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The Legacy of Pancho Maples

Bill Keltner

Bill Keltner

“Gone but not Forgotten”

Students going to school each morning and families going to the La Feria Sports Complex will all pass a street sign displaying the name PANCHO MAPLES DRIVE. Today, few know the origin of that choice of a name for a major street in La Feria. Few today know the story of a young soldier named Francis L Maples, and why he is so honored. It happened this way:

The clear, straightforward telegram read simply: “The Secretary of the Army has asked me to express his deep regret that your son, Francis L. Maples, died in Vietnam on 13 November 1967 as the result of gunshot wounds received while on a combat operation when his unit was engaged in a hostile firefight.“ It was a message that no parent ever wishes to receive.

The telegram was soon followed by expressions of consolation from friends and family, and by very personal, poignant letters of condolence from his commanding officer and the president of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson. That was the way William and Dorothy Maples of La Feria received the sad news of the tragic passing of their beloved son in a savage war far, far away.

Francis “Pancho” Maples’ high school yearbook picture. He graduated from La Feria High School and joined the U.S. Army. Photo:LFISD

Francis “Pancho” Maples’ high school yearbook picture. He graduated from La Feria High School and joined the U.S. Army. Photo:LFISD

The remarkable legacy of Francis Maples is that he was the only La Feria soldier killed in action during the bitter conflict. Posthumously, by order of the President, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for Heroism with a

First Oak Leaf Cluster for his action in the firefight with the enemy that cost him his life.

To pay tribute to the memory of this native son, the members of the La Feria City Commission voted unanimously to rename a major street in his honor. The street was to be known as Pancho Maples Drive. Pancho was the name by which everyone knew Francis L. Maples. The street connects Main Street to the Veterans Sports Complex–a major thoroughfare.

Now, six decades have passed since the drums of that war have ceased to sound.

People fade away, and memories fade. A new generation is now on the scene that remembers Viet Nam only from pages in a history book.. LA FERIA NEWS researched comments from people of the period to give a glimpse of the man behind the name.

School records of the time show Francis Maples (Number “36”) as a member of the Varsity Mighty Lions football team of the La Feria High School. Among his team mates were: Davis and Johnny Wisdom, Luis Gonzalez, Ramiro Trevino and Quarterback Butch Wenke. His coaches were Bill Green, Ronald Keller and James Akin. They had a championship team in those days, people remember.

A helicopter leaves soldiers on the ground in Vietnam.  Francis L. Maples, died in Vietnam on 13 November 1967 as the result of gunshot wounds received while on a combat operation when his unit was engaged in a hostile firefight. Photo: U.S. Army photograph/public domain.

A helicopter leaves soldiers on the ground in Vietnam. Francis L. Maples, died in Vietnam on 13 November 1967 as the result of gunshot wounds received while on a combat operation when his unit was engaged in a hostile firefight. Photo: U.S. Army photograph/public domain.

Pancho joined the U.S. Army and was sent to Viet Nam at the height of the war. He wrote back to his parents in which he referred to his brother, William, who was also serving in the area. He wrote, “Haven’t heard from Bill lately, hope to see him soon. We’re still on the move, and we’re moving to the same spot we were in the last operation, on the road. They say we’ll hump about 3,000 meters tomorrow, through thick bamboo. Oh, Lordy, will that run be heavy. Can’t wait to get back in, so I can take a shower.” He wrote his granddad, “Have you been catching many fish lately? I sure do miss fishing with you.” That was his last letter.

It wasn’t long after those lines that the family was notified that he was killed in action. His brother, William D.Maples, not only accompanied the body home when it arrived in the United States, but had charge of military church and burial service details for Sp4 Francis L Maples. He was buried with military honors at Restlawn Cemetery in his hometown.

That was another time, and, some would say–another world. Now, when you drive down Pancho Maples Drive to school or play at the park, this will give you a bit of the background about the man behind the street sign.

City Manager Sunny Philip, at the naming of the street, summed it up by telling LA FERIA NEWS: “The naming of this street after Francis “Pancho” Maples was appropriately timed to help establish the annual commemorative celebration for all our sons who went to war over the years and are still remembered.”

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5 Responses to The Legacy of Pancho Maples

  1. Sharon (Moss) Traylor Reply

    November 10, 2015 at 8:44 pm

    I went to school with Pancho. And still remember his funeral.

  2. Del Murphy Reply

    November 11, 2015 at 3:16 am

    I was at the laundromat late that night the Officer came in to ask me for directions to “William” Maples’ house. I couldn’t process what he was saying until after he left. A wretched night.

    Rest in peace and God bless you for saving my horse from destruction Pancho

    Del

  3. Pete Banda Reply

    November 12, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    May you rest in peace and after so many years I still remember serving with you as an altar boy. We were in catechism together and we used to play outside afterwards. Thank you for your service.

  4. Adam J. Portugal Reply

    December 1, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    I stand and salute Francis Maples, the hero who didn’t come back alive. A man for his young age to die in Viet Nam for our freedom. A great friend to all of us that went to La Feria High. A well brought young man that served our Catholic Church as an altar boy as I did and Pete Banda with him for a couple of years together. I salute his family for raising such a great young man. I will never forget Francis Maples as long as I live. May Francis Maples R.I.P. and I thank him for his great service to the United States of America

    A Viet Nam Era- Veteran 1965-68

  5. john Fischer Reply

    January 12, 2017 at 2:22 pm

    I wish that he didn/t die in vain like the rest of our soldiers in Viet Nam. I left there in april of ’70 and the South Vietnamese were doing a good job of replacing us. Too bad the congress didn,t vote funds for more logistics so they could stop the North Vietnames’ advance.

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