sent these Marines back to our command post to be treated by our medics.”
Fonderlin described another firefight that took place in 1967 in which his small reconnaissance unit patrolled to observe where the enemy was. The unit came under fire.
During a momentary lull in the fighting, a helicopter was dispatched to pick up the Marines. As most of his unit members boarded the helicopter, Fonderlin and another soldier were carrying guns that had been dropped to the ground when the helicopter began to take off.
Both soldiers were knocked off the loading platform onto the ground.
“We knew what would happen once the helicopter was in the air,” said Fonderlin. “They would call in and the area would be strafed by our artillery to clear it.”
They yelled at the helicopter to come back for them.
Later, Fonderlin learned that his best friend, Joseph Barnes, rushed to the cockpit of the helicopter demanding that the pilot return to the site to retrieve the two Marines who had fallen on takeoff.
The pilot was reluctant to return to the area as they were under heavy fire, but Barnes drew his pistol, pointed it at the pilot’s head and demanded that he return to retrieve the Marines or he would shoot him. The helicopter came back to pick them up.
Barnes was later killed in an explosion while they were still in Vietnam.
Fonderlin described extending his time on duty by six months, so he could take a scuba diving course. As a qualified diver, Fonderlin flew more than 40 missions during those six months to determine if bombs had been planted on ready-to-detonate decks with the Americans and their allies on them.
After returning to the United States, Fonderlin got a job at Packard Electric, where he met his future wife. He retired from Packard Electric in 1999, after 30 years with the company.
He is active in various veterans organizations. Through their work with Habitat, he and his wife have traveled the world in service to others.
AGE: 75 years old
BRANCH OF SERVICE: United States Marine Corps
MILITARY HONOURS: National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal with Apparatus, Vietnam Service Medal with 3 stars, Purple Heart Medal with 1 star, Good Conduct Medal, Bronze Star with V and a certification of sniper in rifle qualification badge. He was trained in the Marine Rifle Squad, the Marine NCO Course, in reading maps and aerial photographs, and in scuba diving.
OCCUPATION: Retired from Packard Electric
FAMILY: Wife, Diane Fonderlin; and two children, Dieanne Frost and Louanne Dubos