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25428 Powers, James C.
April 23, 1940 - May 26, 1967


usma1964-K2
James Conrad Powers   

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Personal Eulogy

John Ward's Directory Entry

This big Iowa farm boy came to us by way of the Merchant Marine Academy, where he spent one year. His large smile and amiable personality are matched only by his drive and ability as a leader. His sincerity and good nature are attested to by the number of true friends that Jim has made while here at the Academy.

~ USMA 1964 Howitzer


At the beginning of 1967, the U.S. troop strength in Vietnam was approximately 380,000. By the end of the year it had grown to 500,000. The Class of 1964ís combat losses increased by a slightly higher ratio during that year. Five members of the class would perish in 1967 compared to the three who died in 1966. In a way, that is surprising, because on 3 January 1967, after thirteen months as first lieutenants, almost everyone in the class in the army was promoted to the rank of captain. The promotion date would have been 3 June (eighteen months as second lieutenant and eighteen months as first lieutenant), but with the warís escalation promotions were speeded up. Eventually, the time in grade requirement would reach twelve months for each lieutenant rank, resulting in officers becoming captains in exactly two years. Theoretically, captains should have a lower casualty rate than lieutenants since lieutenants, as platoon leaders, are closer to the front lines. However, with the general absence of front lines in Vietnam, that theory did not always apply.

On 26 May 1967 James c. Powers became the seventh warrior of the Class of í64 to die in combat, and the first captain to die. He was also the first victim who was married, leaving his wife, Ann, a widow. Their daughter, Jamie, would be born less than four months later on 15 September.

Jim was born in Dubuque, Iowa, on 23 April 1940, the second of eight children Ė six boys and two girls. His mother, Martha, was of German heritage and his father, Philip, was of Irish ancestry. Jim inherited all the best qualities from both parents.

Jim was a true Iowa farm boy. He grew up on the familyís 150-acre farm just outside the city limits. It was a huge endeavor which, besides several crops and a large dairy herd, included beef cattle, hogs, chickens, goats, banty hens, and later, during jimís high school years, sheep. According to family lore, it was the sheep which finalized Jimís decision to become a soldier.

On the farm, Jim learned every aspect of farming and always entered at least one animal in competition at the annual fair. When he was in the seventh grade, his father was hospitalized in the Mayo Clinic for almost five months. During this time Jim and his brothers Dave and Paul took over operation of the farm. It was a challenging situation for the three youngsters but they managed to keep the family fed and the livestock alive without any regression in their schoolwork.

Jim attended St. Anthonyís Grade School where he was under the tutelage of the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The school was only a mile and a half from the farm and Jimís parents always brought fresh vegetables and meats to the good Sisters. Although they were altar boys, Jim and his brothers were frequently corrected for causing disturbances or teasing girls. However, their mother always assured the nuns that it was just good-natured fun and that her sons were as innocent as they looked. In fact, they did have very angelic appearances.

The Powers boys were constantly on the move. After mastering trikes, wagons, bikes and horses, they began experimenting with their fatherís Case Tractor and subjected it to every test known to man, agricultural and otherwise. While in high school Jimís younger brother Dave developed a love for cars and racing. When the farm chores were completed, Jim and Dave would work on their cars Ė usually with the help of a cute city girl standing by to pass the tools to them. Jim and his brothers worked hard and played hard. There was never a dull moment.

Jim attended Loras Academy High School and worked each summer for farmers in the area. His main extracurricular activities during that time included being president of the 4-H club and a junior ROTC cadet. Jim would later say that his interest in a military career began while he was in the ROTC program, mainly because of the influence of an outstanding infantry officer instructor, Captain Leo OíBrien.

By the time he graduated in 1958, he made up his mind to go to West Point, but the college board examinations indicated that he needed a little more preparation in math and science. So, Jim enrolled in Northwestern Prep School in Minneapolis. Because he could not afford the tuition, he was given a free room in the attic and did kitchen and housekeeping work in order to pay his bills. After that year he attended the Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York, thus moving closer to his goal, mentally and physically. With his academic and leadership credentials significantly strengthened, Jim was awarded an appointment to the United States Military Academy by Congressman James Bromwell in 1960.

The new cadetís departure from the train station was a grand ordeal, especially since he was the only one in the family who had ever been east of Chicago. It would turn out to be a bittersweet farewell for the large entourage that sent Jim off to his military dream.

Jimís four years at West Point were notable for the number of friends he made. From the day he arrived in New Cadet Barracks with his long farmerís stride and wide smile to his firstie year as a cadet captain and K-2 company commander, no one was more liked. His two years in K-2 were shared with another class standout, Alex Hottell who would also perish in Vietnam, three years after Jim.

As a plebe and a yearling, Jim belonged to company I-2. In fact, I-2 had Jim Powers, í64, for all four years. When James C. Powers went to K-2 with the 1962 company shuffle, James W. Powers was assigned to I-2. For many in the class, when the name Jim Powers was mentioned, the question would follow, ďWhich one?Ē The answer would usually be, ďThe blond one (James C.)Ē or ďThe dark-haired one (James W.).Ē It would become a very poignant point when Jim was killed.

Jim was an extremely active cadet. Besides playing B Squad lacrosse, he was a member of the Honor Committee, the Hop Committee, Russian Club, Catholic Chapel Acolytes, Catholic Choir, Cardinal Newman Forum, and the Outdoor Sportsman Club. He also loved a good time in New York City and the German-American Club on Third Avenue in Manhattan was never too far away. When Jim returned from his summer assignment in Germany between yearling and cow years, he and several classmates wore their recently purchased lederhosen to an Irish bar in The Rockaways, pretending they were German students studying in the United States. Jim felt that was a surefire way to meet girls.

