JAMES T MCCONNELL - PFC
- DATE OF BIRTH:
- August 13, 1946
- DATE OF CASUALTY:
- July 10, 1968
- BRANCH OF SERVICE:
- South Vietnam
James T. McConnell III was born on August 13, 1946, to Mr. and Mrs. James McConnell. His home of record is Pitman, NJ. He had one brother, Walter.
He served in the US Army and attained the rank of Private First Class (PFC).
McConnell was killed in action on July 10, 1968.
August 13, 1946-July 10, 1968
PFC, Army Pitman, NJ
The 1964 edition of the Talisman, Pitman High School's yearbook, shows the nickname, "Jungle Jim", under the senior photo of James McConnell, III. For those who knew him, it seems an ironic look into his future, rather than the dream reflected in the first entry, "Aspires to be President."
The McConnells were a religious, hard working, and value oriented family settled in the tiny borough of Pitman, NJ. James, Jr. was a World War II veteran and Helen, a loving mother and housewife. They raised two sons with discipline, affection and a sense of service to their country, church and family.
Jimmy liked to bowl and go saltwater fishing with his younger brother, Walter, and his father. He dated several girls, but was always too busy to settle down with one. The yearbook also states he was "usually with good looking girls."
Although the boys eventually became very close, Helen remembers the two brothers "being at each other's throat a lot but that was normal." She then adds, "Neither one of them gave us any real trouble. They were both good kids."
After graduation from high school, Jimmy attended Peirce Junior College in Philadelphia and worked for Dale's Supermarket, (now Acme) at the Collegetown Shopping Center in Glassboro. "Jimmy loved working with people," his mother now says. "He wanted to get into merchandising when he got out of the service."
Jimmy landed a job at Drexel University as an accountant after graduating with honors from Peirce and worked there until October of 1967 when he was drafted. He excelled at accounting and had a bright future in business.
"He felt it was his duty to go," Helen McConnell says. "There was never any question about what to do when they called him. He was hoping to get a clerical job."
Jimmy was six feet tall and only weighed about one hundred and forty pounds. Basic training was hard on him and his feet. They swelled up often and he had to lace his boots tighter and tighter until his legs ached. "He had it rough in training because of his slight build, but he was determined to make it," Mr. McConnell said.
Instead of being assigned to an administrative school, Jimmy was sent to advanced infantry training after basic training. Vietnam was his first duty station, and when he arrived there in March of 1968, was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division as part of B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry (Division Recon). Or as many called it, "Three Quarter Cav". Their mission was to both provide ground reconnaissance for the 25th Division and secure convoy routes along Highway 1, around Cu Chi in Hau Nghia province, northwest of Saigon.
Walter was eighteen years old when his older brother went to Vietnam. "I don't think Jimmy had any idea of what he was getting into. We grew up in a religious atmosphere," he says. "We both had Sunday school attendance pins hung down to here on our chests. We learned all about how to treat people right and then all of a sudden, after his training, he was over there in a rice paddy doing everything he was taught not to do. I know he struggled with having to kill people. It simply was not him. He was not the 'macho' type. I know many guys were that way, but not Jimmy."
In his letters home, Jimmy made no secret of his feelings. He said that he would not have minded Army life anywhere else. He grew close to those in his unit who had seen him through his first months. He described the horrible conditions that he lived under and resented the Army telling him that he should act like "a guest in their country". In one letter, he wrote, "I'm glad Walter's not here."
Jimmy's letters to his brother were more revealing. He told of the firefights he had been in and described being pinned down by sniper fire in a ditch for three-quarters of an hour on Easter Sunday.
Another assault on his values involved the monetary hustling some Vietnamese civilians did to the U.S. soldiers. The outrageous prices they charged for beer, soda, and sunglasses were bad enough. But what he found most abhorrent were the prostitutes that would frequent their base camps.
To Walter he wrote:
The boom-boom girls are around all day. Most of them are pretty sick looking and I wouldn't touch any of them.
