Jim Reece, a 40-year military veteran from the Vietnam era, is on one final mission to locate photos of three Richmond County vets who served during the Vietnam War.
Reece, of Wilmington, is part of a three-person group of volunteers seeking to help all Vietnam veterans that were born, raised or buried in North Carolina be included in the new Education Center at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C.
The trio began in 2006 with 1,827 on the list. They are attempting to find photos for the final 174 veterans. Three of them are from Richmond County and Reese is hopeful to find friends or family members of Thomas Wall Jr., W. Thomas Waddell and Jimmie L. Ellerbe.
The goal is to include the photos on findagrave.com, as well as ensure their placement in the new center in the nation’s capitol. The center is expected to be completed sometime in 2014.
Wall was born Aug. 5, 1948 in Hamlet. According to data on findagrave.com, Wall died July 12, 1970 in Tan An, Vietnam. He served in the Army at the rank of Private First Class. He served with division headquarters in the 25th Infantry Division.
Staff Sgt. William Thomas Waddell was born Aug. 14, 1938 in Rockingham. He died May 7, 1970 in Trung Tin. It’s believed that Waddell died from wounds suffered from artillery fire. He served in C Company, 3rd Battalion, 82nd Artillery Regiment in the 196th Infantry Brigade.
Jimmie Louis “Jimmy” Ellerbe was born June 6, 1944 in Rockingham. It’s believed that Ellerbe died from burns sustained in battle. He was the son of John and Elva Allen Ellerbe, of Rockingham. He served with A Battery, 1st Battalion, 5th Artillery Regiment in the 1st Infantry Division.
Reece said he has used several websites to try and reach out to family members, friends or former classmates of the veterans.
“We do cold-calling, talk to libraries, churches, websites, VFWs,” Reece said. “I’ve contacted every VFW post, every Vietnam Veteran Association, every Marine Corps League” in North Carolina.
Reece said his drive for the project comes from honoring the heroes of Vietnam; those from World War II and Korea already have monuments and other memorials.
“I’m just doing this because it hasn’t been done,” Reece said. “I spent 40 years in the military and I never got shot at.”
Reece said he volunteered for combat duty but was turned down because his military job was deemed “too critical.” That left him, it seems, with a bit of regret and guilt.
Instead, he sat in his air-conditioned office reading messages about American military service members killed or wounded.
“I just figured it needed to be done,” Reece said. “It’s a real fulfilling thing. You don’t get a chance to do something everyday for somebody that’s big. This will affect a whole bunch of people.”
Reece’s brother, Tom, and North Carolina resident Rosa King are the other key volunteers spearheading the initiative.
Reece acknowledged he might not find all 174 veterans, but “I’m going to keep trying until I get ‘em.”
He figures that when his time on earth is finished or, at he put it, “when we go out the door, well, at least I did that part right.”
Reece can be contacted by phone at 808-276-5118 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is particularly interested in high-quality photos of those three Richmond County veterans who served during the Vietnam War.