Today we celebrate Veterans Day at Flower Mound School. Veterans Day gives all Americans the opportunity to celebrate the bravery and sacrifices of all US veterans.
Students and staff, today I'm going to tell you about a friend and classmate of mine. His name was James McClure. James was born on July 1st 1947, the first-born child of Blanche and Marvin McClure. I mention this because that date seems to be quite special to my family and the McClure family. I too was born in 1947. On July 1st 1976 I had my first child, my son Ken. As I was planning this program this past summer I met James' niece Casey, who never got to meet James, but one of the first things she told me was that she was born on her uncle James' birthday, July 1st in 1986. Casey helped with the video
presentation and I can't thank her enough.
My family and I had moved to Apache from Anadarko in early August 1961. The move was hard enough but the day I was dreading more than anything was quickly approaching. That day was the first day of school. That first day I walked to school by myself. My mom had just had my baby brother and I was 14 so surely I could handle this. I reported to school and was directed to the gym/auditorium. When I got to the gym I just stood there like a deer caught in the headlights. I got a tap on the shoulder type of thing and was asked by a girl if I wanted to come over to the bleachers and sit with her and some of her friends. Little did I know but our principal, Mr. Gwen Miller, had asked James' cousin, Sherri McClure to show me around the school and introduce me to some of the other kids. To this day I will never be able to say thank you enough to Mr. Miller and Sherri for the kindness they showed to the new kid at school that day.
Sherri and I became fast friends and I met a lot of people that day, including some of her family. Her cousin, James, was our age and was in the same, freshman, class we were in.
Through the next few years we all did the normal junior high and high school things, just like they do today. We went to ball games and play practice and other school activities and what ever else we could find to do. I went to church with Sherri a lot and James was always there too. We all sat at the back of the church and acted like teenagers. We all whispered about who was going to ask for the car after church so we could drive up and down Evans Avenue.
My parents owned a business, a small grocery store, and James's brother Ronnie worked for us when we were in High School. If Ronnie was unable to work James took his place or if we were having a real busy day both of them worked. Our families had begun to become intertwined. The Beatles came into our lives in 1964 and of course almost everyone thought they were just fab. James loved the Beatles! In small towns there is not always a lot to do for teenagers so cruisin' around town, usually in your parent's car, is a very popular thing to do. When I got lucky my parents would let me go "uptown". When someone else was uptown cruisin' usually the routine was to "load up" in one car so we could ride around together. I remember one time going uptown and loading up with him and some other kids and he actually had a Beatles wig on. He looked so groovy and he really did look like Ringo Starr who was James' favorite Beatle. We all had a good laugh and we all had a good time.
James was the traditional teenage male, in that he liked fast, muscle cars. James drove a nice car, a new 1965 Ford that his dad helped him buy and quite often he was either burnin' rubber (squealin' tires) or bookin' down the road (driving fast). He had to watch out for the "fuzz" (police) though. He liked to drag race and even won trophies for legally racing at some of the strips around here.
In my memory James was always a kind, happy guy and I remember that he usually had a smile on his face. He was friendly and was always a "nice guy" to everyone. On May 19th the class of 1965 graduated from Apache High School and we all began the next phases of our lives. In August 1966 James married his sweetheart, Debbie, and they lived in Apache and then later they moved to Lawton when James began working at Don's Electric.
As was happening at that time to many, many young men, James was drafted. Drafted means: a system for or act of selecting individuals from a group (as for compulsory military service). In other words whether he wanted to or not he had to become a member of the Army.
James had never wanted to be a soldier but he reported for duty just as he was instructed. Upon completion of basic training and advanced individual training at Ft. Polk, LA he received his orders to go to Vietnam. Vietnam was not a place that James had ever wanted to go! James's mother told me the main reason he didn't want to go is because he didn't want to leave Debbie, his young wife alone. He told his cousin, my friend Sherri, that he was afraid he might not come back. James, once again, followed orders and went to Vietnam.
