'Wall That Heals' holds special meaning to Los Alamos
The Wall That Heals coming to Los Alamos next month might have a little more meaning to Los Alamos residents.
By Steve Sandoval
Aug 20, 2000
In 1965, Thurston "Turk" Griffith Jr., a Los Alamos High School graduate voted by his classmates as most likely to succeed and "most outstanding" in his graduating class of 1958, was the first New Mexican to be killed in Vietnam.
He was reported missing on New Year's Day 1965; he was confirmed dead 16 days later. Two telegrams to Lucille Connor, Griffith's mom living in Albuquerque at the time, delivered the terse news of Griffith first listed as missing in action, then his death on Jan. 17.
Griffith was part of a small Army unit on a reconnaissance mission in Vietnam when the team was ambushed sometime in late 1964 or early 1965. Griffith was a military advisor who had volunteered to go to Vietnam.
Today, Griffith Gymnasium at Los Alamos High School is named in honor of him. It was formally dedicated in Griffith's name in 1966. A bronze plaque detailing Griffith's life sits in the lobby of the gym.
Born in Santa Fe on March 17, 1940, Griffith moved with his brother and parents to Los Alamos in the fall of 1951, according to his brother, Dudley, who now lives in Farmington.
In a question-and-answer format letter to Heather Hull, the Los Alamos High School senior who arranged for The Wall That Heals to come to Los Alamos, Dudley Griffith said of his brother: "He took pleasure in serving and he readily accepted responsibility."
Though he was selected most likely to succeed and most outstanding, Dudley Griffith said things didn't come easy for Turk Griffith. "He earned his successes. In retrospect, my special thought of Turk, the one I cherish the most, is the manner in which he conducted himself after our father was killed," Dudley Griffith wrote. Griffith's father was killed in a freak accident.
"He took control of his life and set his own course of action and his sense of self discipline was maturely internalized."
Shortly after Turk Griffith died, Katherine Westmoreland, the wife of Retired Gen. William Westmoreland, wrote to Lucille Connor. Westmoreland was the commander at West Point when Griffith was a cadet. The letter talked about a Christmas Eve dinner that Griffith and other cadets attended at the Westmoreland home. She wrote about how Griffith and other cadets helped assemble toys and fill Christmas stockings for the Westmoreland children. Griffith and other cadets ended up staying the night at the Westmoreland home, according to the letter.
"Turk looked up at me as I was saying goodnight and said this is almost as good as being home," Mrs. Westmoreland wrote. "He missed you so, but I hope anyway he meant it when he said it was almost as good as being home. I'm so grateful he was with us. He was happy."
The letter concluded in part: "Turk truly lived up to all one could wish in a son and a soldier. He was proud of his job ... and was one of the great ones. Please know how deeply General Westmoreland I sympathize with you."
La Loma, Los Alamos High's yearbook in 1958 shows Griffith as being a four-sport athlete - baseball, football, track and swimming. He was on the La Loma staff as a photographer, senior class president and member of the Honor Society, Key Club, Student Council, Spanish and Letterman's clubs.
In 1967, the United States Army dedicated Griffith Hall, a bachelor officer's quarters at Fort Gordon, Ga. Griffith, a 1962 West Point, N.Y. graduate, was a Signal Corps officer stationed for a time at Fort Gordon.
Turk Griffith is buried in Santa Fe National Cemetery.