Jay Vets Receive Recognition More Than 40 Years later

Sunday, November 14th 2010, 4:33 pm
By: News On 6

Dan Brewer, News On 6

JAY, Oklahoma -- An Oklahoma high school is recognizing a unique accomplishment. One-third of its class of 1965 put their lives on the line to fight in Vietnam.

Some of the class of '65 from Jay High School is together again. The men share a special bond; they all served in the Vietnam War.

Harold Spencer drove supply trucks.

"It was a hot, dirty, nasty job," Spencer said.

Jack Robertson served in mechanized infantry.

"It was scary and the people that we left is what you think about," said Robertson, with a nodding of his head.

The memories for Bill Payton are also strong.

"Getting captured and seeing people die," Payton said.

Being a veteran is special in its own right, but the class of '65 takes it to another level.

"We had 60 graduates in 1965 and 20 went to Vietnam and fought for our freedoms," said Sally LaFayette, Class of '65.

That's 1/3 of the graduates served in Vietnam. Only one died during the war, Jerry Leathers was just days from coming home.

Their names are now engraved forever on a plaque given to the school by the veteran's classmates.

"It makes me feel really good because...what more can we do?" LaFayette asked. "They fought in a war that no one really knew why...they didn't know, they were young farm boys."

Some of the men speak openly about their experience at war, others prefer to stay silent. But all seem genuinely touched by the tribute.

"I think it's great. I think it's time that we were recognized for being in a war," Spencer said.

The memorial includes a letter from Governor Brad Henry thanking the men for their service, something, they say they're glad to get even though it took nearly half a century.

"It's a great honor. I think it's about 45 years too late. We were welcomed home by picketers with signs that said we were everything but human, so I'm glad that someone's finally doing this for our Vietnam veterans," Robertson said.

The plaque will be on display at Jay High School for the next 20 years, after that it will be donated to the Smithsonian in Washington, DC as part of its Vietnam archives.