Two months ago, Ray Lynch lost his Zippo lighter in an Englewood Circle K. It meant a lot to him.
A dead war buddy gave him the silver lighter 34 years ago when they both served as members of a U.S. Navy underwater demolition team in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.
Ray wasn’t worried. Three times before the lighter disappeared, but it’s always turned up.
Last week, a few days after he taped a sign on the front door of the local convenience store describing his Zippo with its round, brass military crest and offering a reward, Ray got it back.
Cody Puckett, a 9-year-old North Port boy, found it. When he came out of the Circle K fingering the Zippo, Mark, his dad, asked him where he got it.
“On the floor in the store,” his son told him.
Mark took a closer look at the Zippo. He saw the crest and knew it meant something to someone. On a quarter-sized emblem was a picture of an LST, a ship built to carry tanks into battle onshore. It had its bow doors open like it would if it was unloading heavy armored equipment.
“USS Luzerne, LST 902, Service with Dedication,” read the inscription.
Ray is a frequent customer at the Circle K at State Road 776 and San Casa Drive. He stops in to see his friend, Murph, a manager and fellow Vietnam War veteran.
One day two months ago, Ray went into the convenience store for something. After he left, he realized his Zippo was missing. Ray was certain he lost it there. When he returned minutes later he couldn’t find it.
“Ray, you should put up a sign explaining you lost your Zippo in here,” Murph suggested.
The time isn’t right,” Ray told him. “It left me for a reason. It will be back when it wants to get back. If it doesn’t come home at the right time, I’ll help it get back to me by putting up a sign.
Because Murph is a Vietnam vet, he understands how I feel about my lighter.”
Ray is a totally disabled 55-year-old war vet, according to a card from the state of Florida he carries in his wallet. He suffers from PTSD. He and his wife, Florence, and their 12 and 14-year-old sons moved to the area three years go from New York City. They now live in South Gulf Cove.
A blue “Junk Force” tattoo in the shape of a shield covers his left shoulder, the name of his unit in the Delta. Below the shield is the motto on Vietnamese: “Kill Communists.” On top of his right hand, “Peace” is tattooed in blue.
“You know, I’m a bit of a contradiction,” Ray said with an easy smile.
Ray spent 38 months in Vietnam killing communists. He was a member of the UDT, the precursors of the Navy Seals.
From December 1965 until April 1970, he served three tours. Between each tour he spent a year in Japan and one in Subic Bay in the Philippines.
“That first year, as a member of the ‘Junk Force’ group, we dressed in black pajamas, wore straw hats and posed as native fishermen,” Ray said. “What I and the others with me did was catch or kill enemy gun runners smuggling guns up the coast in boats.
“I had the misfortune of killing a lot of people. I had the misfortune of winning a lot of medals. I had the misfortune of looking at some of the people I killed afterwards, seeing their families and their possessions. It bothers me sometimes.
“I was all right for a long time after I got out, but then a lot of the war came home to me. But I’ve learned to make peace with them now. I don’t see the people I killed in anger anymore. And they don’t look at me in anger anymore.
“What the doctors tell me is that what I see now will never go away. But it’s all right.”
From that long-ago period in Ray’s other life, there is more than one thing he treasures more than just about anything else — his Zippo that Eddie Delhanty gave him. They were both Brooklyn boys who grew up close to each other in the big city. They didn’t become friends until both were sent to the Vietnam Delta to kill.
“He was a man. He faced things like a man. He carried himself like a man. He lived his whole life like a man. He treated peole the way a man should treat people. He was a man who could look another man in the eye and hate him for for who he is, not the race he belongs to. He had his values straight,” Ray said with tears in his eyes, recalling his friend.
Eddie Delhanty died at 39 — not in Vietnam, but back in the states of cancer. Ray says he believes Agent Orange, a defoliant used by the U.S. military in Vietnam, killed him.
Before Eddie died, Ray and Eddie spent a tour and a half together in the Delta’s 4th Corps. They first met in 1965. Eddie had been there six months when Ray arrived. They served together again in 1967.
“For a number of months, the two of us lived on the USS Luzerne County, LST 902, moored in the My Tho River,” Ray recalled.”They had a number of LSTs there in the river they used was quarters or us UDT guys.
