James Ray Sargent
|James Ray Sargent was born February 28, 1950 [Seargent-sic] in Jenkinjones, West Virginia, a coal town in McDowell County. He was the son of Millard Clay & Izetta [Davis] Sargent. Millard Sargent was a hard-working coal miner who died of black lung in November 1950, leaving Izetta with a baby and 10 other children to raise on her own.|
|James was well liked in the community. Given the nickname "Sarge" by his friends and called Jimmy by his family, he endured much good-natured teasing about his very light blonde hair, which was almost white. Jimmy dropped out of high school at age 17 and joined the Marines. Although he was too young to enlist, he was determined to go, so his mother Izetta signed the papers. On April 24, 1967, Jimmy officially became a Marine and was soon deployed to Vietnam as a member of D Battery, 13th Marines, 1st Marine Division.|
Jimmy Sargent was in Vietnam only 3 months when he and 11 other Marines from D Battery were assigned to support the 11th Mobile Strike Force, a unit of Australian and US Special Forces, who were in danger of an imminent attack by North Vietnamese forces.
|The Australian and US Special Forces were positioned at Ngok Tavak, an old French fort located in Quang Tin province near the Laotian border used as a forward observation post. In the pre-dawn hours of May 10, 1968, the troops were attacked by a group of North Vietnamese soldiers who approached the perimeter and called out that they were friendly. The North Vietnamese then threw hand grenades and killed several Marines before they were shot down themselves. The remaining North Vietnamese troops entrenched themselves outside Ngok Tavak and launched an attack of machine gun and rocket fire, which killed or wounded many of the defenders.|
The battle at Ngok Tavak lasted about 10 hours and involved intense fighting. A decision was made to evacuate the camp and retreat to Kham Duc, a short distance away. The Australians coordinated the withdrawal and destroyed all weapons and equipment that could not be carried. The survivors were forced to withdraw and found a place far enough away from the battle to call for helicopters to get them to the Special Forces camp at Kham Duc.
|The official government position on this incident, known as Operation Golden Valley, is that the retreating forces had gone a short distance when they discovered that Thomas Perry, a medic from C Company, was missing. Jimmy Sargent was among a group of 12 Marines from D Battery who were hit by grenades and fired upon by the North Vietnamese while searching for Perry. Thirteen Americans never returned from Ngok Tavak 12 Marines and the medic they were searching for during the battle. James Sargent was among this group of Marines.|
Tim Brown, a survivor of Ngok Tavak, reported in the May/June 2005 issue of The Veteran (The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc.) that "The search party [for Thomas Perry] and ambush never happened, because we [Brown and the other survivors] knew those guys were dead. We were forced to leave them there."
|Either way, the Marines were listed as missing for 37 years, and their families had no knowledge of them during that time. In late May 1968, Jimmy Sargent's family was notified that he was missing in action. They were devastated by the news. Jimmy's mother Izetta talked about him constantly, and prayed every day for any news about him. She died in 1994 without knowing what had actually happened to her son. Several years ago, the family placed a marker for Jimmy Sargent in Woodlawn Cemetery in Bluewell, West Virginia, between the graves of his mother and father.|
James Ray Sargent is survived by sisters Alice Faye, Joanne, Annette, and Phyllis; brothers Millard Jr., Douglas, and Roger; and half-brothers Freddie and James Breeden. He was preceded in death by his parents Millard and Izetta Sargent, brothers George, W.C., and Jackie; and a sister Geneva.
Through a series of six investigations beginning in 1993 and interviews with villagers and former Vietnamese soldiers, US recovery teams discovered the key areas and defensive positions on the Ngok Tavak battlefield. Excavations conducted in 1998 and 1999 by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) revealed human remains and other evidence.
The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory specialists used mitochondrial DNA and other forensic methods to identify positively the remains of Jimmy Sargent and the other Marines who had been lost for 37 years. Jimmy Sargent's family was notified in August 2005 that his remains had been found. This discovery is recognized as being the largest single group of Vietnam MIAs identified and returned at one time.
|On October 7, 2005, the remains of James Ray Sargent and 7 other Marines whose remains could not be individually identified were buried as a group in Arlington National Cemetery. The town of Anawalt, West Virginia, held a celebration at the community center in honor of Jimmy Sargent on October 15, 2005, and a bridge in Anawalt over the Tug Fork River was named in his honor.|
West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history. For more information contact Constance Baston at (304) 558-0230.
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