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IUP alumni, Vietnam vets to be honored

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Friday, April 20, 2012

More than 40 years ago, at the height of the Vietnam War, James K. Flannery of Pittsburgh and Robert Young of Saltsburg were students at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Both shipped out to Vietnam, serving together in the 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment. Both gave their lives for their country.

At 1 p.m. Saturday, fellow alumni will celebrate their lives in a ceremony in the campus' Pierce Hall, where new portraits of the men and a bench created in their honor will be dedicated. Pierce Hall houses the university's Department of Military Science and the ROTC program.

Young graduated from IUP in 1967 as an officer in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps. He and his wife, Sharon, whom he met at IUP, were stationed in Germany before he was assigned to Vietnam in 1969.

In January 1970, they spoke briefly by phone. Sharon told him their daughter, Heather, had been born.

"That was the last time we talked," Sharon Young Nelmes said Thursday.

Young was in a military helicopter that was shot down on May 2, 1970. He survived the crash but died as a prisoner of war in Cambodia on Sept. 17, 1972.

For more than a year, his wife did not know whether he was alive or dead.

Kept in a tiger cage for more than two years, Young subsisted on a baseball-size portion of rice each day, Nelmes said. From other soldiers in the camp, she knows he dropped from 180 to about 95 pounds.

As a young man, he had loved to tell stories and jokes.

"He loved music. He was in a band in high school. If he were alive today, he would love all of the computers and electronics," she said.

Nelmes remarried but stayed closed with Young's family. Her daughter grew up hearing stories about her father from family members.

"She's very much like him, in a lot of ways. She just finished her dissertation. She is very bright, like her father was," said Nelmes, who still lives in Saltsburg.

Her second husband, Percy Gordon Nelmes, died in 1998.

"He knew Bob," she said. "He was wonderfully supportive. We have always had a very good support system."

Young's remains were positively identified in 1997 and returned home. He was buried in Saltsburg with military honors.

Flannery was his platoon's leader. When the platoon was ambushed on April 16, 1970, he was credited with breaking the ambush. He died in the attack.

Both men were awarded the Silver Star, the nation's second-highest award for valor. Each has been recognized with plaques at their alma mater.

But a former classmate believed they deserved more recognition.

"I was an IUP student and graduated in 1967, the same year as Capt. Young. Jim Flannery was my Theta Chi fraternity brother. We were good friends and lived together for a few years before he graduated," said Carl Amenhauser of Hidden Valley.

During a campus visit last August, Amenhauser toured the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Campus, where he noticed large murals of student athletes. He went to see Flannery's plaque.

"I'm as big a sports nut as anybody, and I'm not taking anything away (from anyone). But the juxtaposition -- just because you can kick a football or shoot a basket -- someone who gave his life deserves something of equal value," Amenhauser said.

He contacted former fraternity brothers and the IUP ROTC program, explaining he would like to do something more.

One fraternity brother, Robert Clark, an artist in Rochester, N.Y., was Flannery's "little brother" in the fraternity. Clark agreed to create a portrait of Flannery, a Baldwin High graduate, but he needed a photograph.

Amenhauser found a website for Flannery's battalion and mentioned Young's name to association President Pat Forster.

"He said, 'Bob Young was one of ours, too.' He was in the same regiment as Jim. Two guys from western Pennsylvania who went to IUP ended up serving in the same unit in Vietnam. The irony was just too much," Amenhauser said. "That story needed to be told. I called Bob Clark and said we have to do something for both of them."

He also got in touch with fraternity brother Bruce Smith, who was the best man at Flannery's wedding and a pallbearer at his funeral.

"The three of us were basically behind it," Amenhauser said.

More than 100 family members and friends are expected at Saturday's ceremony.

"We've accomplished something that needed to be done. ... They won't be just names on a plaque, but real people -- heroes," Amenhauser said.

Nelmes was pleased with Amenhauser's effort.

"I thought it was very nice, very appropriate, very thoughtful. It's a nice way for them to be remembered more," she said.




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