Marine PFC Anthony “Tony” Pepper disappeared in 1968 while attempting to capture Hill 700 in Vietnam, west of Khe Sanh. Four days later his parents received a telegram that listed him missing in action. The message was the first of six similar telegrams the Pentagon sent to the family in the next six months. A seventh and final message classified Tony as killed in action/body not recovered.
The loss of their only son put the Pepper family members into mourning for the remainder of their lives. Following the deaths of both parents and the estrangement of an older sister, Tony Pepper’s younger sister Carrie took up the challenge of finding his remains. She had been thirteen when Tony died.
Carrie Pepper tells the story of her quest in Missing on Hill 700: How Losing a Brother in Vietnam Created a Family in America (Cottage Ink, 242 pp., $24.95). Vietnam veterans of 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines who had fought alongside Tony Pepper comprised the new family that she created in America—a family dedicated to the remembrance of her brother.
She found these veterans, many with closely involved wives, and built relationships with them through phone calls, email, letters, visits, memorial services, and unit reunions. Carrie Pepper’s research has recreated the last days of her brother’s life. At the same time, she vicariously experienced what he would have gone through had he survived the war because her band of new brothers also shared the good and bad from their post-war lives.
Despite never finding her brother’s remains, Carrie Pepper arranged to have a ceremony to place a tombstone for him in a special section of Arlington National Cemetery in 2007.
Strong similarities link Carrie Pepper’s Missing on Hill 700 with June 17, 1967 by David Hearne. The books differ only because a civilian woman wrote one and a former artillery lieutenant wrote the other.
Both stories, however, focus on small infantry units that needlessly suffered high casualty rates. A tragic undercurrent of the stories is that the casualties were young men who willingly followed flawed tactics and indifferent orders.
These accounts recognize a problem common to small unit operations in the Vietnam War. The lessons taught by them deserve to be told again and again.
Each one was an avoidable tragedy.
The author’s website is cottageinkpublishing.com