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Families Honor Deceased Servicemen

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Ann Arbor, Michigan, Saturday, May 30,1970 Page 18

Families Honor Deceased Servicemen

By Owen Eshenroder

James E. Kirby was a professional serviceman, a "lifer” in the jargon of the military. He entered the Marine Corps soon after graduating from Ann Arbor High School in 1958 and served with it for four years, including an 18 month overseas assignment in Okinawa.

He then enlisted in the Army in November of 1964 and attended jump school at Fort Benning, Ga., and later Air Force flight school at Ft. Rucker, Ala. Upon completion of this training, he was assigned to the 203rd Reconnaissance Airplane Unit in Phu Hiep, Vietnam.

Prior to his departure for the war in December of 1968, a smiling Kirby was pictured in The Ann Arbor News receiving his flight wings from his wife, Ruth Ann.

Two months later, WO 1. C James Kirby, age 27, was dead, a victim of enemy antiaircraft fire while on a mission. He became the Ann Arbor area’s 71st Vietnam fatality since January of 1965.

Following his death, his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Grover Kirby of 1236 Kensington, and his wife were presented with honors posthumously awarded him by the Army. He left behind two children, also.

With the grief of his death somewhat subsided in 15 months time, Mr. and Mrs. Kirby Thursday participated in a simple and private grave decorating ceremony at Bethlehem Cemetery, where their son is buried.

While a tombstone does not yet mark the burial site, a small American flag does, compliments of the American Legion. It is customary for the Legion to pay tribute to the nation's dead soldiers in this fashion each year on May 30.

Memorial Day, 1970, is dedicated to men like James Kirby and hundreds of thousands of others who have died in a military uniform. The holiday annually commemorates these men with hopes that future wars might be averted and the number of lives lost through war reduced.

Several other families around the city also have special reason to bow their heads in prayer for a moment today and give quiet respect to the war dead. A total of 93 men from this area have, to date, been killed in Vienam, and each will be remembered by their families in a different, personal way.

Many such parents have planned visits to their son’s grave similar to the Kirbys.’ Others, like Mr .and Mrs. James Johnson of 1282 Duncan in Ypsilanti, will have to settle for a church visit. Their son, Dannie L. Johnson, who died in combat on Dec. 30, 1967, as a member of the famed Army Green Berets, is buried in Alabama.

"We usually get down there for a visit about twice a year," said Mr. Johnson, “but it’s always nice to think of Dannie."

Mr. and Mrs. Woodrow Hunter of 2956 Exmoor are the parents of Michael W. Hunter, who was the most recent area serviceman to die in the war. He was killed in action on Jan. 28 of this year after six months in Vietnam.

The Hunters weren’t sure of exactly how they would mark their first Memorial Day since Mike’s death. Mr. Hunter said that he was glad to learn his son would be remembered in this article along with the others, and said he was considering going to Northern Michigan, "near where Mike enjoyed a good many summers,” for the day.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Robert Miller of 2024 Miller and Mr. and Mrs. Lester Etter of 1421 Marian plan to honor their dead sons in the same manner as the Kirbys, with simple flower placing visits to the respective graves.

Paul Q. Etter was killed Dec. 8, 1968, while on patrol and Charles I. Miller lost his life on May 13, 1968, from wounds he received as a military policeman. Both men had attended Eastern Michigan University for a while before Paul entered the Marines and Charles the Army. Paul was engaged to be married when he died.

A peaceful “family day” on Portage Lake, preceded by a visit to their son’s burial site, will occupy today for Mr. and Mrs. George V. Airey of 901 Avon. George Jr. was killed on May 9, 1968, at the age of 23 “while engaging hostile forces in firefight,” according to a telegram from the Secretary of the Army.

Mr. and Mrs. Chester Brown of 2817 Canterbury lost their son Charles on May 21, 1968, one week after he was promoted to sergeant. He was struck by rocket shrapnel somewhere near the demilitarized zone in Vietnam. A flagpole has since been erected in his honor at Buhr Park by the Ann Arbor Fire Department, of which his father is a veteran member.

Mrs. Brown said that she might attend the American Legion services held at the cemetery, as she did last year. If not, a visit to the grave to place flowers will suffice.