HAMMOND — “Freddie was a good boy.”
Ina Kizziah remembers her son, Fredrick King, as a man who loved his family dearly and would do anything he could to protect them. He was the oldest boy of eight children.
The 17-year-old quit high school and joined the U.S. Army in 1966. Like so many others from the area, Kizziah said her son was determined to serve.
“He decided he wanted to go to war. He said he feels like he needs to fight for his family and his country. And that’s what he went on to do,” the 90-year-old Gold Star mother said recently while sitting in her Hammond home, surrounded by the old photos and framed medals belonging to her Freddie.
“With Vietnam, the way it was and the terrible fighting and killing, I wasn’t too happy about it. But, I thought if that’s what he wants, if that’s what makes him happy, I am all for it.”
King kept in touch and often wrote home during his two years in the military. In the letters she received from her son, Kizziah said the soldier would describe the monsoon season and the lonely nights he spent on guard duty, watching over his comrades as they slept.
He was always glad when daylight returned, Kizziah said.
“He wasn’t too happy with the heat. He said it was very hot with a lot of rain and mud. The mosquitoes were real bad,” Kizziah recalled. “When he was on guard duty, he said it was very lonely. The enemy would try to sneak in and trying to kill some of our soldiers. He didn’t like guard duty at all.”
For a period of time, King was a jeep driver. He was responsible for traveling from base to base, picking up and delivering bed linens and anything else that might be needed.
Once in a while, he would be asked to pick up a high ranking soldier or officer, Kizziah said.
It wasn’t an easy job, as King found himself swerving enemy-planted bombs and landmines in the roadway.
“That was his end — the jeep,” Kizziah said, with tears beginning to fill in her eyes.
King was told that he was eligible to leave Vietnam early and return home. When he got to the airport, his orders were not cleared and he was returned to his company at the base to await other orders.
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When he returned, King was approached by the soldier who had replaced him as a driver of the jeep.
“One of his buddies asked him if would ride shotgun for him, which I suppose is manning the gun on the back of the jeep. So my son went with him to another base to pick up a load of laundry,” Kizziah said. “On that trip, they hit a land mine and my son was thrown from the jeep into a tree. The driver died instantly.”
King lived for two hours and 45 minutes before he passed away on a field hospital operating table from head injuries. He was 19 years old when he died on November 24, 1968.
The next morning, Kizziah was told the news that her son would not be returning home.
“I was getting my kids ready for school that morning and a car pulled up in front of my house. When they walked up to the driveway and got up to the door, they asked if they could come in. They had papers in their hands and I thought it had to be about my son,” Kizziah said, while wiping away the tears that began to run down her cheeks.
“I said, ‘Will you just please tell me one thing, is my son badly hurt or is he dead?’ And they just asked again if they could come in. I knew then my son was gone. It was a very sad day.”
After she buried her son, Kizziah began to surround herself with other mothers whose children were killed in war.
“There was a lot of boys being killed in Vietnam from this area. So, when there was a wake and a funeral, we would go to the wakes and many times we would go to their homes and visit with the families,” Kizziah said. “It always felt so good to be able to go to their homes and talk with them and discuss with them about Vietnam and our experiences with the government. We would comfort each other.”
Kizziah said she was always glad to volunteer her time to other Gold Star families. Making sure that the fallen veterans got the recognition they deserved and that the families felt like there was support available was important to Kizziah and her own healing.
“My heart goes out to all the families who have lost their kids in war."
Today, much of King’s military memorabilia, including the letters to Kizziah, are on display in a veteran’s museum at the Tri-Town Safety Village in Schererville. The museum, run by Lake Central High School history teacher Tom Clark, features hundreds of items from antique military weapons to uniforms from the Civil War to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I wish that people would honor soldiers when they see them. When my kids and I go to restaurants or go shopping at stores and we see a soldier in uniform or wearing a cap with service to our country on it, we always make it a point to go and thank them,” Kizziah said. “We’re always grateful in our hearts that they made it back alive. We’ve had so many that didn’t.”