Richard Moxley, for whom the field and park next to Watertown Middle School is named, was a quick-witted young man who enjoyed interacting with interesting characters, and decided to forego college to serve his country in the Marines in 1967. He died in Vietnam nearly 53 years ago.
Moxley was born on Sept. 9, 1946, and went on to attend St. Patrick’s School and UMass. He enlisted in the Marines in 1967 and went to Vietnam, where he was killed in action on Aug. 29, 1968. He is buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery, and was one of nine Watertown residents killed in the conflict.
His father John worked for the Boston Gas Company and started the Shamrock Athletic Club. Richard was also survived by his mother Bridget (Degnan), brothers Thomas and John and sisters Nora Kuntzman and Mary Owen, according to a piece in the Watertown Sun on Sept. 16, 1970 (one of several on Moxley found by the staff at the Watertown Free Public Library). The family lived in a home at 47 Quincy Street, which was the former home of Babe Ruth’s ex-wife, Helen (who died in a fire at the home in 1929).
His brother John remembered Moxley in a column in the Watertown Sun published on Sept. 21, 1998. Richard dropped out of college in his second year to enlist in the Marines.
“My brother Richard was a Marine and proud of it. He delighted in recounting his experiences at the Corp’s Parris Island boot camp where the sweet singing and guitar music of the poor southern black brothers made more of an impression on him than the stiff cadences of marching troops or the shrill blow of the drill instructor’s whistle,” he wrote.
Moxley knew he could have deferred enlistment by staying in college, and that he would likely be sent to Southeast Asian, according to his brother. John also recalled Richard’s sense of humor, interest in unique characters, and noted that “he was no angel,” adding “Richard was quick with a swear words when he thought the occasion called for it, and just as quick with his fists when that was the only language being spoken.”
In letters home from Vietnam, Richard told his family about how he enjoyed spending his downtime with the local children, and would go down to the river to swim with them and join in their games.
“They were his favorites and the battering they took while diplomats immune from the land mines and the air strikes spoke of the ‘peace process’ must have caused his soul to ache,” John wrote.
Moxley died when his platoon was ambushed while on patrol near Phong Thu in the province of Quang Nam, John wrote. He recalled late-August day when a priest and a Marine sergeant came to his house to tell his family that Richard had died. It took nearly two weeks for the body to come home, arriving at Logan Airport in a flag-draped coffin.
A lieutenant colonel from the Marines assured the Moxleys that Richard had died instantly and did not suffer.
John wrote about “the worst ordeal” after his brother died: “… the ordeal of confronting all the could-have-beens that haunt the lives of those left behind when a bullet stops a young heart with so much more to give in life.”
The West Junior High School Playground was rededicated as PFC Richard Moxley Field on Sept. 13, 1970. The event was attended by a Color Guard from the Marine Corps Recruiters, a Marine band, and representatives from the Charles Shutt Detachment of the Marine Corps League in Watertown. A memorial Mass was held at St. Patrick’s Church the previous day, according to an article in the Watertown Sun newspaper on Sept. 16, 1970.
On March 30, 1970, Watertown Town Meeting voted to dedicate the field in honor of: “Private First Class Richard S. Moxley, U.S.M.C. well known, respected, dedicated and an inspiration to all who knew this young man, P.F.C. Moxley made the supreme sacrifice in Viet Nam on August 28, 1968, in the service of his country,” according to the Watertown’s 1970 Annual Report.
Moxley Field was rededicated in July 1990 after a $275,000 reconstruction project. Moxley’s parents, John and Bridget, attended the rededication. Work included improvements to the playground and the field, new flood lights, batting cages, a new basketball court, resurfacing of the two tennis courts, and new drainage and sprinkler systems, according to the July 12, 1990 article in the Watertown Press newspaper. Then-Town Manager Rodney Irwin and Director of Community Development and Planning Mark Boyle led the ceremony, and Town Council President John Diliberto also participated.
The Town of Watertown plans another renovation of the field named for Richard Moxley. Watertown’s five-year Capital Improvement Plan includes $900,000 for the project. The improvements to the field, courts and other parts of the park may have to wait several years if the School Building Committee chooses to use the field as the temporary location of Watertown High School while the new school is constructed. A decision is due to be made on June 2.