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A tale of two soldiers:

Memorial Day speaker pays tribute to fallen comrades

Moniaci (click for larger version)
May 29, 2013 - ader Editor

All across America in towns and cities big and small, folks gathered on Memorial Day to pay tribute to the millions of soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who've sacrificed their lives on battlefields across the world for the cause of freedom.

In Oxford, Doug Moniaci, a Clarkston resident who was this year's guest speaker at the ceremony in Centennial Park, chose to focus on two men who paid the ultimate price during the Vietnam War.

Moniaci, a Vietnam veteran who served from 1969-70 and was wounded twice in combat, told the stories of his comrades Jim Davis and Steven Kenoffel.

A resident of Dearborn, Davis was described by Moniaci as "an all-around good guy and good solider."

In mid-March 1970, Davis was "very excited" about heading to Hawaii for a week of rest and recuperation. He was going to meet his wife and parents there.

"Unfortunately, it was not to be," Moniaci said.

Davis became stuck on a mountain-top fire base enveloped by fog. A fire base is a temporary military encampment frequently used in Vietnam to provide artillery fire support to infantry.

"For three days, the fog prevented a chopper from coming in to pick him up," Moniaci said. "He must have been anguished knowing his wife and parents might be in Hawaii waiting for him.

"He was killed on the fourth day, along with 14 of his platoon mates, when the fire base was overrun by the enemy. He died while trying to save another man's life and was awarded the Silver Star for his heroics."

Moniaci noted, Davis' "wife and parents were on a plane in Los Angeles waiting to take off for Hawaii when they were escorted off and notified of his death."

"I can't begin to imagine how terrible it must have been for them," he said.

His wife never remarried.

"She wears her wedding ring to this day and speaks of him often," Moniaci said.

Kenoffel, a resident of Glendale, California, was a radio operator, the same job Moniaci had. One day, he was ordered to go out to the same fire base where Davis was killed.

"He had less than a month left in Vietnam and he was very scared about going back (into combat)," Moniaci said. "I know now that he had a premonition that something bad was going to happen . . . I told him to relax and that everything was going to be okay. And I really thought things would be okay."

Kenoffel boarded a double-bladed Chinook helicopter loaded with tons for heavy ordnance and 11 other soldiers.

"It rose about 30 feet and went down-field a couple of hundred yards before crashing down in flames," Moniaci said. "A huge fireball engulfed it almost immediately, and Steven had to run through that to get to safety."

Moniaci found him lying on the ground at the edge of the flames. He had burns on more than 78 percent of his body. Kenoffel was sent to a hospital in Japan where he lived for about two weeks. His parents arrived at the hospital shortly before he died.

"He was comatose, but after a few minutes he saw us and we believe, as does the doctor, that he recognized us," Kenoffel's father wrote in a letter to Moniaci. "Although he could not speak due to his condition, we did get to see him alive. Within the hour, he died . . ."

Moniaci noted, "It struck me that after being told by his doctors that his parents were soon coming to Japan, Steve held on just long enough to see them one last time."

Kenoffel, who won a Bronze Star with 'V' for valor for saving a man's life in combat, was buried with full military honors.

The news of Kenoffel's death left Moniaci "filled with grief" and "heartbroken."

"Steve was a terrific guy, always smiling and laughing and joking around," he said. "He was one of those people who had that special gift of being liked by everybody."

"Hardly a day goes by that I don't think of Steve. He was the proverbial all-American boy."

When he first met Kenoffel in Vietnam, Moniaci thought he "should be on some college campus carrying books, not a rifle."

"The last thing he looked like was an army infantryman," he said. "That is the way it was with a lot of guys I met in Vietnam. They did not go to Canada or hide behind student deferments or fake disabilities. They took their chances and some ended up on the wrong side of fate."

In closing, Moniaci said, "These are the stories of two people I knew who made the ultimate sacrifice for you and me and our great country."

"When I think of all the others lost to the many wars we have endured, I have trouble comprehending it," he continued. "That's why we're here today, to let them and the world know that yes, we do remember you and we are grateful for your sacrifice and you'll forever be in our hearts."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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