Metheun Memorials to Make the Stone

By Stephanie Chelf , Staff writer

The bullets were flying.  Marines lay wounded on the ground while others continued to fire at the enemy in Vietnam.  In the middle of what was one of the most famous and bloodiest Vietnam War battles was Capt. Eli Takesian, a Methuen native and longtime military chaplain.  Without hesitation, Takesian made his way - unarmed - through the battlefield in Hue City in 1968. He brought prayers, support and hope to the wounded. 

"When you do something courageous, you are filled with fear," Takesian said. "Once I started attending to the Marines, that fear evaporated because the greater need was for the wounded and dying Marines."  Another Methuen veteran, Brian McCabe, who was wounded in Hue City, wants to honor Takesian for his bravery that day and all his service as a military chaplain by installing a stone monument at a busy city intersection. 

And after three years trying to push the proposal through City Hall, McCabe has the support of the mayor, who said he intends to get the monument installed, possibly by the fall. 

The fearless chaplain - The soldiers thought Eli Takesian died that day in Hue City.  Bob Thoms, called Cajun Bob by his fellow veterans and a Silver Star recipient who was injured in the battle, remembers Hue City well. Thoms, who now lives in Alaska, was a platoon leader in the Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines Regiment, 1st Marine Division. Takesian wasn't assigned to Delta Company, but joined them on the battlefield as soon as he learned they did not have a chaplain with them.  "You don't leave your Marines vulnerable," Takesian said in an interview last week. "You have to be with your troops. There was no second thoughts. It's a sense of duty."

Takesian's role that day was invaluable, Thoms said.  "I saw you move through heavy fire, in the open, assisting one wounded Marine after another. ... What amazed us was that having no weapon to protect yourself, you remained in the open, caring for the wounded," Thoms said.  "I was wounded again," Thoms continued. "I'm lying there and out of the corner of my eye I have sworn I saw you shot through the head."  McCabe was also part of that Delta Company Marine unit. He too thought Takesian was dead, and had made plans with Thoms to set up a memorial at Takesian's grave.  Thoms and McCabe searched local and federal records to find out where Takesian was buried. It was some 30 years later that McCabe finally learned that Takesian was alive and well, having spent years as a pastor in Virginia.

One day, while having coffee at Priscilla's Place in Methuen with radio personality Ronny Ford, McCabe told Ford he was looking for Takesian's grave.  You won't find it, Ford told him, because Takesian is alive - and his sister Helen Haugopian lives in Methuen and his brother Jack Takesian lives in Lawrence. Eli Takesian is also the brother of the late Raffi Takesian, a former Methuen councilor.  Haugopian connected McCabe to her brother in Virginia, and after hours of phone calls, last year, McCabe, Takesian and their wives had an emotional reunion in Methuen. "I enjoyed every minute of it," McCabe said. 

The news that Takesian - "the short guy with the glasses," as Thoms recalled - was alive all these years brought tears to Thoms' eyes. "Needless to say I am one very happy Marine today," Thoms wrote in an e-mail to his fellow veterans a day after he first spoke to Takesian.  They meet again

This past May, at a veterans reunion in Florida, Takesian and Thoms met for the first time since the war. "It was very, very moving," Takesian said.
McCabe wants Takesian to be honored for all his military service. Takesian was a Marine Corps sergeant in the Korean War; then, after being ordained as a minister, returned to the military as a Navy chaplain. He served two tours in Vietnam and then spent 20 years as a senior chaplain, becoming the chief chaplain for the Marine Corps. He retired from naval service in 1987 and spent eight years as a associate pastor in Vienna, Virginia. He lives in Virginia with his wife, Margaret, a retired Broadway actress.  He is the recipient of several military honors including a Legion of Merit Medal, a Bronze Star, and a Navy Commendation Medal.

McCabe is working with the city to have the monument installed on Pleasant Valley Street and dedicated to Takesian.  "Chaplains never get any respect," McCabe said. "These guys stand up with bullets coming at them. He volunteered to go to Hue City. Eli deserves it. He really deserves it." 
The city supports putting the monument on that site, Mayor William Manzi said, but the catch is trying to pay for it. Manzi said he would consider using money from the city's veterans office, but could not say when the monument would be installed. He hopes it will be by this fall. 

Methuen Memorials Rock of Ages has offered to make the engraved stone for $1,400, McCabe said. The company makes granite memorials, after dealing with the military.  Takesian said he's grateful for the monument.  "It's very touching," said Takesian, 75. "There should be a lot more of these. I'm no one special. I came out (of Vietnam) unscathed. A lot of those guys didn't. I certainly appreciate all the accolades."  Haugopian said the monument is an honor for her family, and the planned site - the intersection of Pleasant Valley and Merrimack streets - is near where the family lived for years.  "We think it's great," Haugopian said.