Forty-three years after he went missing in Vietnam, U.S. Army Sgt. James Leslie Moreland received a hometown burial attended by more than 400 people, draped in American flags, steeped in tradition for a fallen soldier.
The service at a rural Alabama cemetery 40 years south of Birmingham drew people from across the nation, The Birmingham News reported.
Moreland’s sisters, Linda Brown of Puyallup and Edna Anita LeMoine of Olympia were presented with the Alabama Distinguished Service Medal for their brother, a Green Beret posthumously awarded a Silver Star for his heroism in a fierce battle at Lang Vei, South Vietnam, on Feb. 7, 1968.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley made a surprise appearance at a memorial service on Friday night, the eve of Moreland’s burial. He presented the family with a flag that had flown at the state Capitol.
Kathy Strong, the California woman who wore a MIA bracelet in honor of the Special Forces medic for nearly 40 years, finally removed it and placed it in Moreland’s casket.
The soldier, his remains finally identified through DNA, came home to rest.
“Never in my dreams would I have thought it would be like this,” LeMoine, 73, told the Birmingham News, speaking of the crush of people and the patriotic ceremony.
Here’s a piece of The Birmingham News story:
“I hope everyone knows why we are here today,” said Col. Paul Longgrear, Moreland’s commanding officer, in the eulogy. “We are not here to celebrate a burial.
“He was already buried in the debris of war. . . . We are here today to celebrate a homecoming.”
A bit more about Moreland from my February stories:
James Leslie Moreland
Born: Sept. 29, 1945, Bessemer, Ala.
Killed in action: Feb. 7, 1968, at Lang Vei, South Vietnam,
Education: 1963 graduate of Western High School, Anaheim, Calif., where he played varsity football and baseball and was an All-Orange County linebacker; attended Fullerton (Calif.) Junior College.
Army career: Enlisted Oct. 1, 1965. Began tour in Vietnam on July 4, 1967. He was a combat medic assigned to Detachment B-16, Company C, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces.
From his commander: “He was a neat guy. He was about 6-foot-1, about 185 pounds. He was a good-looking kid. And he had that Green Beret swagger back when we were 10 feet tall and bulletproof,” said retired Army Col. Paul Longgrear, who commanded Moreland while a first lieutenant in South Vietnam. Longgrear, now an ordained minister, will officiate at Moreland’s funeral in May.
About the battle: On Feb. 6-7, 1968, during the Tet Offensive, North Vietnamese soldiers overran the Lang Vei Special Forces camp just east of the Laotian border. They came with tanks, cannons, satchel charges, tear gas grenades, flame throwers, automatic rifles and other weapons, according to accounts of the battle.
A night of heroism: American losses were extreme. Nineteen men, including Moreland and Longgrear, were awarded the Silver Star – the nation’s third-highest military honor for heroism in combat – for their courage under fire that night. One soldier received the Medal of Honor; two others received the Distinguished Service Cross. Many of the medals were posthumously awarded. The Army citation for Moreland reads in part: “Braving withering cannon, mortar and machine gun fire, Specialist Moreland moved through a hail of bullets and shrapnel to treat the wounded.” He later helped fellow soldiers