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Identical twins served on same Navy ship during Korean War

Richard P. Vienne spent four years sailing around the Pacific Ocean with his identical twin, Robert, on a 376-foot-long Navy destroyer called the USS Lowry.

Unlike the stereotypical set of twins, though, the two brothers certainly weren’t inseparable.

During the Korean War, Vienne wanted to grow up and become more independent of his doppelgänger, he said.

"When it came time to go ashore, he went his way, and I went mine," added Vienne, 85, during a recent interview in his Elma home.

The Viennes were born Oct. 2, 1932.

Their mother, Mary Edna Vienne, didn’t want the brothers to "come back in body bags" at the height of the Korean conflict. So Mary Vienne, who went by "Edna," told her sons to join the Navy, a safer alternative to the Army, Vienne said.

Mary Vienne also wanted her two 20-year-olds on the same ship overseas, so they could look out for one another.

A portrait of Richard Vienne, right, with his brother Robert. They were a set of twins who served on the same U.S. Navy ship during the Korean War. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

During World War II, the five Sullivan brothers were all infamously killed in action after Japanese torpedoes sank their ship, the USS Juneau. They were Navy sailors in the Pacific, off Guadalcanal.

Vienne's wife, Dorothy, said there’s a misconception that, after the Sullivans’ deaths, the Navy adopted a policy banning siblings from serving on a single vessel, fearing that an entire lineage could be wiped out instantly in battle.

Instead, a policy allowed siblings to serve together — pending the approval of a Navy commander — if they weren’t in a "hostile fire area," she said.

The Vienne twins "went immediately from training into Korea, which was a 'hostile firing area,' " said Dorothy Vienne. "So, don’t you see? Everything is contradictory."

Vienne was a fire controlman second class, and programmed the USS Lowry’s artillery bombardment of the Korean mainland. People on shore returned fire, he said.

The twins, though, only served in the Korean War for about a year and a half, before it ended July 27, 1953.

And, in that time, Vienne didn’t see his brother too often. They would say hi if their paths crossed. But the ship’s captain tried to keep them separated, to avoid any confusion, Vienne said.

Robert Vienne, in a phone interview from his Long Island home, said he and his brother were once assigned as port and starboard lookouts, but the captain said, "One of you guys gotta go."

For Vienne, that was OK.

"I just wanted to see what I could do without him ... I don’t mean that negatively," Vienne said.

"I think (Mary) tried to make a little too much of you two, looking alike," Dorothy Vienne added.

After the war, the brothers sailed across the world for another three years on the USS Lowry. In 1956, Vienne got his Navy discharge, and life changed for the better.

He grew up in a poor family, living just east of Rochester, and decided to take advantage of the G.I. Bill to attend college.

The twins went their separate ways, Vienne said. He eventually wound up at SUNY Brockport, and Robert went to SUNY Oswego.

Vienne studied mathematics, and for years, worked as a teacher in Lancaster, helping kids study algebra, trigonometry and calculus, among other things.

"I just barely got out of high school," said Vienne. "But I think I smartened up in the service."


Richard P. Vienne, 85

Hometown: East Rochester

Residence: Elma

Branch: Navy

Rank: Second Class Fire Controlman

War zone: Pacific Ocean, Korean War

Years of service: 1952-56

Specialty: Weapons programming

Richard Vienne, far right, in a family photo with his brother Robert, second from left, and their mother Edna, left, and an unidentified U.S. Navy recruiter, in uniform. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)




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