“Right down behind us in another LST, the USS Westchester County, 27 of our guys were killed when some of the South Vietnamese, who were living on the boat, planted two 200-pound bombs and one 500-pounder aboard the ship.
“Only one of the 200-pound charges went off. Afterwards, I went through the boat and carried the bodies of my friends out,” Ray said grimacing.
“A little after that incident, when we were out drinking, Eddie bought me the lighter. I carried it with me for 25 months in Vietnam. Now I’ve had it for 34 years.”
When Ray came home from the war, he wasn’t prepared for the reception he received from Vietnam War protesters in the United States. Despite his rude homecoming, in a matter of months he went from killing Vietnamese infiltrators to working in the rock music industry.
“I was a sound man in New York City,” he said. “For years I did sound in places as big as Madison Square Garden down to joints as small as this room. I was the guy at any large concert who has all that equipment around him about a third back from the stage.”
On several occasions in the past, he’s lost his lighter while on the job.
“Once, while working in the Garden, I lost it, but I knew it was coming back. It’s like it goes away when it gets bored with me or I get bored with it and don’t treat it the way I should. But it’s not like it runs way forever. It always comes back.
“I lost it again in a place called Great Gildersleeve’s, down on the Bowery, doing a show for Squadron, a heavy metal band. And I lost it a third time in a bandshell while doing a show at Forest Park in Queens.”
Every time it happens, Ray has a way of dealing with the problem. He waits for a while to see if the Zippo will return by itself. If it doesn’t he puts up a handwritten notice where he last remembered having it.
The sign always says the same thing: “VIETNAM VETERAN, REWARD, ZIPPO LIGHTER with, ‘USS Luzerne County, LST 902’ on it, spent 25 months in Vietnam with me . I miss him.”
This last time, after Ray’s lighter was gone for a month, he decided to stick a sign on the front door of the Circle-K.
“This morning, about a week or so after my sign went up, I got a call from Murph at Circle-K.
“‘Guess What?’ the store manager asked.
“My lighter’s come home,” Ray replied.
“You get personal little trinkets like this from people you’ve known over your lifetime. Some of them you keep, some you get rid of. My Zippo from Eddie was something I kept,” he said.
“It’s something that stays with me always. It’s chosen to be with me all these years. It’s a very strange thing.”
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Thursday, June 26, 2001 and is republished with permission.
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Raymond Joseph Lynch, 63, of Port Charlotte died Thursday, December 31, 2009 at the Lakeside Pavilion Care and Rehabilitation Center in Naples, FL.
Born on June 24, 1946 in Brooklyn, NY he had been a long time resident Glendale, Queens, NY prior to moving to Old Bridge, NJ. He had been a resident of Port Charlotte for twelve years.
A distinguished veteran of the U.S. Navy’s Special Forces, he served 37 months in Viet Nam as part of Underwater Demolition Team 11. He served the USS Luce and received a Meritorious Unit Commendation Ribbon, Combat Action Ribbon and a Bronze Star.
He will be remembered as a loving husband, caring father, and compassionate friend to all he met. All whom who knew him loved him, as he had a warm and generous spirit unmatched by any.
Survivors include his loving and devoted wife: Florence C. Lynch of Port Charlotte, FL; mother: Eleanor Lynch of Brick, NJ; daughter: Janis Blaise Lynch of Winter Park, FL; sons: James B. Lynch of Winter Park, FL; Ryan J. Lynch of St. Andrews, Scotland; Shane T. Lynch of Port Charlotte, FL; sisters: Sharon (Stan) Munchinski of Middle Village, NY; Janet (Reza) Sheikhan of Franklin Lakes, NJ; brother: Michael O. (Patty) Lynch of Dix Hills, NY and several nieces and nephews.
Visitation will be held on Monday, January 4, 2010 from 10 Am until 12 noon and 6 Pm until 8 Pm at the Englewood Community Funeral Home & Cremation Service, 3070 So. McCall Road. Funeral service will be Tuesday, January 5, 2010 at 11 Am at the funeral home with the Very Reverend Father Arthur Lee, Pastor of St. David’s Episcopal Church, officiating. After cremation, Raymond’s cremains will be buried at the Sarasota National VA Cemetery in Sarasota, FL.
You may share a memory or express condolences to the Lynch family at http://www.englewoodfh.com