Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

THE PORT RAIL: Still Searching for Egan after All These Years

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

THE PORT RAIL: Still Searching for Egan after All These Years

Article excerpt

Each year on Memorial Day weekend, I remember one of my best friends, Jim Egan. We went to high school together in New Jersey but parted ways after graduation. Jim headed to Notre Dame in the Midwest, and I sent my trunk by Railroad Express South to Duke, both of us following family traditions of sorts. He entered the Marines, and I went into the Navy, both courtesy of NROTC programs.

Vietnam was just around the corner, but we were pretty clueless as what being in the service might mean. That's probably true of every generation on the brink of war.

Jim was stationed near Chu Lai, part of a general support battery of 155mm Howitzers, assigned to protect the airfield and surrounding region.

Jim, as an artillery officer, became a forward observer, temporarily attached to a unit of the ARVN (the South Vietnamese Army) to offer artillery support from the Marines when needed. As a Marine officer, he was with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines.

His war ended on the night of Jan. 21, 1966, a few months after his last letter to me. He was out on patrol when they were ambushed. Scattered by the attack, the troopers he was with regrouped at a designated position. Jim never showed up. They searched that evening for him until nightfall. They searched the next day for him. A few days later they searched from the air, and they sent in a team of 50 Marines to comb the area.

Leroy Blessing, the first sergeant of an artillery battery based at Chu Lai, and a friend of Jim's, recalled the night and day of Jim's disappearance.

"It had been raining almost continuously, around the clock. It was foggy, hazy, visibility was limited, and they decided to end patrolling for the day," he said.

But they were attacked, and when the patrol reassembled, Jim was missing.

"We don't know what happened to him," Blessing said. One of the patrol members thought he remembered Jim grab his stomach as if he had been hit. But when they went back over the ground, they found no blood, no body. Only his pencil-size map light, used to read his maps at night to coordinate artillery strikes, was found.

Jim passed into that limbo of war reserved for those who could not be accounted for in any other way, missing in action. …

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