By Ron Leir
He was 19, only a year out of high school, when Lance Cpl. Donald Blue Scott died half a world away in service of his country in Vietnam on Aug. 2, 1968.
Likely the last fellow Harrisonian to have seen him was Victor Villalta, now a Town Council member, but then a fellow grunt who, like Scott, had made it through basic training.
“We were both in the Marines and at that time, they’d send you for a two-week stop in Okinawa before being shipped out,” Villalta said. That was in March 1968. At mess hall, he spotted a familiar face: it was his former Harrison High buddy and swim team co-captain, Donnie Scott.
“He was a little ahead of me in boot camp and he’d gotten there before me and he said, ‘I’m leaving for Vietnam tomorrow,’ ’’ Villalta recalled. After wishing each other good luck, the young men parted.
“I did a 13-month tour and came back home,” Villalta said. “And I asked people in town, ‘How’s Donnie? Have you seen Donnie? And they said, ‘No, he got killed.’ ’’
Years later, when the present-day Harrison High School was opened in 2007, Villalta’s memories of Donnie and the many accolades his friend won for his swimming exploits were rekindled.
“I asked the Board of Education to name something for Donnie for making the supreme sacrifice,” he said.
And, last Thursday, May 30, on the heels of Memorial Day weekend, that’s exactly what the board did.
Now there is a plaque bearing a photo of Scott in uniform mounted on the wall of the high school pool lobby. It says the Harrison High School Natatorium “is dedicated to Lance Cpl. Donald Blue Scott, Class of 1967 – Swim Team Co-Captain – who made the supreme sacrifice in service to his country.”
At a brief ceremony, attended by the West Hudson Marine Corps Color Guard, the Harrison High School and Washington Middle School Blue Notes Choir sang, Mayor Raymond McDonough and Superintendent of Schools James Doran offered brief tributes and Donnie’s sister Janet Scott-Mahnken spoke for family members.
After thanking everyone for the dedication, Scott- Mahnken, who lives in Chesapeake, Va., recalled how Donnie had “enjoyed success in the pool” and “despite offers [from colleges],” opted to enlist in the Marines.
Donnie’s cousin, Lloyd Murdoch of Brick Township, explained how Donnie “was just gung ho. He couldn’t wait to go. His dad, Duncan, was in the Coast Guard in World War II.” And, Scott-Mahnken added, that’s why her brother “didn’t want to be drafted into the Army. He wanted the Marines because they were a sister service to the Coast Guard.”
And, given his competitive edge in the pool, maybe Donnie counted on that skill to come in hand as a Marine. Harrison Board of Education President James Fife, who was Donnie’s swim coach in 1966, said Donnie’s “specialty was backstroke but he could swim anything and he held many county records.”
But Donnie had other interests. His sister remembered he was a Little League All- Star, played with the Woodsiders Drum & Bugle Corps and loved anything to do with racing cars.
“A free spirit, Donnie was known for his red hair, freckles and contagious laugh,” the dedication program noted.
“This is a wonderful event,” said Donnie’s younger brother Russell, who still lives in Harrison, and he credited Villalta for having “worked tirelessly for this and it’s great.” Another brother, Bruce of Fords, also attended the ceremony.
Attendees were reminded that Harrison had previously renamed Hill St. as Scott- Mobus Place in memory of Donald Scott and another native son of Harrison, Army Pvt. Joseph Patrick Mobus, who was killed in Vietnam on Aug. 19, 1969.
Ed Marshman, commander of the Harrison American Legion post, remembered serving as a member of the joint VFW/Legion honor guard for Scott at the funeral service, adding: “His body was laid out in Town Hall all night and the then-Mayor Frank E. Rodgers was responsible for that.”
Closing the ceremony, Scott-Mahnken offered a final tribute to Donnie’s benefactor: “Victor, you’ve been a great friend to Donnie and me. Semper Fi.”