Exactly 47 years ago on this date, a young army lieutenant Turk Griffith Jr. was killed in battle in a remote village in Vietnam. (WRDW-TV / Jan. 17, 2012)
News 12 at 6 o'clock / Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Exactly 47 years ago on this date, a young Army lieutenant was killed in battle in a remote village in Vietnam.
You might think his name would be forgotten all these years later, especially in a place where he only spent a few months in training, but on the anniversary of his death, his name is very much alive at Fort Gordon.
His name is Thurston A. Griffith Jr., but everybody called him "Turk" and this ceremony is for him.
His friends from the West Point class of 1962 all have gray hair now.
Tom Culver is one of those surviving classmates. He walked up slowly to the podium, surveying the crowd filled with buddies.
"I see a lot of elderly people here, unfortunately they're all classmates of mine," he said as the room roared with laughter.
They came together at Fort Gordon to remember a young man who didn't live long enough to see his own 25th birthday.
Culver is one of the West Point guys. He remembers a young man with a sense of humor and a sense of adventure that still qualifies as a military secret.
"You'll never know the incredible story of Turk and I on the streets of Saigon for 10 days, because I'm the sole survivor -- and I'm not talking," he said.
But it was also a life cut short serving his country. He died in an ambush in a village halfway around the world.
His first cousin Robert Sutton came to the ceremony to speak for the family.
"He never had an opportunity to toss a football with his son, to give his daughter's hand in marriage or to cast a line and catch a few trout with his kids and grand kids," Sutton said, chocking back tears.
Sutton tried to explain how the loss feels all these many years later.
"Well, it's hard to describe," he said. "It's a void that couldn't be filled. And the void persists to this day, 47 years later."
Retired Colonel Homer Pickens spent years working to make this ceremony happen.
The Griffiths were family friends, but he only met Turk once. It was a chance meeting in Okinawa.
"He stuck out his hand and said 'I'm Turk Griffith,' and I about fell over."
They only had a few minutes together and he never saw Turk again. Years later when Pickens retired in Augusta, he stopped in to see Griffith Hall -- the building dedicated to his friend back in 1967.
"Things got lost, memories faded and it was just sad," Pickens said.
Pickens decided people should know more about the man whose name is on the building -- the first soldier from New Mexico to die in the war, and possibly the first signal officer killed in Vietnam.
The Army agreed, and now a group of new plaques will tell the story. They hang just inside the main entrance of Griffith Hall for everyone to see.
Commanding General Alan Lynn says it's just the right thing to do.
"Because once you're in the Army, you're always in the Army. It doesn't matter that it was 60 years ago," Lynn said. "If you're a soldier, you'll always be remembered as a soldier. Especially a signal soldier."
These days, Griffith Hall is a hotel sitting across the street from Eisenhower Medical Center. Its one of those buildings you pass every time you go to Fort Gordon.
Now when you drive by it, you will know the story of the young man who gave his life and gave it its name 47 years ago.
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