Town holds homecoming for son lost in Vietnam
By Deborah Griffin
The Daily Reflector
Tuesday, May 28, 2019
JAMESVILLE — It was a homecoming of sorts for a wartime hero.
Military and town officials and more than 100 townspeople and supporters gathered to unveil a monument Monday and remember the life of Robert Milton “Pop” Staton Jr., a Jameville youth killed in Vietnam 52 years ago and never recovered.
“Words can’t explain how it feels to finally have a ‘home place’ to visit and reminisce Robert’s life,” Carrie Baines said before a crowd gathered for a special Memorial Day service in Staton’s honor.
Several friends and family spoke of the young man they knew before he left home to serve his country. Later, at a graveside service with military honors at Jamesville Community Cemetery, town officials unveiled a monument they had erected for their long lost son.
A U.S. Army honor guard from Fort Bragg presented a 21-gun salute and Taps hauntingly sounded over the cemetery. Members of the guard then symbolically folded an American flag and presented it to Staton’s remaining family.
The monument for Staton was long time in the making.
“Our brother joined United States Army, right after graduating from E.J. Hayes School in Williamston in 1966. His specialty training was in the Transportation Corps as a light vehicle driver,” Baines said.
Soon after, he became an Airborne paratrooper and earned rank quickly. He was sent to fight in Vietnam at 18 and was killed within a year, Baines said.
Staton, along with three other service members in his platoon, were killed on Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11, 1967, according to the Homecoming II Project.
On that date, Company C was participating in a search and destroy mission to root out communist forces infiltrating into Kontum Province, South Vietnam. They located and engaged an enemy force of unknown size. The unit was moving down a ridgeline covered with thick bamboo when it was savagely attacked by a North Vietnamese battalion firing mortars, rockets and automatic weapons.
Staton and his comrades were mortally wounded during the fierce firefight that ensued. Following the battle, all four soldiers were examined by the patrol’s medic and judged to be dead. Because of the hour and the unstable tactical situation, only the living could be extracted by helicopter from the battlefield.
A few days later, a search and recovery team was inserted into the battle site. The team searched the surrounding area, but was unable to locate the bodies. Likewise, they found no signs of freshly dug graves. At the time the ground search was terminated, all four men were reported as Killed in Action/Bodies Not Recovered.
There is no doubt of the men’s fate.
“Our family’s world disintegrated and never really has been the same. His body never made it back to the United States — more importantly — back home to Jamesville,” Baines said.
“This means we (the family) never had closure and a local memorial site to mourn and remember him by. This fact affected my parents ... until the day each of them died. We tried to help mom with the pain the best we could, but hers was a pain particular to parents of war, something I will never fully understand,” Baines said.
“We missed our brother terribly. Back then, the family did not receive that much information surrounding his death, nor his body’s whereabouts.”
The story reached Jamesville veteran Joyce Manning Moore, who shared information with the town commissioners last fall. The board was moved to vote to finance and erect the monument with all haste, vowing to raise funds to pay off the debt.
“We only wish our parents were alive to witness this,” Baines said. “We have a new ray of hope in knowing that Robert’s name won’t be forgotten in his hometown of Jamesville,” Baines continued.
Staton’s name also is etched in the Courts of the Missing at the Honolulu Memorial, in Honolulu, Hawaii, and is on panel 29E, line 076 of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
Staton also was a posthumous recipient of the Purple Heart, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Service Medal.
“So many praises go out to all involved that helped preserve my brother’s honor,” Baines said. “Even though this country did not win the Vietnam War, our brother and others killed in that war, did not die in vain. Whether it’s for our freedom or another’s, the words of Jesus are true for everyone, ‘There is no greater love than this: that a man lay down his life for another.’”