I got a tip a couple weeks ago from Peter Fontana and Bobby Hancox about a great Hoboken hero they hoped would get the Congressional Medal of Honor. My father (the founder of Smart Learning Inc. and creator of the Smart Chess app) was in the military and he didn’t go off to war or anything, but it was interesting for me to learn about a truly great soldier.
Hoboken fights for Vietnam War hero to win Congressional Medal of Honor
On May 2, 1967, during the peak of the Vietnam War, 21-year-old Private First Class Bill Fesken of Hoboken led an outnumbered squad against a Viet Cong force near Ap Bac.
As the field-designated sergeant’s men advanced, they were struck by a “tremendous barrage of machine gun, rifle, and grenade fire,” said the Military Times Hall of Valor.
After the attack, Fesken, the only soldier unwounded, fought against the enemy alone. As Viet Cong forces advanced, the Hobokenite “poured such a volume of fire into their ranks that they retreated,” said the Hall of Valor.
Fesken, the Hall of Valor says, killed two Viet Cong with a grenade and another in hand-to-hand combat and was planting a mine in anticipating of further assaults when he was mortally wounded.
Thanks to his “valiant, selfless attempts to protect his fallen comrades,” the Hall of Valor says, “the right flank of the friendly company withstood the hostile assaults.”
Fesken’s brother John Fesken, 60, of Scotch Plains, said his family knew his older brother would be a good soldier.
John Fesken said he looked up to his brother and that their whole family – their older sister Ann, now 69, John’s fraternal twin Michael, who passed away three years ago and Bill’s fraternal twin Anthony, who passed seven years ago – was very close-knit.
“He was very popular, extremely well-dressed – not flashy or anything like that, but very tasteful. He was well-liked and respected at early age,” said John Fesken, who noted that his brother played basketball for Hoboken High and the local recreational league.
He also described his brother as outgoing, a good friend and reliable, noting that he began working full time as a union truck driver in his teens and hoped to one day own a business.
The family – including their father John, a World War II veteran, and their mother Josephine – had “mixed feelings” when Bill Fesken was drafted, he said.
“We were extremely concerned for his safety even though he was a very tough city kid,” he said, noting that his 6-foot-tall brother was a street savvy, imposing figure.
Losing him, John Fesken said, was tough for the whole community.
“Hoboken’s so close-knit and being that he was so well-known within community, it was extremely painful,” he said, adding that his family was crushed.
“Losing him at such a young age was extremely devastating. On the other hand, we knew he died with honor and died defending his country,”” said John Fesken, who was 15 at the time.
After his death, Fesken’s comrades said he deserved the Congressional Medal of Honor, the country’s highest honor, for his actions and even compared him to Audie Murphy, one of the most decorated World War II heroes.
Three months later, Fesken was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest honor a soldier can receive.
Because Fesken’s story has previously been examined, the application process for the Medal of Honor will be easier, said Hoboken Vietnam Memorial Committee Chairman Bobby Hancox.
The bill, Hancox said, must be approved by Congress, the Department of The Army Personel Command, Manpower and Reserve Affairs, the Chief of Staff of the Army, the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of Defense and finally, the president.
“It’s a long road, but pales in comparison to what (he) had to endure,” said Hancox.
Congressman Albio Sires is pushing for the bill in Congress.
“After reading the letter sent by (Hancox) describing the courage, commitment, and sacrifice of Private Fesken, I was truly in awe of his service to our country,” said Sires in a statement.
Peter Fontana, another Hoboken Vietnam Vet, is also fighting for Fesken.
“It would be a great honor for his family, for him and for the people of Hoboken – the old Hobokenites,” said Fontana, who noted that the field on Hudson Street between Fourth and Fifth streets is named for Fesken. “He saved lives, put his own life on the line to save his comrades – he was the typical tough guy from Hoboken.”
“Our family will be extremely appreciative if he does get it,” said John Fesken, adding: “Not only do we appreciate Bill’s exploits on the battlefield, we appreciate all those from Hoboken who were killed and those who served in all wars.”