USS Fitzgerald is named in honor of Lieutenant William C. Fitzgerald, who was posthumously awarded the U. S. Navy's highest decoration for valor, the Navy Cross, for extraordinary heroism in Vietnam.
Bill Fitzgerald was born 28 January 1938 in Montpelier, Vermont, second child and first son of Louis and Mildred Mary Fitzgerald. His father was a career Navy man who retired as a Chief Petty Officer. Bill grew up in the local area and graduated from Montpelier High School in June 1956. Following graduation, Bill followed in his father's footsteps and enlisted in the United States Navy, As an enlisted sailor, Bill served in USS Samuel B. Roberts (DD 823)., USS Hugh Purvis (DD 709), and USS Gearing (DD 710).Bill also served with Utility Squadron SIX at NAS Norfolk, Virginia, while working on the Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter DASH) program. Seaman William Fitzgerald eventually earned selection for officer training and appointment to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland.
During Midshipman Fitzgerald's days at Annapolis, he became well known as an outstanding leader and athlete. Bill Fitzgerald excelled in Naval Education, softball, football, fencing, basketball, and tennis. Additionally, Bill developed a great sense of camaraderie with his peers, and from his enlisted experience he had an intuitive grasp for being a great naval officer. Midshipman Fitzgerald earned his commission in the U.S. Navy on 5 June 1963. After graduation from Annapolis, Ensign Fitzgerald reported to USS Charles H. Roan (DD 853), where he rose from "Boot Ensign" to Weapons Department Head, a position of great responsibility. Following Roan, Lieutenant Fitzgerald reported to Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, California, where he attended counterinsurgency training. Upon completion he was assigned duties as the senior U.S. advisor at Costal Defense Group SIXTEEN in Vietnam. This group's compound was located adjacent to the village of Co Luy, near the delta of the Tra Khuc River, and about 70 miles southeast of Danang. In this position, he advised the South Vietnamese Navy on defense measures and on the capture of military supplies and contraband destined for Viet Cong forces.
At about 0300 on 7 August 1967, Costal Group Sixteen's compound came under vicious attack by two Viet Cong battalions. The assault began with an intense mortar barrage followed immediately by the advance of troops. Fitzgerald, the senior American commander, immediately ordered a retreat of the civilians within the compound. Because of the compound's location adjacent to a river and the aggressors position, the only escape route was via water in small boats. Lieutenant Fitzgerald and three others delayed their retreat as long as possible in order to provide covering fire and to direct fire from surrounding friendly forces. Many calls were made to orbiting gunship aircraft, artillery units, and "Swift"-type fast river patrol boats to provide defensive fire. The Viet Cong attack however, was swift and well coordinated. It soon became apparent that the South Vietnamese forces were decimated and that the American bunker was the sole remaining source of resistance. As the situation deteriorated, Fitzgerald ordered his last three remaining defenders to retreat while he used arms fire to cover their escape. Fitzgerald was mortally wounded in this action.
In honor of Lieutenant William C. Fitzgerald's loyal and selfless dedication to his people, he was posthumously awarded the U. S. Navy's highest decoration for valor The Navy Cross. Additionally, he was awarded the Purple Heart, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign ribbon bar.
LT Fitzgerald was survived by his wife Betty Ann, and their children. Mrs. Fitzgerald was designated sponsor of the ship named for her late husband.
USS Fitzgerald's motto - " PROTECT YOUR PEOPLE " - is a lasting tribute to the sacrifice Bill made for the people he commanded.