They were soldiers once … and young


In last week’s Atmore News I wrote about US Army SP5 Rayford Gohagin, who was my classmate at Escambia County High School and who was killed in Vietnam on May 13, 1969. I mentioned two other young men, who were only a year or two younger than the students in Rayford’s and my class and who also died in Vietnam. They were Larry Gonzales and Allen Twiggs Merritt IV, better known in Atmore as Allen Gandy.
I have since discovered there were eight young men in total from Atmore, six in the US Army and two in the US Marine Corps, who went to South East Asia and were killed in Vietnam.
The oldest was born in 1936, the youngest two in 1949. Several had been in-country only weeks or a few months when they were killed in action. One was killed five days short of his 19th birthday — and he wasn’t even the youngest.
Ironically, the oldest of the men, US ARMY SP5 Jack Elliott Clemmons, was nearly 30 when he died. He was also the first of Atmore’s military members to be Killed in Action (KIA) in December of 1965. Three-and-a-half years later, the last Atmore soldier was killed. This May it will have been 54 years since SP5 Rayford Gohagin was laid to rest in a country grave yard not far from where he was raised with his four brothers.
Before any more time passes, we at Atmore News want to make certain that the names of all eight young men are recorded for history and always remembered, especially on Memorial Day with all of Atmore’s fallen warriors from other wars, those valiant men who died in distant trenches, jungles, the air, and fields where blood red poppies, yet still … “grow between the crosses, row on row … ”

Bonnie Bartel Latino, who was married during the height of the Vietnam War while her husband, 2/Lt Tom Latino, was a student in Undergraduate Pilot Training at Reese AFB, Texas, is a former Op-ed columnist for Stars and Stripes in Europe.

Atmore’s Band of Eternal Brothers


The branches of service, ranks, names, birth dates, and the dates each of Atmore’s Vietnam War-dead are listed below.

US ARMY CPL Richard Benjamin,
Born 3-20-1945 – KIA 2-6-1968

US ARMY SP5 Jack Elliott Clemmons,
Born 4-6-1936 – KIA 12-18-65

US ARMY SP5 James Rayford Gohagin,
Born 10-31-1947 – KIA 5-13-1969

USMC PFC Larry Eugene Gonzales,
Born 9-8-49 – KIA 11-2-67

US ARMY SP4 James Matthew Kelly,
Born 1-30-1946 – KIA 11-8-66

USMC PFC Allen Twiggs Merritt IV,
Born 2-7-1949 – KIA 2-2-68
US ARMY SGT Elmer Jack Taylor,
Born 2-11-40 – KIA 3-30-1966

US ARMY SP4 Larry Benjamin Thomas,
Born 8-6-47 – KIA 1-15-69

While I now know several anecdotes about three of these young men, until I can share a bit about each one, I’d prefer to wait until I can tell you something about them all. If you once knew, or dated, any of these young men who died too soon, or if you know of a family who has moved away, or perhaps all of his family members have now died, please contact me by phone or by text at 251-229-0343.
Specifics about each of these men were taken from https://www.virtualwall.org/istate/istatal.htm.
The quickest and easiest way to find a name is to go to the above URL and from there search by state, then town, then name. Click on their profile to find a small bit of additional information on most of them.