Remembering a half century of sacrifice

james madison university jmuMilitary veterans of the Vietnam War will gather at James Madison University Saturday, Feb. 20, to hear one of their own speak – and to receive honor for service to their country.

Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Patrick St.Clair, who enlisted for the U.S. Army Special Forces in July 1968 and participated in the 1970 Son Tay Raid in Vietnam, is the keynote speaker for the luncheon in the Festival Conference and Student Center Ballroom.

A native of Pearisburg, Virginia, St.Clair served in the Army and in the West Virginia Army National Guard for more than 34 years before retiring in 2008. He also was a corrections officer with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections for 12 years and, earlier, a police officer and detective with the Morgantown, West Virginia, Police Department.

He received the Silver Star for his part in the Son Tay Raid, in which he and his fellow soldiers prepared to rescue U.S. military personnel from a prison in North Vietnam. Unknown to the soldiers, the prisoners had been moved to another prison. Despite the intelligence breakdown, the mission was considered a tactical success.

The 10:45 a.m. to 2 p.m. event is sponsored by the JMU Cadet Association and the Department of Military Science in the College of Education.

The luncheon and veterans’ services information display are part of the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration initiative that was authorized in 2008 to mark the anniversary of the deployment of U.S. combat units in 1965 and subsequent military actions. Activities affiliated with the initiative are meant to honor veterans, highlight the service of the Armed Forces, pay tribute to contributions of people on the home front, highlight advances in technology, science and medicine related to military research and recognize contributions made by allies of the U.S. during the war.

Representatives of Chapter 1061 of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Inc. and Breaking Free, which offers equine-assisted therapy, will be at the commemoration to acquaint veterans with their organizations’ services. Veteran patient advocates from the Salem, Virginia, and Martinsburg, West Virginia, VA hospitals will be available to talk with veterans attending the commemoration.

A display of Vietnam War-era military artifacts from the Vietnam War Foundation and Museum in Ruckersville will be set up in the ballroom.

Dr. Matthew Bowen, a neuropsychologist, certified disability analyst and instructor in JMU’s Department of Military Science, and Judy Robertson, a refugee who was protected briefly at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon before it was taken in 1975, will speak briefly after the keynote address. Bowen founded the Combat Veterans Oral History Project, in which he has conducted documentary interviews with dozens of veterans from Pearl Harbor through Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in the Middle East. The project has led to his teaching a course, The Combat Experience, at JMU and the University of Virginia. Each semester, Vietnam veterans have been guests in his classes.

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