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View a eulogy for Clair Hall Thurston, USMA '64, who passed away on November 8, 1965.

Clair Hall Thurston

West Point, 1964

Be Thou At Peace

Posted by Bob Gregson on March 23, 2003:

I met Clair as we became roomates, he and I and John Knutzen, in our junior year and new company, H-1. We argued a lot: Clair was a "My country, right or wrong!" guy. He was a star man who worked hard at everything he did. In fact, he didn't know how not to work hard, taking precious free Sunday afternoons to go out rock climbing, coming back with bloody fingers, scrapes, cuts and great satisfaction at having overcome some obstacle or other. He gave up summer leave to be a cadre member for NY National Guard training. In spite of all that he somehow had time to gain a great lady as a fiancee. His military dedication probably came from being an only child in an Army family; his dad was a retired MP COL who gained acclaim at the Remagen Bridge and knew some of the 1960's leaders of the Army, and later became the Adjutant General of Maine; his mother was an Army Nurse during WWII. The family toured Civil War battlefields on summer vacations....and Clair soaked it all in.

Clair was a minimalist. When we were spec'ing our new cars in January, '64, John and I had to argue with him to get him to include at least a heater and AM radio in his new 2-door plain-jane stick-shift 6-cylinder cloth-seat Ford! And it cost well below $2000.

We intellectually sparred but became fast friends, selecting Infantry branch and an airborne assignment with the 173rd Bde on Okinawa, were Ranger buddies (one negative aspect of that was that he gave off very little body heat as we huddled together under our shared poncho, trying to keep warm in the Georgia mountains---of course he accused me of the same fault!), went through Jump School together, then were housemates on the economy in Okinawa with AF Lt. Dave Sands. Clair gave up most of his post-Ranger leave to get to his unit sooner. He loved the Army and the Army loved him. His first company commander in B/1/503, CPT Ray Marshall, was an old-timer who had served several Special Forces tours in Laos and Vietnam and worked closely with Clair to convey his wide infantry knowledge. Several months after we arrived in Okinawa, Clair got a new Platoon Sgt, a man who had harassed him greatly at Airborne School because of his youthful appearance! It was quite humorous but turned out to be a great relationship between two consummate professionals.

We deployed to VN as the first Army ground combat unit in May, '65. A few months later Clair got his first purple heart as described by Jack Price, above. We got a lot of laughs out of his sorry-looking rear end! He had a great sense of humor and took it well.

November 8, 1965, was a very sad day for 1/503 and for USMA '64 as Clair and Dave Ugland were both killed during an intense action where the battalion took about 30% casualties. Clair believed there was no bullet with his name on it; his last act was to lead an attack on an automatic weapon position, shouting "Follow Me" to his platoon. He died the way he would have chosen. His men were devastated; at least one, and possibly two, were reportedly killed trying to recover his body. He was always an inspiration to me as the epitome of dedication, and still is. The quintessential American hero. My son Jim's middle name is Clair in his honor.

I met with Clair's parents in Maine several times over the years from 1966-2001, and they drove all the way from Maine to Ft Myer, VA, in snowy December weather for my wedding....tough stock all the way around! To my knowledge he has no surviving family members or near kin.

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