WESTERLY — In the fall of 1968, the town was rocked by some horrible news.
Marine Lt. Carl Myllymaki of Summer Street had been killed in the Vietnam War on Oct. 2.
“I was on weekend duty with the National Guard. It was just a complete shock,” said Nick Stenhouse, who played football with Myllymaki at Westerly High.
Myllymaki’s death came just 10 days before he was scheduled to leave Vietnam.
“His replacement had asked him to show him the area. He didn’t have to do it, but he thought it would make things safer for those he was leaving behind,” said Matt West, a first cousin to Myllymaki. “I was in fifth grade at Immaculate Conception School. It was the first time someone I knew had died.”
While showing his replacement the ropes, Myllymaki stepped on a land mine and died the next day.
Stenhouse had played offensive end for the Bulldogs and Myllymaki was the tackle on his side of the ball. Stenhouse introduced Myllymaki to his future wife, Janet DeMont of Agawam, Mass. The late Dick Smith was the right tackle and they were all close friends.
Smith, Stenhouse and others wanted to find a way honor their fallen classmate.
They came up with the idea of presenting an award to the top Westerly High football lineman for the season — the Lt. Carl W. Myllymaki III Memorial Outstanding Lineman of the Year Award.
The award turns 50 this season.
“There was no award for a Westerly lineman, and it was just an honor to honor him,” Stenhouse said.
Myllymaki was a larger-than-life figure in town. He stood 6-foot-1 and weighed 217 pounds, just about all of it muscle.
He was co-captain of both the football and track teams at Westerly. He was an All-State performer in football. He was also a body-builder, using a hand-made weight-lifting set his father, Carl Myllymaki II, created from scrap metal.
Myllymaki later attended the University of Rhode Island, where he was a member of the football, wrestling, swim and gymnastics teams.
After receiving a master’s degree in physical science from Springfield (Mass.) College, he entered the Marine Officer Candidate School in Quantico Station, Va., in 1966.
He was a platoon commander with the 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company and later Echo Company Commander with the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion. He went on 24 reconnaissance patrols during his time in Vietnam. Myllymaki received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
Myllymaki’s friends and family have honored him in other ways.
A golf tournament every two years in his memory helps fund the Westerly Gridiron Association. The group awards a scholarship to a Westerly High student in Myllymaki’s name. It also makes donations to the Westerly youth football program.
The group has also made donations to the Westerly High football program in the past.
A scholarship is also awarded through the University of Rhode Island Foundation in Myllymaki’s name.
Smith raised half the funds ($40,000) to build an obstacle course at Yawgoo Ski Valley in Exeter named after Myllymaki. His employer, Pfizer, matched his efforts. Smith also raised money to help fund the Myllymaki scholarships.
Myllymaki was enshrined in the Westerly High Athletic Hall of Fame in 2015.