Suzette Donovan’s father was a hero, and she wants you to know it.
She was 10 months old when he died, shot in the head by the enemy somewhere in the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam War. The casualty letter from the Department of Defense notes 1st Lt. Eugene Majure died leading his platoon. These men, she later learned, respected and loved him. Some died retrieving his body.
He was Airborne, a Green Beret, a husband, a father of three, the only son in a family of five girls and the firstborn of Robert and Christine Majure of Pascagoula. His mother was crazy about him.
Getting to know her father was a journey, Donovan said, which helped heal a part of her that had always longed to know and love him.
It also led a city street being named after him.
Growing up, Majure had swagger. There are still tales around Pascagoula of what he could do on a motorcycle. Some may be myth — that he chased a bull in a pasture, that he jumped over his mother’s car on an isolated road. For sure, he got a scar from a motorcycle accident that sent him to the hospital, but he rode again.
He graduated from Our Lady of Victories Catholic High School, and when he turned 18 that year, he did what he’d always planned to do — join the Army and become a Green Beret.
He married a German beauty when he was stationed in Germany. His two sons were born there. His daughter, Suzette, was born in the States. He served 10 years in the Army, enlisting as a private first class, moved through the ranks, and did two tours before he signed on for Vietnam. He arrived in Vietnam in February 1966 and died in August.
His work during the war was complicated, his oldest son, Robert Majure, said.
It is still hard for him to talk about his father, even after all these years. He paused once to compose himself.
Robert Majure had tried to research his father’s duties in Vietnam, the mission he was on, the people he was with when he died. The information he received from the government was almost completely censored, he said, and years later was destroyed by a fire.
When Donovan was growing up, no one wanted to talk about her father’s death. So she stayed in the dark.
Her brother Robert was 11 years older than she. Her middle brother, Michael, was closer to her age.
One holiday, she remembers saying, “I wish Dad were here,” and one of her brothers said, “Shush. Don’t say that. You’ll make Mom cry.”
So she quit asking and lived her life.
Special Forces Row
They lived on Cottonade Road near Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Michael Majure called it Special Forces Row, a neighborhood of widows. Almost all the children had lost their fathers. He said he remembers only two households that hadn’t.
But Donovan remembers it this way: “I had a good childhood. Everyone was so kind to us and all the kids in that neighborhood.”
The neighborhood backed up to a trail where tanks maneuvered. The kids would stand near “Tank Trail,” and the soldiers would throw candy to them.
She believes it was because they knew these kids had no fathers.
When she was 7, her mother no longer wanted to live near a military base and moved the family to Knoxville, Tennessee, to be around Aunt Rose from Germany, whom she could speak German with.
Things were different in Tennessee, Donovan said. It had been the norm that no one had a father in their old neighborhood; now she was the exception.
She had a run-in with a girl in fifth grade that sent her home crying to her mother.
“I felt sad and embarrassed,” she said.
Her mother told her to stand up for herself. This mom also told her boys they had a name to live up to.
Piecing him together
Donovan and her mother and brothers would visit family in Pascagoula often.
“I knew his sisters, my grandparents and cousins growing up,” she said.
Eugene Majure left an empty spot in all their lives. But for his daughter there was more.
“I just felt a yearning. It was an innate thing.
“When I had my own children was when I became needy.”
Her first child, PJ, was born in 1994. Donovan was 29, and “one of my aunts said, ‘He looks just like your dad.’”
It triggered in her the desire to find out more.
She started with Aunt Boo Richards, her dad’s little sister, who lives in Mississippi. Richards was the first to tell Donovan she had her father’s mannerisms.
“That was a real association,” Donovan said.
She didn’t start with his military records; she was afraid of what she might find and wanted to leave on her rose-colored glasses.
‘I prayed for him and he still died’
Richards said her brother’s life’s desire was to join the military, but his parents wouldn’t sign for him.
“He enlisted as a private first class, went to Officer Candidate School, became a lieutenant, was special forces, A-Team, a Green Beret. He went to Ranger School. He was a paratrooper first, with the 101st Airborne.
“Not just anybody can do those things,” she said.
“He was 12 when they brought me home. He gave me my nickname, Boo. I just thought the sun rose and set on him.”
He was the star, the focus of a family of girls.
“It took a great toll on my mother when he died. And on his wife, Ursula Majure, who was 25 with three kids.
“I remember the day I found out he died. I was 16, on the swim team. I was swimming a 3-mile, and I remember praying for him the whole 3 miles. I was praying just because he was in Vietnam.
“It hurt me so bad that I had been praying for him, and he was already dead. I had some issues with that for a long time.”
Finding a friend
Donovan started her journey in earnest in the late 1990s, as the internet became more common in homes.
Her husband brought home a laptop, and she realized she could look up her dad.
On the first try, she found the virtual wall, set up like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.
She looked up the fathers from the North Carolina neighborhood.
“I remember seeing all these dads. All these men who died, and for what? And I still don’t know for what, but there’s no point being angry about it because I can’t change it.”
She got the courage in 1999 to leave a message on the wall and found a veteran who knew her father.
“He was the one who made it more real than anyone,” she said.
She listened to him through his tears, as they talked on the telephone.
The veteran had been a platoon leader and somehow felt responsible for her father’s death.
The war had been hard on the man, and it made Donovan wonder what what pain her father would have carried with him had he come home.
She met with the man and his wife in California. They talked for five hours.
He told her about going to the bar with Eugene Majure. During breaks from the war, soldiers shared their lives.
“My father would whip out his wallet at any chance to show others his family and would tell anyone who would listen how he could not wait to get home to see us,” she said. “He loved us.”
He was leading a bomb-damage assessment mission with indigenous people when he was killed.
“The platoon was attacked, and in retaliation they killed my dad. I just know this man felt responsible for the scenario. That’s all I needed to know.”
Eugene Majure received the Bronze Star with a V for heroism and valor. The government’s letter says he’d rallied his troops, who had scattered, and kept them from being annihilated.
The quest changes
Somewhere along her journey, someone said she was “just a soldier’s daughter.”
It angered her.
“I wanted to let them know this ‘soldier’s daughter’ is the daughter of a hero and you’d better not say anything else,” she said. “I didn’t have to prove it he was a hero, just show it.”
She wanted a way to memorialize him, and came up with the idea to name a street after him.
“I was just in bed one night and it came to me: ‘People in Pascagoula knew him.’ ”
She contacted the city, which studied her documentation and gave her several options of streets not in residential areas. They settled on Vega Street, which runs behind Singing River Hospital.
It will become 1st Lt. Eugene J. Majure Drive. It has Veterans of Foreign Wars Post on it.
The family is pleased. After all, it seems fitting.
A 2001 post on the Virtual Wall
“First Lieutenant Eugene Majure was a Green Beret in every sense of the word. The day he was killed he was on a Bomb Damage Assessment mission, surrounded by CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group troops)*, many of whom were actually Viet Cong.
“This was the way he lived every day in Vietnam in his outpost, never knowing who was friend or who was the enemy, but he never showed fear.
“Eugene was respected and liked by all those Special Forces soldiers who he served with in combat — including me.”
Maj. Lance Brewer, U.S. Army (Retired)
*The CIDG program was devised by the CIA in early 1961 to counter expanding Viet Cong influence in South Vietnam’s Central Highlands.