Maebell Cruse wanted to make sure that even after her own death, her son Gary Cruse and his sacrifice are never forgotten.
Cruse, 21, was shot and killed in a battle on Black Virgin Mountain in 1968 during the Vietnam War, his sister Kathy Burkett said.
Maebell Cruse, who died in August, and her family arranged for Cruse’s medals to be donated to and on permanent display at American Legion Post 167 in Chatsworth.
“We will keep alive Gary’s memory, as well as others from Murray County who have given their lives in service to our country,” said post member Bruce Kendrick, who presented the medals on behalf of the family to post commander Larry Morrison Tuesday night. “Maebell spent the last 45 years keeping his memory alive. ... We’ll always keep his name going.”
Cruse received a Silver Star, the third highest medal awarded by the military, Kendrick said, as well as several other medals, including three Purple Hearts. Cruse’s medals, which are encased with a folded American flag and a photo of him, will hang on a wall at the post along with other photos of men killed in combat and a plaque listing recipients of the Purple Heart.
Kendrick said it was important to Maebell Cruse that her son’s medals be on display in a place where veterans would see them and appreciate their meaning. Cruse’s name has already been included in the Veterans Memorial Park’s “Walk of Murray’s War Dead,” which lists the names of 300 Murray natives who died in war.
“We are honored to accept these on Gary’s behalf, and we’ll cherish them,” said Morrison, who was a friend of Cruse.
Cruse was drafted while a student at Murray County High School, and his mother fought to let him finish high school before entering the Army, Burkett said.
“He was so special,” she said, adding she had a strong bond with her brother, who was about six years older than her.
When he received his first check from the Army, he sent the money home to pay for needed dental care for his sister. He also bought his brother, Doug, a car with his pay.
“(Gary Cruse) had a ‘55 Chevrolet that didn’t have windshield wipers,” Burkett said. “I remember being out with him, and he got up to 100 mph trying to get home because it started raining.”
Cruse was a standout football player, and his friend Kensel Headrick said Cruse was one of the fastest to play at Murray County.
“He lived life the way he practiced sports — wide open,” Headrick recalled. “He was Mr. Popular. He had the personality and was a great athlete. He was also kindhearted. ... Gary wouldn’t take guff from anyone ... but he wouldn’t start anything either. If there was a bully in school, he would put an end to it.”
Those were qualities Cruse carried with him into the military, Headrick said.
For many years, the family was unaware of exactly how Cruse was killed. But a few years ago, they were able to meet with someone who was there when it happened.
Cruse was shot in the back of the head while covering other men in his unit so they could retreat to safety, Burkett said.
More information on Gary Cruse is available at murraycountymuseum.com. Click on “Vietnam War” at the top of the page and scroll down for the section on Cruse. The page also has information on the three other Murray County natives killed in Vietnam, Jimmy Cagle, Jerry Jordan and Raymond Beam.