He did meet numerous young ladies as a cadet, but none were right for him. Jim was responsible, however, for at least two marriages in the class. One of his former roommates, Kevin Kelley, relates the following: ďOne Sunday morning during the spring of 1962 I was sitting with my date in the Weapons Room (a cadet club) when Jim walked in, escorting a cute young lady named Rosemary. He introduced us and explained that he was just going to sit with her until her date returned from the first regiment chapel formation in about an hour. That was sufficient time for me to convince Rosemary to go out with me the following weekend and we got married a few years later.

ďJim also introduced his sister Jeanne to our classmate Brendan Quann after the Army-Air Force football game in the fall of 1963. Their wedding took place on 28 October 1967, five months after Jimís death.Ē

While Jim was a cadet, he and his family looked forward to his summer leaves. He loved his family and relished each moment with them and they with him. However, his mother never understood how someone could be so neat at school and yet so sloppy at home. So, as a treat for her, Jim would manicure the yard as if it were the superintendentís quarters. Although he mowed the lawn with the farm tractor, he sharpened his leadership skills by having his younger sister and brothers do the weeding, trimming, and sweeping. One summer while Jim was helping his dad on the farm, he was struck on the head by a large oak tree they were uprooting. He returned to West point not only with a painful memory, but also a very large scar across his head.

Following graduation Jim was commissioned into the infantry. His maturity and waord experience benefited him greatly in his successful completion of the Airborne and Ranger courses. In all probability, those schools never saw a more good-natured candidate with a better disposition. He was a joy to be with, even under the most trying circumstances.

Jimís first assignment took him to Fort Lewis, Washington, where he met, fell in love with, and married Ann Wilson of Mount Vernon, Washington. Ann was a senior at the University of Washington when they met, and Jimís í64 Chevy put on many miles between Fort Lewis and Seattle until they were wed on 18 December 1965 in Annís hometown. They packed more living into the first six months of their marriage than most people do in a lifetime. Jim knew he would be deploying soon with the Fourth Infantry Division as it was about to join in the build-up of U.S. Forces in Vietnam.

As expected, the orders came a few months after the wedding, and in June 1966 Jim left for Southeast Asia. He served as a generalís aide for the first six months, all the time hoping he would have the chance to command a company since he would be getting promoted to captain in early January. After meeting Ann in Hawaii for R&R (rest and recuperation) in December, Jimís wish came true and he took command of Company C, Third Battalion, Eighth Infantry Regiment. It was hazardous duty to say the least, but Jim was prepared for the challenge. Sadly, though, on 26 May 1967, only about a month shy of his scheduled departure, Jim met his fate heroically near the top of Hill 571, west of Pleiku. He had been leading his company up the hill to link up with B Company at the summit. Only eighty yards from the top, Jim called for the rest break so his troops could recover their strength before the final upward surge. Within minutes, however, all hell broke loose. C Company had stumbled into a North Vietnamese Army battalion which had prepared an ambush for the approaching Americans. Automatic weapons fire and mortar rounds began to saturate the area. Jim was killed immediately as the first wave of Communist assault troops moved forward. In fact, all the officers of the company were either killed or wounded so the first sergeant, Richard Childers, had to take control and lead the counter attack. It took over three hours at a cost of nine killed and forty-eight wounded, but the topkick bravely and skillfully accomplished the mission.

Several U.S. newspapers published accounts of the encounter, citing Jimís outstanding application of training and tactics which insured his men against quick annihilation. During the march before the ambush, he had repeatedly ordered the men of his platoons to keep good tactical information , even though their proximity to B Company and the summit of Hill 571 seemed to preclude the probability of an enemy attack. Consequently, the lead men maintained a true course, slashing their way through the jungle with powerful swings of their machetes, while the remainder of the company maintained the proper tactical spacing.

The North Vietnamese commander probably had not counted on such discipline, as U.S. troops often tended to get sloppy as they neared real or imagined safety. But Jim had not let that happen to Charlie Company. Had the company been strung out in a line or overly bunched up, the Communist commander might well have been the first to destroy a major American unit.

Despite losing his own life, Jimís forethought and firm leadership saved his command. He was awarded the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, and the Soldierís Medal for his gallantry, as well as several Vietnamese awards. He is buried at Evergreen Washelli Memorial Cemetery in Seattle, Washington. Jim was the only í64 warrior to die while serving with the Fourth Infantry Division.

Five months later, when Jimís sister Jeanne and Brendan Quann were married, Ann Powers was a member of the wedding party. In spite of her grief, she told herself life had to continue. Also in that wedding party was another classmate, Bill Reynolds, supposedly a confirmed bachelor. As fate would have it, Annís and Billís paths later crossed and in time they fell in love and got married, eventually giving Jaime a sister, two brothers and a loving family. Jamie is now married to Michael Rector and they have a son of their own, Jimís grandchild, Hunter.

The Captain James C. Powers Scholarship Fund was established by Ann and the Powers family following his death. It has awarded scholarships to deserving graduates of St. Anthonyís Grade School every year since Jimís death.

Although Jimís mother and father have since joined him, he is still survived by his sisters: Kathryn Miller of Champaign, Illinois, and Jeanne Quann of Dubuque; and five brothers: Dave of Houston, Texas; paul of Denver, Colorado; Pat of Dubuque; Tom of Seattle, Washington; and John (Jay), also of Denver.

The extended Powers clan has frequent reunions and remembering Jim is always a central theme. Jimís many friends in the Clss of í64 and the U.S. Army also remember him as a compassionate leader and a great friend. He unselfishly gave his life so others could be free.

~ Fallen Warriors The West Point Class of 1964 by John Murray


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