Posted on July 13, 2017

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Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them. — poem by Robert Laurence Binyon, 21 Sept., 1914

There are several categories for those who died in service. Many are buried in foreign lands and cemeteries across the world, especially in Europe and islands across the Pacific. Some disappeared into the seas, dying in sea or air battles, and their bodies lie deep in God’s bosom in the oceans of the world.

Others, like my old friend Jim Egan, are still missing in action (MIA) and we don’t know what happened to them, other than they died and disappeared into a dark mist of the unknown.

Let me indulge myself a bit this morning and share a very brief memorial of Jim. If you want to read the whole story, with images, go online to the Notre Dame Magazine at this address: http://magazine.nd.edu/news/9875-missing-in-action/ It’s free.

We graduated from prep school in New Jersey in 1960, after playing a lot of golf together and forming the kinds of bonds that last forever. Being a good Catholic Irish descendant, he went to Notre Dame while I headed south to the land of my father and went to Duke.

While we went in different directions, we kept up with each other loosely, and both of us took NROTC. I went into the Navy in 1964 and he chose the Marines, and went into the Corps that same summer.

I was put into the Amphibious Fleet homeported in Little Creek, Virginia, and we stormed beaches and bars across the Caribbean and Mediterranean for the next two years. Jim was already engaged by the time he was commissioned in the Marines and was sent to Hawaii, the perfect place to get married to his college sweetheart, Carole.

But, instead of a prolonged honeymoon in Hawaii, the winds of war were whipping up in Southeast Asia and the Marines, almost always at the tip of the American spearhead, were sent in early.

It was, in fact, the dawn of one of the longest wars in our history, with little glory and over 50,000 Americans dead by the time it ended for us in 1975.

By the fall of 1965, however, Jim was already in South Vietnam while I was down cruising in the Caribbean. I remember port calls at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Port au Prince, Haiti. Jim was sent to Chu Lai, an airfield, and, as an artillery officer, he was assigned as a forward observer, Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines.

“I went on almost all the platoon, company and battalion-sized operations,” Jim wrote me in October 1965. “About the only one I missed two men were killed and four injured.” Jim added, with a bit of battlefield humor, “three of them now have four legs between them — and one of the dead was a platoon leader named Jim Mitchell who was really great and a top-notch Marine.”

I wrote him from Haiti about my adventures on an island infected with voodoo, endemic poverty and a brutal dictator. He wrote me about life in an equally strange world for him.

That’s the last I heard from him. Jim’s war ended on the afternoon of Jan. 21, 1966, when his patrol was ambushed. Scattered by the attack, the Marines regrouped at a designated position, but Jim never showed up. They searched for him until nightfall. They searched the next day. They searched from the air and a team of 50 Marines combed the area. The Marines do not leave their dead and wounded behind.

Later investigations led them to believe he was captured and executed by the Viet Cong. But Jim passed into that limbo of war reserved for those who could not be accounted for in any other way: MIA — missing in action.

The news devastated his parents and his sister, Joanne, who was 13 when her older brother disappeared in the haze of war. His mother later went to Vietnam three times to find her lost son.

He and I, like so many of our generation, were “citizen soldiers.” I don’t think Jim planned to stay in the military any more than I did. But we both grew up in the service.

The difference was that my growing continued. Jim’s did not.

Published in The Tuscaloosa News Sunday May 29, 2017 as Missing in Action on Memorial Day Weekend