James Lau was born 6 Oct 1938 in Yonkers, NY, to Chinese immigrant parents. By 1945, the family had moved to Weehawken, NJ, and added a brother for Jim in 1942. Even then, Jim demonstrated his love of sports, playing stickball in the street and watching the Yankees play on a television mounted in a tavern near the family hand laundry.
In 1948, the family moved to Kearny, NJ, and took over a small livestock farm, raising goats, sheep, pigs and chickens. The family added two sisters in 1947 and 1954. Jim, being the oldest, watched over his siblings while his parents were busy tending to the farm. During those years, Jim learned to cook, a passion that he enjoyed all his life. Jim also was active in sports, and after school would usually find him playing baseball, football, or shooting hoops in the driveway. Other days, Jim and his brother would hold steeplechase races from one end of the farm to the other, jumping fences or climbing over any and all obstacles in their path. As Jim’s track coach once said, Jim’s greatest attribute was his determination, or his “heart.” Jim was to spend his formative years in Kearny, where he attended Kearny High School. Jim ran track and cross-country, lettering in both sports all four years, captaining the track and crosscountry teams, and was Hudson County half-mile champion his senior year. Jim also excelled in academics and was president of the National Honor Society his senior year.
Jim was determined to compete for an appointment to West Point, but during his senior year in 1956, the weekend before the examination, he slipped and cut open his right hand. Heartbroken, he sat out the exam and that September enrolled at Rutgers University. Jim attended Rutgers for two years, but his dream of West Point never wavered, and he received an appointment in 1958.
As a cadet, Jim excelled both in the classroom and on the fields of friendly strife. Academically, Jim was a “star man,” but it was on the track and the cross-country course that he came to life, as evidenced by the Big A and Navy stars that decorated his gray jacket, three for cross-country and three for track. Jim also is fondly remembered for his willingness to tutor his classmates, notably his roommate. In Beast Barracks, Jim met Frank Reasoner;* the two became fast friends and roomed together the entire four years. The relationship was symbiotic. Jim tutored Frank in academics, while Frank taught Jim the finer points of boxing. It was probably due largely to Frank’s influence that the two joined the Marine Corps after graduation.
Upon graduation, Jim was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps, followed by a brief stint at Camp Pendleton before being sent overseas to Okinawa. Jim then returned to Camp Pendleton, where one weekend he was riding his motorcycle with his friend and fellow Marine officer, Nick Grosz, in San Juan Capistrano. There he spotted a pretty Asian girl, but he did not find an opportunity to meet her. However, he noticed she was wearing a Whittier College sweatshirt, so on the next weekend, Jim, showing his determination, went to Whittier and somehow met her, beginning a love that lasts even today. Jim and Eloise were engaged just before Jim’s unit was shipped out for Vietnam in May 1965.
Jim’s unit, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, Utter’s Battalion, was deployed to the Central Highlands in advance of the deployments of the 101st Airborne and the 1st Air Cavalry. In October 1965, the 2-7 rejoined its parent unit, Regimental Landing Team 7, in time for Operation Harvest Moon—a “search and destroy” operation near Chu Lai. During the fierce fighting, 2-7 was awarded the Navy Unit Citation, and Jim was awarded the Silver Star. In June 1966, Jim returned home and married Eloise in Whittier. Following another brief stay at Quantico, Jim was assigned to the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA, in August 1967, obtaining a master’s degree in electrical engineering. His time at NPGS was followed by two assignments overseas, and a stint at Marine Corps Air Station Santa Ana, CA. In 1975, Jim attended the Defense Language Institute, where he added Mandarin Chinese to his knowledge of the Cantonese dialect. He returned in 1977 to El Toro, CA. In 1979, he returned to the Infantry as a battalion commander with the 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, CA, then served as Division G-3 until he retired on 30 Jun 1982.
During those years, Jim and Eloise added two children to their family: Kim, born in January 1969, and James in May 1972.
Jim and Eloise settled in Mission Viejo, CA, in 1977 and remained there until Jim’s death in 1995. Upon Jim’s retirement from the Marine Corps, he began working for Microdata and remained there until his second retirement. During these years, Jim especially enjoyed tutoring local high school students in math. He continued to be physically active, migrating from running to biking, often biking back and forth to work. Jim kept a log and had biked over 10,000 miles the year before he died. On 1 Jul 1995, Jim died suddenly in Orange County, CA, while doing what he liked, biking. At Jim’s funeral service, several of his buddies from the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, came to bid him farewell.
Jim Lau will be remembered as having a keen mind and great energy and being a selfless leader. He served his community and, above all, was a much loved husband to Eloise and father to Kim and James. Jim was our classmate who chose to become a Marine and served his country with distinction.
*1st Lt Frank Stanley Reasoner, USMC, was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for service in the Republic of Vietnam.
—Sam Steele, classmate, Mrs. James Lau, (Eloise), Ray Lau, Jim’s brother
- COL (R) and Mrs. John L. Taylor '62