A former sergeant in Jimmy's unit, David Davignon of North Tonawanda, New York, replied to an inquiry in "Mackenzie's Raiders", the newsletter of the 3/4 Cavalry Association, regarding anyone who remembered James McConnell. Like so many Vietnam veterans, Davignon's memory was strong on places and experiences, but sometimes weak on the names of those with whom they shared the most intense times of their lives.
"I went to Vietnam in March of 1968 after training troops at Fort Polk." he says. "Jim was in my company there but in a different platoon. But in Vietnam, we ended up in the same unit. I was a track commander on an APC. I wrote many letters home and my dear mom kept them all. I was able to look up the dates mentioned and verify that after thirty years, why his name rang a bell."
Jimmy's last letter to his family told of a friend being killed by a booby trap and of his fear of the same thing happening to him. On July 4th, less than four months into his one-year tour, Jimmy was on a night patrol. Shortly after midnight, there was an explosion that immediately killed the man who tripped the detonator and severely wounded Jimmy.
"In a letter dated July 4, 1968, I wrote of a tragedy that had occurred," Davignon continues. "Three persons from my vehicle were wounded by a booby trap that had been tied between two trees. One person was killed, one badly wounded and one received a broken leg. I wrote about the wounded one as being a young guy I had trained back at Fort Polk. I remember him as tall and lanky. He was a nice, gentle, polite sort of person. I had been a dismount that night but I wasn't nearby when it happened. The person killed that night was only in-country about a month."
"I'm trying to think back but it's been so long," he says. "I do remember feeling terrible that night but also that he was tended to right away. The dust-offs were always pretty quick. In a following letter dated July 20th, I mentioned that McConnell had died from the wounds he had received two weeks earlier."
Troy Jones lives in Monticello, Kentucky. He was also a member of B Troop in July of 1968, and also responded to the newsletter inquiry. He remembers Jimmy well but, as often was the case, did not know Jimmy had died.
"He was a nice guy," he recalls. "He was on the same APC as John Carpenter, another good friend of mine. I remember him as always having a good time. He enjoyed life and was a good soldier. He was always ready and never complained as some did. I remember him getting wounded and taken out, but I didn't know he later died. I am very sorry to hear that."
Ken Hardesty, now of Spotsylvania County, PA, was a fellow squad member of Jimmy's. His memories are clear; his emotions restrained. "He was a great guy who everyone respected," he says. "We never talked about anything but getting home safely. He even grew his first mustache when there. I had been to visit him at the 12th Evacuation Hospital the day before his death. I then had the unpleasant task of going to the morgue to identify his body." Hardesty pauses, then adds, "Only sadness at his death remains."
The McConnells were not home when the initial attempt to notify them was made. They had received a telegram regarding Jimmy's wounds days before. So when neighbors told them that Army officers had been knocking on their door, they knew why.
"Our friends and neighbors rallied around us. They were great. We were overwhelmed with grief and they knew it," says Helen. She heard from two people in town who had lost their sons less than six months before. "Mr. Sharp and Dot Jervis both paid visits. I got to know Dot Jervis real well. But in the end, I thought the government used our sons as cannon fodder. They did that to a lot of boys."
Jimmy's father knew the war his generation fought was for our freedom and way of life. Walter recalls his father's deep bitterness. "He said Jimmy died for money and nothing else," he says. "It hurt him, and I don't think he ever recovered from what the Vietnam War cost our family. But he was as proud of his son as any father could be. We all were proud of Jimmy."
Jimmy McConnell will be remembered as the quiet, unassuming kid from Pitman who never caused trouble. He seemed to fit in wherever he was. He would not have joined the military or volunteered for combat. But when called for both, he decided to do the best he could, no matter what lay ahead. When the Army gave him an M-16 and not a desk, he made himself a good infantryman. And when he was sent to Vietnam, he made himself a valued and respected member of the "Three Quarter Cav".
Some define a patriot using the image of a flag waving, battle hardened, thick-skinned soldier. Jimmy never tried to fit that mold, but no one could ever deny that he was a patriot in the finest and most honorable use of the word.
Excerpt from They Were Ours:
Gloucester County's Loss in Vietnam
by John Campbell
Used with permission of author
Sources: John Campbell and NJVVMF.
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