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Harmon Bove

 

Date and Place of Birth: March 13, 1950 Burlington, VT
Date and Place of Death:    March 4, 1970 Quang Nam Province, Vietnam
Baseball Experience: Minor League
Position: Catcher
Rank: Corporal
Military Unit: 2nd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division USMC
Area Served: Vietnam

Harmon J. Bove, Jr., a friend, a man, and a great marine who died fighting for America.
Gene R. Dark – The Brutality of War: A Memoir of Vietnam


Harmon J. Bove, Jr., was born on March 13, 1950 in Burlington, Vermont. At 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, he was a standout athlete at Burlington High School, playing football as a linebacker on defense and as an all-state fullback on offense. In baseball – also all-state - he was a sensation behind the plate throwing out a succession of would-be base stealers with his rifle arm. In 1968, he was named to the Vermont Shrine football team for the 15th Annual Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl Game.

Bove turned down the opportunity to play football at Washburn University (KS) to sign with the Houston Astros upon graduation in 1968. The Astros sent the 18-year-old catcher to the Covington Astros of the Rookie Class Appalachian League. Under the guidance of veteran Cuban manager Tony Pacheco, and playing alongside future big leaguers Cesar Cedeno, Rich Chiles, Bill Greif, Buddy Harris and Juan Jimenez, Bove appeared in 24 games and mustered six hits in 34 at-bats for a .176 batting average. The summer of 1968 was to be Bove’s last on the professional ballfield. The United States was in the midst of the Vietnam War and Bove enlisted with the Marine Corps.

“At Camp Geiger [Jacksonville, NC), I met Harmon Bove,” recalled Alvin Dark’s son, Gene Dark, in The Brutality of War: A Memoir of Vietnam. “I had seen him at Parris Island a few times. He was the platoon guide for Platoon 102, our sister company. He had the cocky tough-as-nails walk and the stocky, muscular build to go along with his title of guide. Bove was impressive looking. He was about five feet, eight inches or so and two hundred pounds and looked like he could bench press twice his weight or more. His shoulders were broad and his bulging neck muscles made it difficult to determine where his neck ended and began.

“Because of Bove’s interest in sports, I told him who my father was. He loved baseball, so the stories of growing up as Alvin dark’s son fascinated him. We would talk about baseball for hours after the day of training was done, and we eventually grew to be inseparable.

“One evening, I asked Bove why he had joined the Marines.

““Well, Dark,” he said, reflecting, “I did a very stupid thing. I had a few strings pulled for me and went to sign up with the National Guard. When I went to enlist, to become one of those ninety-day wonders, this egotistical major in the Vermont Guard told me, ‘Cowards like you turn my stomach. Young men are dying on the battlefield of Vietnam, fighting for America, while you lie around taking it easy feeding off this great land. Well, the idiot made me so mad that I joined the marines the next day. He glanced at me with a big grin, ‘How’s that for being an imbecile?””

When training was completed at Camp Geiger, Bove was given 30 days leave to visit his family before reporting to Camp Pendleton, California. During 20 days staging at Camp Pendleton, Bove and his fellow Marines received shots, started on malaria pills, sat through first aid lectures and generally prepared for life in Vietnam.

During this time, Gene Dark, was feeling pretty concerned about what he was going to face in Vietnam and asked Bove how he felt he would cope. “How do you think you are going to react when those gooks start shooting at you, Bove? Do you think you will be brave or will you hide behind anything you can find, shaking and scared out of your mind?”

“Brave?” Bove asked. “Nope, I’ll be scared to death I’m sure, but I’ll do my job.”

It was at this time that Bove confessed his true fears. “The Nam is no joke,” he said to Dark. “It’s the real deal. It’s blood and guts and dying, man, and I ain’t going to make it back. I know I’m going to die in that lousy stinking country. I can just feel it.

“I see myself blown to bits,” he continued, “lying in a rice paddy, sweating and dying under the steamy hot sun of Vietnam. I can see it as clear as day when I close my eyes, Dark.”

After Camp Pendleton, Bove flew to Okinawa, Japan and was assigned to E Company, Second Battalion, Fifth Marines of the First Marine Division. Gene Dark was assigned to F Company.

After arriving in Da Nang, Vietnam, Bove and Dark took a helicopter to An Hoa to join their respective companies. “Do me a favor, you dumb grunt,” Corporal Bove said to Dark, as they shook hands, perhaps, for the last time. “Try to keep your rear-end in one piece. I don’t want to have to go visit your mother.”

“Try to keep yourself together, too,” replied Dark. “I know how hard that’s going to be for a stupid catcher.”

Bove’s Vietnam tour started July 4, 1969, and he served as an anti-tank assaultman. After a month he contracted malaria during Operation Durham Peak in the Que Son Montains. He was evacuated to a military hospital in Da Nang for recuperation but was soon back in the frontline.

On March 3, 1970, while out on patrol in Quang Nam Province, Corporal Bove stepped on a booby trap and suffered multiple fragmentation wounds. He was flown to a hospital in Da Nang, where he died the following day. He would have turned 20 in nine days.

“He was as strong as an ox, defiant, proud, tough, and so full of life,” recalled Gene Dark. “Nothing could ever get him down. Every time I got dejected, he had been there to cheer me up. Now he was gone.”

Harmon Bove is buried at Lakeview Cemetery, which is located alongside Burlington High School’s baseball and football field. His headstone, made by the stonemasons in Burlington, resembles a bench in the dugout, with a baseball and glove etched into the stone.

In 1990, the Harmon Bove Memorial Scholarship was established by the Vermont Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

The Bove family baseball spirit was kept alive by his older brother, Perry Bove, who was the head baseball coach at St. Michael's College (VT) from 1990 to 2005.

In March 2004, the following touching tribute was posted on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund Virtual Wall by retired US Navy Radioman Donald Lytle:

I want to thank you Harmon Joseph Bove, Jr., for your courageous and valiant service, faithful contribution, and your most holy sacrifice given to this great country of ours!

Your Spirit is alive--and strong, therefore Marine, you shall never be forgotten, nor has your death been in vain!

Again, although we never met personally, thank you Corporal Harmon J. Bove, Jr., for a job well done!

It's Heroes like you, that made it possible for us to return and lead full and free lives.

REST IN ETERNAL PEACE MY MARINE FRIEND


Sources:
North Adams Transcript – March 9, 1970
Bennington Banner - March 12, 1970
Bennington Banner – May 24, 2008
The Brutality of War: A Memoir of Vietnam by Gene R. Dark (iUniverse, 2007)

Date Added: May 19, 2013

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