James' tour of duty began on April 25, 1967. On the morning of May 3, 1967, before I went to work I was reading the newspaper at my parents' home where I still lived. The phone rang and my mom answered. My dad told her James McClure had been killed in Vietnam. My mom hung up and told me about my classmate. I was overwhelmed with shock and surprise and disbelief. This could not possibly happen to someone I had known so personally, this could not possibly happen to a boy from Apache, OK. This happened to my parent's generation not mine, I thought. I was staggered with the enormity of that phone call. James was only "in country" 8 days when that premonition came true. He was killed on May 2, 1967 in the province
of Long An.
Later that night my dad recalled the day's events: Every morning my dad went to drink coffee at a small caf� there in Apache. He usually shared a table with several other men before they all started their daily routines of work. On this particular morning 2 men came into the caf� and asked the owners for directions to the McClure home. Daddy said the caf� became very quiet as the men were soldiers and they were driving the proverbial black car. The soldiers spoke no words to the coffee drinkers, but Daddy said he knew what they were there for.
That same night a friend asked me if I would like to go with her to the McClure home to pay our condolences to the family. I will never forget that visit! The men were in the living room and the mood was of sadness. I did not know what to say to them. All of the women were in the bedroom and James' mother was in bed. The feeling in that room was of the grief only a mother could feel. I was overcome with emotions and tears but I know I could not possibly know what they were going through.
James had 3 younger brothers - Ronnie was 18, Gary was 10 and his baby brother Daryl would be 1 year old later that month.
Their house was packed with grieving relatives and friends.
Today I'm 59 years old but James is forever a 19-year-old teenager. I think about James a lot and I wonder why? I only knew James for not quite 6 years. I wonder why it is that someone I knew but for a brief shining moment could stay in my thoughts for 40 years. I'll tell you why - it's because he paid the ultimate price for his country. James was kind of a "Boy next door" type so when Uncle Sam called, James answered the call.
Everywhere I go these days I see signs that say "Support our troops" and lots of "Welcome Home" signs for our soldiers. Channel 7 has news coverage of homecomings and the Lawton Constitution has pictures of men and women returning to Ft. Sill after their tours of duty, usually in Iraq. Old Glory waves everywhere.
Such was not always the case during the 60's and 70's. The Vietnam War was very unpopular. Some of our veterans were spat upon and called bad names when they returned. We now realize as a nation we failed to welcome home and pay our respects to these warriors!
I will not forget that women serve in the military too but during the war in Vietnam, women were not sent to the front lines. Yes, women were casualties there too. I believe all of them were nurses. They deserve our admiration too.
The men who went to Vietnam were some of our nation's finest. They were professional soldiers who served their country honorably. Each one was someone's son, or grandson, someone's brother, a cousin, another's spouse, friend or classmate. And thousands were devoted daddies to an untold number of children. James did not have any children of his own, but in a way he did! James gave his life for the children of the Republic of Vietnam in order to defend the freedom of a people to govern themselves democratically. But, most of all, the children of the USA who still live in a land where freedom thrives and
children, like all the students here at FM, are free to go to a school that educates kids of all colors, all religions, rich or poor and for girls as well as boys. Today our military is fighting for these very things in the wars we are waging in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On May 2, 2007 it will have been 40 years since James died. I believe it matters that someone remembers a soldier on Veteran's Day. It matters that a friend shares how he touched her life. The world moves on; we all know that, but anyone who ever lost a loved one knows you never really move on from missing that person and marking the day he left, so this is my overdue salute to him and his family on this Veteran's Day 2006: It's been a long time, James, but you're still remembered. I have survived these past 40 years and grown older, you survive in my memory. Rest well, my old friend, and thank you for giving us all you had to give! And finally, till we meet again, I wish you peace.
There is a web site for fallen Vietnam heroes where you can post your thoughts. This letter and poem to James from Bill Nelson was posted on March 10, 2006:
We Nam Brothers pause to give a backward glance to you, one of the gentle heroes lost to the War in Vietnam. The poem reads:
Slip off that pack.
Set it down by the crooked trail.
Drop your steel pot alongside.
Shed those magazine-laden bandoliers
away from your sweat-soaked shirt.
Lay that silent weapon down
and step out of the heat.
Feel the soothing cool breeze
right down to your soul
and rest forever
in the shade of our love, brother.