Searching for SSGT James M. Ray

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.

21 thoughts on “Searching for SSGT James M. Ray

  1. How heartbreaking. Thanks for making his story real. WHen I saw his picture on your site on Memorial day I was wondering if you would put something more about him. Im so glad you did. I will join you in praying for he and his family.


  2. How sad that time was. I was just coming of age (1969) when this was in full swing.

    This is a lovely post of hope and acceptance as well as the search.

    Have a terrific day. ☺


  3. This is indeed a very hard story to read, especially for those of us for whose understanding of life was shaped by the Vietnam Era. It is important that this story be told, and retold, lest we forget. For those families there is no forgetting, and there is no closure. As a mother, I cannot imagine that pain to bear. My younger sister also wore a POW bracelet, and had the privilege of presenting it back to the soldier when he at last returned safely home to South Dakota. Thank you for finding such a powerful way to utilize this word prompt, I'm glad that Two Shoes Tuesday provided the opportunity.


  4. What strikes me most when I look at his photo, and think about my own children now in their mid-thirties… is that he was so very young, just barely 20. And there were so many more of our friends and loved ones just like him… who didn't come home alive, or who came home to face emotional breakdowns and nightmares that never really went away. Children being sent to be killed as pawns in an old men's game of war. Every slaughtered soldier of either side was somebody's son or daughter, That thought is more than my heart can bear.


  5. I always honour SSGT James M. Ray for Memorial Day, and your prompt allowed me the opportunity to tell the rest of his story. I will never forget him, or his brothers in arms.


  6. This is so very, very sad. Thank you for a beautiful post today. I found out that the POW soldier whose name was on the bracelet I wore was still alive as of last year. I remember when I received a letter from him thanking me for wearing his bracelet when he returned home from the war.


  7. It is true, and has been since the beginning of time. James enlisted on his own; he felt the sense of duty, that freedom is worth fighting for. War is evil and cruel, but it is a reality. My heart aches for those lost to it, especially those who never make it home. The Vietnam War bears the shame of having still left 1648 behind.


  8. Thank you so so much for this wonderful post. And thank YOU for caring and searching and again, caring. I am honored to know you even in this way through our blogs…my Katie one and my human one.

    This is the finest most loving thing I have read so far. I thnk you againb. It means so muc to me as well.


  9. Very touching post today. We have a missing soldier in our family – my mom's 1st cousin, James Albey- he was killed in North Korea and they never found his body. Someone made a memorial for him at findagrave, but he is not buried in any cemetery. So many were lost…it is very sad.


  10. You are about the most caring person I know on Blogger. What great dedication to a war hero. I applaud your efforts in finding more about who this young man was.
    So many suffered untold pains and misery. It's very sad and the heartbreak for the families and love ones.

    Thanks for the story.


  11. Hello Ann and Josie,that story has made me 'ouch' Josie the very same thoughts are running through my head ~ he was 20yrs old 😦 I have my 20 year old son sat on the settee with me,watching footy,I could literally weep at the thought of this 20year old 'boy' going through all of that and what for….it really grieves me.
    I'm glad you have told his story I will remember him too 🙂 x


  12. Wow, kiddo, what a story – thank you for tracking him and his family down and sharing his heroic life and death here. My son in law was captured and tortured in Haiti during his service, and the effects will be with him always though thankfully he survived.


  13. This is a sad story, Ms. Mac. I can see no earthly reason for the torturing of POW's. None.

    Mrs. Jim's brother had an easier death but still hard and for our and Europe's freedom. His P-38 was shot down over Italy. The Germans came and covered him with his parachute. Then a priest came and took his dog tags. Before any more could be done by the church or priest the Germans had buried him.

    Later his body was brought to New Orleans for a U.S. burial. We did not know this until the Department of Army responded to Mrs. Jim's request with a two inch file of papers and an explanatory letter.


  14. A very powerful and heart tugging story. Thank you for posting that at this time of the year. There is little we can do for our missing heroes but to remember them and honor them. You have done yourself proud by honoring this American hero.


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