‘He nurtured his soul’: How one Vietnam vet spread love to every part of his life


An engagement photo of Gayle and James taken at a ballroom dance class

The first thing you read on the In Memory Honor Roll page for James Reed is that he “nurtured his soul.” James passed away on May 2, 2012 from complications resulting from his exposure to Agent Orange, but he is remembered as deep and kindhearted by all who knew him.

A Vietnam veteran, James served as Spec. 5 in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Long Binh, Vietnam for 25 months from 1968 to 1970. A man who stepped up when his country asked him to, he showed tremendous love for the people around him and the hobbies he held dear. Jim was a man of many passions.

“Throughout his life he was a teacher,” Gayle would write in a remembrance left on his In Memory Honor Roll page.  Jim was a writer and researcher, but he also loved photography. He taught at the Ohio Institute of Photography and Technology for nine years. He also taught at Urbana University, London Correctional Facility, and the University of Cincinnati. Gayle and Jim met in 1999 when he was teaching at a community college. She remembers him as someone who always “wanted to share his knowledge with others.”

“Although he had no children of his own, he made time for students both in school and out,” Gayle said. On his birthday, he even attended a wedding of two of his students in Toledo, Ohio. He was someone who spread love to every part of his life – including music.

He played drums when he was growing up, and later learned to play the clarinet, saxophone, and Native American flute. He loved all genres of music, especially jazz. At age 56, he was the youngest member of a Sax Quartet he started called “Sax for Seniors.”


A black and white photo of Gayle and James on their wedding day.

He also had a beautiful singing voice that was admired by churchgoers and always enjoyed being near him.

A devoted man to life, learning and affection – Jim also left room in his heart for his fellow veterans.

When The Wall was dedicated in Washington, D.C. on Veterans Day weekend in 1982, Jim traveled from Portland, Oregon to witness it. With a group of veterans, he was chosen to read the names of friends and comrades who did not make it home. It was one of his biggest honors. He attended the services held at the National Cathedral, sitting a few rows behind former President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan.

“It was deeply moving for Jim to be in the company of so many veterans who served as honorably as he did and to be in the presence of his Commander in Chief,” his sister, Sue, recalled. The veterans who were in Washington, D.C. over the course of that week shared something so special, a bond between veterans that few would know.

In 2013, his family honored him through the In Memory program. They saw it as recognition for his service and for all that he gave after the war ended.

Reed James Paul Photo1

James Reed

“All the family knew that Jim still felt the pain from the treatment the Vietnam veterans received on their return home,” Gayle remembered, stressing how glad the family was to finally see him honored through In Memory on June 14 of that year.

Sue remembers the ceremony being incredibly moving after Gayle had applied to the program for him.  “I can’t help but think of how Jim would be pleased that Gayle did this for him, and that he was chosen to be recognized,” she said.

The honor of this recognition helped the family feel that Jim was finally at peace.

“It was as if he had finally been welcomed home from the war.”

Today, Jim is remembered for his heart. A cousin of his wrote about his empathy and compassion. He described him as someone “easy to be with, converse and share humor with.” Another talked about his “enthusiasm for life, learning, and his generous spirit.”

From his family to his friends, Jim left an impression on everyone he met. In one letter written to Gayle it said:

“There are certain individuals that enter your life that you never forget—you take away a part of them, or try to emulate certain qualities they have.  While I only had brief meetings with him, there was always an intentional life lesson that I took away and seared into my memory.  I hope to imitate his understanding for life.”

Just like when Jim went to read the names of the fallen in 1982, every In Memory Day his name is read aloud by Vietnam Veterans Memorial volunteers along with the more than 3,200 veterans inducted into the In Memory Honor Roll – where their names and stories will be remembered forever.

To learn more about the In Memory program, click here.