JAMES F. SURCH, JR., LT, USN

From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall

James Surch, Jr. '77

Date of birth: October 26, 1953

Date of death: October 23, 1983

Age: 29

Lucky Bag

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Loss

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James was killed in the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beruit, Lebanon, on October 23, 1983.

Remembrances

Via Together We Served on September 5, 2009:

James F. Surch, a standout athlete and scholar at Lompoc High School who went on to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., but was killed in the 1983 terrorist bombing of the U.S. barracks in Beirut, is the latest inductee into the high school's Alumni Association Hall of Fame.

Surch's name was added to the list of honorees during a ceremony Friday night at the Lompoc Elks Club. He is one of two former students to be included in the 2009 list.

Early in the morning of Oct. 23, 1983, a truck laden with explosives crashed through the security perimeter of the United States Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. The resulting blast killed 241 U.S. military personnel and seriously wounded another 80, according to news reports.

Surch was nominated for the Hall of Fame by a former Lompoc High classmate, John Daniel. Daniel, a city Water Department worker, recently spoke about his youth with Surch.

It was a carefree time, when the end-of-the-year parties meant water balloon attacks against the freshmen and sophomore classes, and many students? worlds revolved around competitive sports.

"We had lots of silly celebrations, and lots of good times," Daniel recalled.

By several accounts, Surch was a standout athlete and scholar during his four years at Lompoc High before graduating in 1972.

Tracy Schriver, chairwoman of the Hall of Fame committee for the school's Alumni Association, ticked off Surch's accomplishments, which included California Scholarship Federation member for four years; member of the Letterman Club as a junior and senior; California Interscholastic Football (CIF) All-League as a junior and senior; League MVP as a senior; principal's list for four years and member of the track and field and basketball teams as a freshman.

When Surch entered the U.S. Naval Academy, his father's hometown newspaper in Wisconsin published an article about the youth.

Surch, the story said, was chosen as "one of the outstanding high school football players in Southern California in both his junior and senior years as a member of the Helms Foundation All-Southern CIF team."

During his senior year in Lompoc, Surch was chosen "All-League Linebacker and Fullback," as well as MVP, the story continued. As a result of this recognition, Surch was approached by more than 30 universities from across the nation, including Cornell, Yale and Harvard, the newspaper wrote.

Before moving to Annapolis, Surch graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy Prep School in Bainbridge, Md. There, in the traditional "Little Army-Navy" game against the Military Academy Prep School, Surch scored the winning touchdown for Navy in the final 30 seconds of the game, the newspaper said.

Schriver, a 1983 graduate of LHS, said the Hall of Fame "pays tribute to outstanding achievements of alumni." Currently, there are 132 members in the Hall of Fame, she said. Friday's Hall of Fame ceremony precedes a weekend barbecue and other events, including the 50-year class reunion for the LHS class of 1959, and participation in the car show at Ryon Park, Daniel said.

The six members of the committee have formalized the nomination process this year, Schriver explained. Of the nominations submitted for Friday's induction, two were chosen. Surch was one, and the other was LHS graduate William "Stormy" Short.

Surch's younger sister Patti Barnett fondly recalled her brother's achievements this week from her home near Carmel Valley. "He was a very good student, and he got a full ride" scholarship to the academy in Annapolis, she said.

Daniel, now 53, was the youngest child in his family, and remembers hanging out with Surch when Daniel was 13 and Surch was 15. "I would hang out and play baseball with Surch and my older brother, who was Surch's age," he recalled. Surch was "a stud, a great athlete," Daniel said.

In high school, Surch earned the nickname "Snickers" from his teammates, because he always brought a candy bar of the same name to practice, Daniel recalled.

Surch's high school athletic accomplishments alone were part of why Daniel nominated his fellow student for the school's Hall of Fame. But it's how Surch lived his life after leaving Lompoc, graduating from the Navel Academy and joining the Navy, that clinched it for Daniel.

"I want him to be recognized for what he did for his country. To lose your life like that. …" he said, his voice trailing off. "I couldn't believe Surch wasn't in the school's Hall of Fame."

Daniel said he hopes more graduates will join the Alumni Association, if for no other reason than to spotlight the accomplishments of former students. "I want more folks to submit (former students?) names, to tell their stories. It's always fun for me to learn, oh, so that's what he 8 or she 8 has been doing with his life," he said.

Surch continued his success after his 1977 graduation from Annapolis, according to a U.S. Navy Service Profile memorial Web site. A member of the 1st Battalion 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division at the time of his death, he received a Purple Heart, a Combat Action Ribbon, Navy Unit Citation, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal W/FMF Combat Operations Insignia and a Navy Sea Service Deployment Ribbon during his service.

The three Surch siblings 8 Jim, Patti and the youngest, Bill 8 all attended Lompoc High, and their father, James Surch Sr., taught English there for about 20 years, Patti Barnett said.

Her brother's induction into the Hall of Fame is bittersweet for the family, Patti Barnett said, as both James Sr. and Gail Surch are deceased. "My only regret is that our parents aren't here to see the ceremony."

Her brother, Bill Surch, his wife, Tasia, and their two sons, Billy Ray, 13, and Casey James, 10, traveled from their Rancho Santa Margarita home for the ceremony Friday, as did Patti and her husband, Bill, who have three grown children and seven grandchildren.

Young Casey James Surch is named after his uncle, Tasia Surch said. And while it's been nearly 26 years since Lt. James Surch was killed, it's still hard for the family to talk about him, she said.

"We tell our children that Uncle Jimmy's in heaven."

Laurie Jervis is a freelance writer, editor and vineyard manager, and can be reached atwinecountrywriter@yahoo.com.

Related Articles

Vincent Smith '76, Donald Woollett '80, and David Nairn '81 were also killed in the bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beruit, Lebanon on October 23, 1983.


Class of 1977

James is one of 16 members of the Class of 1977 in Memorial Hall.