SSGT James Michael Ray
On Memorial Day, I always honour our fallen military heroes. I pay special attention to SSGT James Michael Ray. Some have asked who he is to me, personally. This is his story and why he matters to me.
I was in ROTC for four years. I take our military, patriotism, honour, and my duty to God and country very seriously. I respect it and all that it represents. I feel gratitude and devotion to all who have served to preserve my freedoms. I enjoy these freedoms because of their military service.
I have two Vietnam POW/MIA bracelets for the same soldier. In my youth, I obtained was a POW/MIA bracelet for SSGT James M. Ray through a veteran’s organization. Many years later, I felt compelled to find out more about him. I have visited the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall, twice. Finding his name (both times) moved me to a flood of tears.
The Internet was not an option at that time, so I wrote letters to numerous veterans’ organizations to learn more. I was referred to others, links in a proverbial chain of red-tape. Finally, I found his family, and was able to correspond with his stepmother. She sent me a bracelet that was made by SSGT Ray’s own family. She told me who he was to his family. She told me about their Jimmy.
SSGT James M. Ray
James Michael Ray was born November 10, 1949. He lived in Woonsocket, Rhode Island at the time of his voluntary entrance to the United States Army. He joined the Army at age 17, after being told by the Marines that he was too young to join at age 16. The son of a U.S. Marine veteran, Jimmy felt a strong sense of duty to his country.
SSGT Ray was captured by the Viet Cong on March 18, 1968 during military intelligence maneuvers. An ambush included a rocket-propelled grenade that landed near the position of his unit in South Vietnam. His country of detention is listed as Cambodia. He was subsequently held in several jungle prison camps, moving frequently. It is believed that at one point he tried to escape, but was re-captured only to be tortured and starved.
Records prove that prisoners were kept in chains. At night, they were locked in underground pits. They were moved often to various prison camps throughout the jungle. Malaria and dysentery were common illnesses among prisoners, and often fatal. At capture, Private Ray was believed to be about 165 lbs. At his last sighting, his weight was estimated to be about 95 lbs.
While no concrete date is known for SSGT Ray’s death, it is officially listed as November 30, 1969. Vietnamese records released in 1973 list SSGT James Michael Ray as having died in captivity, probably late in 1969. When a prisoner became ill or died, he was taken away and no details were given. SSGT Ray was last seen alive by a fellow soldier who knew him, and had been held with him at that time.
The Ray family never gave up in their search for answers. They wanted Jimmy to come home, no matter what had happened. He deserved to come home to the country that he had loved and served. They held onto hope for decades.
Nearly forty years passed before the family decided it was time to honour their loved one in a memorial place. They felt it was time to accept the government findings and official reports that he would not be found. Family members and fellow soldiers who served with SSGT James M. Ray gathered around a white stone marker bearing his name in Arlington National Cemetery on September 7, 2007, for a final memorial service.
As of 2017, there are 1,616 Americans that are still unaccounted for in Vietnam. Included in that number is SSGT James Michael Ray. This is why SSGT James M. Ray matters so much to me. It is also why he should matter to you. Never forget.