Corporal Robert William Topham, Jr. & Corporal Eric Lee Hatch


Corporal Robert William Topham, Jr. (US Marine Corps), 28 Dec 1948 - 22 Feb 1969, (Quang Nam, Vietnam)

According to the several Sun Chronicle articles, Robert W. Topham Jr., the only Wrentham resident to be killed in action in the Vietnam War, wanted so badly to fight for his country, he tried three times before finally being sent, family members say. After graduating from King Philip High School, Topham joined the Marine Corps, telling loved ones he felt it was the right thing to do. After all, he came from a family with a lengthy military heritage.


Known as “Top” or Bobby, Topham was just 20-years-old and a corporal in the Marines when he was killed by small arms fire while on patrol in the Quang Nam Province in South Vietnam on Feb. 22, 1969, joining 58,138 others who perished in the war. Topham was trained as a sharpshooter, and was awarded the Gold Star, a Purple Heart and five other medals.



Unlike the bitterly divisive war - the nation's second longest at 10 years, two months - his life came to an end much too soon.


VFW Post 9658 that had been located for decades near Wampum Corner, but disbanded in 2010 after almost 50 years because of declining membership and growing expenses, had been named in his honor, along with a scholarship it handed out for years. But a memorial was planned in 2016 on town land at the corner of Robert W. Topham Jr. Drive and Creek Street.


And it all came about because of a chance encounter. Police Chief William McGrath bought the house off Creek Street that Topham grew up in but was unaware of Topham until coming across items relating to him in the home's attic. Some research, then contacting Topham's brother Paul, who also grew up in the house, but has lived in Attleboro for about 15 years, led McGrath to donate money for a monument for the slain marine. "He was a war hero," McGrath said, noting he himself has an uncle listed as missing in action in the Korean War. "I thought a monument would be nice."


For the Tophams, military service was a family affair. Robert and Paul Topham's father, Robert W. Topham Sr., worked for years as a custodian at King Philip Middle School in Norfolk and continued to live in Wrentham until he died at age 77 in February 2005. He served in the Navy in World War II. One of his brothers, Richard, also a town resident, served two tours of duty with the Army in Vietnam. He died at age 69 in October 2004. Another brother, Raymond, who died at 62 in July 1998 served in the Navy in the Korean War. Yet another brother, Edward, who had relocated to Florida, also was in the service.


"My father, uncles, we have all the people up at Wrentham Center Cemetery," Robert’s brother Paul Topham said, besides his brother, in the Veterans Circle. "Five members are buried there." His grandfather and great-grandfather also were in the military. "Everybody was a military person. Some were in the Navy, some in the Army," Topham said.

The monuments' final design has it 4 feet tall with an image of Topham and some basic biographical information. It was dedicated in May 2017.


Source: Wrentham American Legion Post 225 Facebook

Another town resident, Eric Lee Hatch, a classmate of Topham, served in Vietnam and has a memorial at the corner of West Street and Sheldon Road. Hatch died at home in January 1968 as a result of injuries suffered in the Vietnam War.


Corporal Eric Lee Hatch (US Marine Corps), 17 April 1948 - 21 September 1970.



Both veterans’ names are also listed on the Vietnam Memorial on the Wrentham Town Common. Topham is honored on the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington DC; his name inscribed at VVM Wall, Panel 32w, Line 85.


 

Compiled by Paula Kowalewski Sullivan from online sources including The Sun Chronicle; the Vietnam Veterans memorial site, The Wall of Faces; the online www.virtualwall.org; Tribute in Stone website; and Find A Grave website.

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