Skip navigation

Remembering James McGill

November 9, 2017 Tags: Advancement & Alumni , University News

The inaugural recipient of the 2nd Lt. James Barry McGill USMC Memorial Scholarship will be named tomorrow at a Veteran's Day ceremony on campus. The scholarship honors the first Saint Francis alumnus killed in action during the Vietnam War. 

Remembering James McGill

 James McGill SFC Graduation “Jim was the best of us,” remembers Gary Coggin ’66 “He represented everything good about Saint Francis.” Paul O’Neal ’66 recalls how “Jim was a guy you could count on. He was always there.” Many other classmates echo Coggin’s and O’Neal’s words as they discuss 2nd Lt. James Barry McGill: he was a thoughtful friend, an exceedingly hard worker, and a man of great Catholic faith. They all also use the word “hero” to describe McGill’s sacrifice for our country; in 1967, McGill was killed in action during the Vietnam War.

 McGill enrolled at then Saint Francis College as physics major in 1962 and earned his diploma in 1966. An active student, Jim joined the wrestling team, th track team, and Tau Kappa Epsilon while on campus. Fellow TKE brother Tom Lane ’64 fondly recalls McGill as a pledge. “We had everyone outside in the dark, and it was really muddy. I had a whistle, and I blew it to tell the pledges where to run. Once meant forward, twice meant to the left, three to the right, and four was backward. We had so much fun just messing around like that. Jim was covered in mud, but he was laughing and smiling the whole time.”

The most significant group he joined, though, was the Marine ROTC program his sophomore year. After graduation, McGill was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant and sent to Vietnam as part of the war effort. He quickly became a popular leader among his men. His younger brother, Steve McGill, shared a story he heard from his brother’s fellow soldiers after the war: “They were stranded somewhere way out, and they were almost entirely out of supplies. Jim had one last ration packet, but instead of eating it himself, he added water to it and made chicken noodle soup for the whole platoon. It wasn’t much, but the men still talk about that gesture to this day when they get together.”

On May 25, 1967, in the Demilitarized Zone that marked the line between North and South Vietnam, Hotel Company’s 3rd Platoon began taking fire at Hill 117. McGill was ordered to lead a column of soldiers from his 2nd Platoon to assist 3rd Platoon, and McGill took the point as he led his men into battle. As they raced toward the hill, McGill was shot and killed by enemy fire. The news of McGill’s death struck his family hard, especially his younger brother, Steve. They resided in Johnstown, Pa., which is also where McGill is buried. “He was always my role model,” says Steve. “I think I wrestled because he did. He took French, so I took French. I fully intended to go to Saint Francis until he was killed, then I wanted to get out. It was just too much at the time.”

It’s been fifty years since McGill’s death, but he is not forgotten. To ensure that he is always remembered for both the man he was and the sacrifice he made, a group of Saint Francis University alumni and Steve McGill are creating a scholarship in his honor, the 2nd Lt. James Barry McGill USMC Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship will assist Pennsylvania high school students from Blair, Cambria, and Somerset counties, a region where the McGills have deep roots. “Jim always had to work to put himself through school,” says Steve. “We knew what it was like to come from a blue collar family and want to go to college. We want to help out kids who are in a similar situation.”

“This is an incredible project,” says Steve McGill. “It’s incredible how Jim’s classmates are leading this, how they want Jim to be remembered. It’s such a special project.”

To Donate:

Donations may be mailed to Saint Francis University, Office of Advancement, P.O. Box 600, Loretto, PA 15940 or by calling 814-472-3021 and using your debit/credit card. Please be sure to indicate that your donation is for the 2nd Lt. James Barry McGill USMC Memorial Scholarship Fund. You can also go to forever.francis.edu/makeagift to submit your donation online. 

James McGill SFC Graduation Day