Griffith Hall at Fort Gordon was rededicated Tuesday, exactly 47 years after 1st Lt. Thurston “Turk” Griffith Jr. was killed in action outside a small village in east Vietnam.
The dedication ceremony was attended by the post’s top officers and at least 15 members of Griffith’s West Point graduating class from 1962.
Had he survived the Viet Cong ambush, Griffith, 24, the first Signal Corps officer killed in Vietnam, could have been among his silver-haired classmates.
But “we can only imagine his potential,” said Griffith’s cousin, Robert Sutton, before unveiling two new plaques, a portrait of Griffith and a shadowbox with his medals.
The painting and plaques are now on permanent display in the lobby of the hotel just past Gate 1 on Chamberlain Avenue.
Tuesday’s ceremony was two years in the making, beginning with Griffith’s nephew posting questions in 2009 about his relative on the virtual Vietnam memorial.
Those questions were read by Homer Pickens Jr., a retired colonel who settled in Augusta after a career in the Army. Pickens met Griffith only once, but their fathers were close friends in their native New Mexico.
After speaking with Griffith’s nephew, Pickens resolved to place a new memorial at Griffith Hall. The hall was originally dedicated in January 1967.
Research into Griffith’s background brought Pickens into contact with Sutton, who also helped coordinate Tuesday’s ceremony.
Tom Culver was one of Griffith’s West Point classmates and shared Christmas in Saigon with him before Griffith’s death on Jan. 17, 1965.
He said Griffith had a wry, self-deprecating sense of humor.
“I would just smile in anticipation because I knew he was going to do something highly entertaining,” Culver said.
Griffith was assigned to the Ham Tam District as an adviser for the Vietnamese home guard troops. He was traveling with another American officer and a small Vietnamese force to engage the Viet Cong when they were ambushed.
One of the few survivors said Griffith was one of the last to fall and killed many Viet Cong with accurate rifle fire before he was overrun.
“He died as a professional soldier running toward the sound of guns,” Culver said.