SSGT James Michael Ray
On Memorial Day I always honour our fallen military heroes, and I always include 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. I take our military, patriotism, honour, and my duty to God and country very seriously. I feel devotion to all who serve, presently and in the past. I enjoy freedom because of their military service.
I have two Vietnam POW/MIA bracelets for the same man. I originally got a bracelet for SSGT James M. Ray from a Vietnam veteran’s organization. After many years, I felt the need to search to find out who he was.
The Internet was not an option at the time, so I wrote letters to many veterans’ organizations. When I finally found his family, I corresponded with his stepmother. She sent me a bracelet made by the family. She also told me who he was to his family, and to his loved ones.
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.
SSGT Ray was captured by the Viet Cong on March 18, 1968 during military intelligence maneuvers. His country of capture is listed as Cambodia, after an ambush included a rocket-propelled grenade that landed near the position of his unit. He was subsequently held in several jungle prison camps. It is believed that at one point he tried to escape, but was re-captured only to be tortured and eventually starved.
Records prove that prisoners were kept in chains most of the time. At night they were locked in underground pits. They were often moved to various prison camps throughout the jungle. Malaria and dysentery were common and deadly illnesses. At capture, Private Ray was believed to be about 165 lbs. At his last sighting, it is believed he was about 95 lbs.
While no concrete date is known for SSGT Ray’s death, it is officially listed as November 30, 1969. When a prisoner became ill or died, he was taken away and no details were given. Vietnamese records released in 1973 list SSGT James Michael Ray as having died in captivity, probably in 1969. He was last seen by a fellow soldier who knew him, and had been held with him at that time.
Nearly forty years passed before the family decided 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. His burial site is Section MK, Site 83, Arlington National Cemetery. He was honoured with a 21 gun salute. An American memorial flag was presented to his family.
As of 2013, at least 1,648 Americans are still unaccounted for in Vietnam, including SSGT James Michael Ray. We still search for answers and peace for them as well as their loved ones.