"We loved Jim"
Rich Kane came from New Jersey. Larry Dudley came from Washington state. Mike Lynch came from Wisconsin. Don Staubus came from Virginia. Ron McCants came from Atlanta.
These five men made the trip to Lewisburg, from all points of the compass, to see an old friend, James M. Moore.
None of them had seen Jim, or Jimmy if you'd graduated with him from Marshall County High School in 1968, since November 13, 1969.
That Friday, almost 49 years ago to the day, Moore, and the others, had been in the Plain of Reeds, a large swampy region in the Mekong River delta in South Vietnam close to the Cambodian border.
Moore, 20-years-old, died that day in action against the enemy.
Thousands of miles and almost five decades from that day, Moore's comrades in the 5th battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment of the 9th Infantry Division, "Old Reliables," still get together from time to time.
Sometimes at regular battalion or division reunions, sometimes just for a weekend somewhere with their spouses to renew their bond from years ago.
This year, they were discussing the idea of meeting up in Nashville, when Dudley realized how close they'd be to Lewisburg.
Moore had always told Dudley that, when they were done in Vietnam, he'd have to visit Marshall County so that the two could go fishing.
From there, a plan began to take shape as more of Moore's friends said they wouldn't miss the opportunity to visit their friend.
Kane called the Tribune a couple of weeks before their visit.
He was hoping to contact any of Moore's surviving family. His friends had photos of Jim during his time in Vietnam that they'd like to give them.
Kane wasn't the first person to contact the newspaper about Jim Moore this year, actually.
In March, a woman, who is making sure that every service member whose name is listed on the Vietnam Memorial has a photo to go along with it, sent out requests nationwide for the ones she could not find.
Of the five Marshall Countians killed in the war, she was only missing Moore.
Looking through back issues of the paper, there was a photo of Moore in the August 12, 1969 edition of the Marshall Gazette.
It was a short article, six paragraphs--probably reprinted from the official Army release, noting that Moore had been awarded the Bronze Star Medal for "valorous action" against an "armed hostile force" on June 7.
Kane and Dudley both brought up that day talking about Moore. Dudley was on point, Kane behind him with a grenade Launcher, and Moore, with an M60 light machine gun, third in the column.
Kane said he thinks about that action every anniversary and Dudley said he dreamed about it for a long time.
Moore earned another Bronze Star, and a Silver Star, before receiving a Purple Heart on November 13.
The same photo was used in the November 18 edition of the Gazette announcing Moore's death in action the prior week.
The Tribune put Kane in touch with county historian Lynda Potts, who took it from there.
On Friday, members of Moore's family including his sisters Montez Riner, Sandra Berryman, Kathy Townsend, brother Jackie and namesake nephew, James M. "Jim Bob" Moore, friends of Moore's from the class of 1968, elected officials, other local veterans, and neighbors from Berlin where Moore grew up, gathered at the county museum.
Kane said he half expected a marching band to meet them as well, looking at the crowded room.
"It says a lot about a man, after 49 years, the people who gather to remember him," said McCants.
"We are gathered to speak his name, meets his friends, and honor his memory," he said.
And that they did.
Sometimes funny, sometimes emotional, they talked about Jimmy Moore.
"Jimmy would never tell someone to do anything he wouldn't do himself," said Lynch. "He just did it one too many times."
"He did something not every squad leader did," said McCants, who served as Moore's radio operator. "He walked point."
Even though some, like McCants, only knew Moore for four or five months while they were in Vietnam, Moore made a lasting impression.
"I only knew him as a soldier, a squad leader and a friend, but a great warrior, a great hero, and a great friend," said McCants.
The photos that Moore's brothers-in-arms brought to share with the family are better that the one in the archives of the paper.
Not the formal and serious official photo from the newspaper, the photos of Moore from Vietnam show a relaxed and smiling young man, handsome even, with his blond hair uncovered and, as Kane notes, rarely wearing a shirt.
Those photos capture a more vivid image of who he was.
His sister Montez said that he described himself as an "ole country hillbilly" and his classmates remembered a young man, shy in groups who was happy to "cut-up" one on one.
Later in the afternoon, Moore's two families, his Marshall County kin and his brothers from the Old Reliables, drove north to Ring Cemetery where Moore rests next to his parents.
McCants said that he had gone to the memorial service held by the battalion in Vietnam 49 years ago for his squad leader.
He didn't know what words had been spoken as Jimmy was laid to rest in this small family cemetery, surrounded by pasture, in late November of 1969, but he and the others who served with Moore had words to add as well.
McCants, who has served in the ministry for 40 years since returning from war, said that, aside from performing his own daughter's wedding service, being able to speak at Moore's grave was the highest honor his calling has afforded him.
From one family of James M. Moore to another, the message was simple.
"We loved Jim," said McCants. "He was a great human being and we loved him."
"I want to thank you for loving him as much as we did."