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EVANSVILLE, IND. — It has been 45 years since Thomas McBride was killed in Vietnam. In those years, his fellow members of the Mater Dei class of 1967 grew up, found careers and raised families. But they have not forgotten their fallen classmate.
On Wednesday afternoon, members of the class, along with other friends and family, gathered by a tree planted in McBride’s honor to dedicate a new plaque. Some described McBride as a daily source of inspiration, others spoke of how they feel his presence at special moments. But they all remember him as something more than an 18-year-old Marine.
“Tom and me were the best of friends,” Michael Griswold told the Evansville Courier & Press. “When I get in a crisis, when I need somebody to look up to, I know he is up there guarding the gates of heaven like all the other Marines.”
The class of 1967 originally planted the memorial tree for McBride in 1992, and dedicated a plaque with it. But a school renovation forced the tree’s relocation to another part of campus, and during the move the plaque was lost. At its 45th reunion, the class voted to buy a new plaque.
“It is so heartwarming, because all of his classmates who don’t see him anymore and have nothing to gain from it, would be so generous to take their time and talents to put this together,” said Catherine Jefferson, McBride’s younger sister. “It is humbling to think that my brother had an influence on their lives and that they care after all these years. It is overwhelming.”
On June 5, 1968, McBride volunteered to bring the dead and wounded off a battlefield during the Tet Offensive. He and a friend came under fire, and the other Marine was hit in the leg. As McBride attempted to assist, he was shot in the chest, shoulder and back. He died in his friend’s arms.
McBride was engaged to be married and had plans to become a respiratory therapist. His family still keeps in touch with his fiancee, who eventually married and has a family.
“It was a tragic loss for all of us, but we would not be here today with all of these people if it wasn’t for him,” Jefferson said. “He has a way of bringing people together. I think it is neat for the class of 1967 to make it clear that your classmates aren’t gone after graduation day. Those people are a part of you for the rest of your life.”
The dedication ceremony included a color guard and a bugler who played taps. Griswold, along with several other veterans, unveiled the plaque, which features a picture of McBride and a portion of a poem. Griswold was confident McBride would have appreciated the ceremony.
“He’d think it was fabulous,” Griswold said. “If it was vice-versa, he’d have done the same for me. He would have talked and saluted me.”