Two Outstanding and Heroic Marine Corporals: Jack Sutton and James Cannington Jr.

 
Two Outstanding and Heroic Marine Corporals
 
by Marshall N. Carter

JACK RICHARD SUTTON is honored on Panel 14E, Row 30 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

JAMES B. CANNINGTON JR. is honored on Panel 14E, Row 26 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

 
 

When you serve your country and go into combat, regardless of service branch, you work with, lead and follow outstanding young men and women. This was true in Vietnam, just as it was in all prior American wars—and as it is today. Our young service members are just outstanding and always have been. It can be difficult to single out any one individual, but on occasion, there are those who deserve to be held out as lifelong examples for the rest of us.

In my case, having served for two years in Vietnam as a Marine Corps junior infantry officer, I had numerous occasions to observe many other Marines. Two stand out above all the rest: Cpl. Jack Sutton and Cpl. Jim Cannington.

 Jack Sutton was 21 and an outstanding leader in combat. He was well known in the Harvey, Ill., area for his athletic prowess. At Thornton Township High School, Jack earned 12 letters in sports, was named Most Outstanding Player in football and was well-known for his wrestling ability, because he was 6 feet tall and weighed 285 pounds. He trimmed down to join the Marines in February 1966, arriving in Vietnam in late August of that year. He was wounded twice while leading his squad of 14 Marines. A young man with great leadership abilities, he routinely exposed himself to enemy fire to ensure the safety of his men and the accomplishment of their mission.

Jim Cannington, age 19, was born in Lennox, Ga., and grew up in Baltimore, Md. He loved the water and, at 17, was a certified rescue diver for the local fire department water rescue. Jim graduated from Patapsco Senior High School in 1965. He was an active member of the Baptist Church and intended on pursuing a Baptist ministry. He enlisted in the Marine Corps out of high school to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Jim arrived in Vietnam on Sept. 23, 1966 and volunteered for extremely dangerous duty, living with and training Vietnamese indigenous troops in the villages as part of the Combined Action Platoon (CAP) program. In the CAP program, U.S. Marines and Navy corpsmen lived and worked with the Vietnamese to teach them better combat effectiveness and learn from them about the local area, people, customs and Viet Cong activity. It was a select program and extremely hazardous. When he came back to a rifle company, he continued to be an outstanding leader. We all learned quickly that to assign a job or combat mission to Jim was to ensure its completion.

Jack Sutton and Jim Cannington both came from large families and knew the value of teamwork, whether it be with their siblings or with others in combat. These traits were essential to their mission on Jan. 14, 1967.

The company was assigned to conduct a helicopter-borne raid into an enemy stronghold. Immediately upon debarking, they and their squads encountered fierce enemy fire. Both took charge, deployed their men and overcame enemy opposition, greatly aiding the company in taking the objective. On one occasion, Jim Cannington led his men down a dangerous jungle path into the enemy’s fortified position, while Jack Sutton singlehandedly held off a large enemy force with a machine gun while his men deployed around the enemy.

Both men performed in a manner that this country has expected of its combat leaders since the Revolutionary War. But unfortunately, on that day in that jungle village, they were both killed while leading. I was proud to serve with them and have remembered them every day since that fateful day in January 1967.

 

MARSHALL N. CARTER served as a Marine Corps rifle company commander in Vietnam from 1966-67. He is the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange. A member of VVMF’s Corporate Council, he also supports the group’s international humanitarian program in Vietnam, called Project RENEW, and its various initiatives.