James Suh (1977-2005) was a Korean American United States Navy SEAL. He is known for his participation in Operation Red Wings, which took place in Afghanistan in 2005. He was killed on 28 June 2005 as his helicopter crashed after getting shot by Taliban forces.
James Erik Suh was born as Sung Gap Suh on Wednesday, 2 March 1977 (age 28 years; at the time of death) in Chicago, Illinois. The Gainesville Sun His zodiac sign is Pisces. He was brought up in a poor family. Suh completed his schooling with distinction at Deerfield Beach High School in Florida. At school, he was part of the swimming and tennis teams. He was also chosen to take classes for advanced and gifted students as he showed academic brilliance. Thereafter, he enrolled at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in statistics in 1999. The Gainesville Sun In college, he was a member of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). According to his classmates, James Suh excelled in math and science and wanted to become a veterinarian. However, he chose to pursue a career in the special forces of the United States military.
Height (approx.): 5′ 9″
Weight (approx.): 65 kg
Hair Colour: Black
Eye Colour: Dark Brown
James Suh belongs to a Christian family in the US. His family migrated from South Korea before his birth.
Parents & Siblings
His father, Solomon Suh, worked as a daily wage labourer in a warehouse in Deerfield.
He has a sister named Claudia Suh Brown. James’ father raised him and his sister alone after their mother left when they were infants.
Wife & Children
James Suh was unmarried and had no kids.
He was in a relationship with a girl named Anna Chung. After James was deployed in Afghanistan, they used to communicate with each other via phone calls as well as emails. According to sources, James had planned on asking Anna for marriage after returning from Afghanistan in 2005. He, however, passed away.
James Suh followed Christianity.
On 15 September 2000, James Suh enlisted in the US Navy. He reported at the US Navy’s boot camp at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, Chicago, Illinois, in January 2001; he underwent training there till March 2001. After that, he received additional training at the Quartermaster School till May 2001.
Later, he attended class 237 of the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) to become a US Navy SEAL. He then reported at the United States Army Airborne School, also known as Jump School, in Fort Moore, Georgia, where he underwent basic paratrooper (military parachutist) training. Suh completed the 26-week-long SEAL Qualification Training (SQT) in August 2002 and earned the Insignia for Naval Special Warfare, also known as the SEAL team trident badge. He was then sent to Panama, where he received Swimmer Delivery Vehicle (SDV) training till November 2002. Later, he went to the SEAL Sniper School in Indiana, where he was trained as a marksman.
James Suh was posted in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, in December 2002. There, he became a member of the SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team One (SDVT-1). He remained in Hawaii till February 2005. James was sent to Afghanistan as part of the SEAL Team Ten to assist the NATO forces in conducting anti-terrorist operations against the Taliban under the banner of Operation Enduring Freedom. In Afghanistan, James participated in numerous reconnaissance missions and patrols.
Operation Red Wings
Operation Red Wings was a specialised military operation launched by the US in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan in 2005 to capture/kill Ahmad Shah, a prominent Taliban commander.
To complete the mission, a team of four US Navy SEALs, comprising Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, Petty Officer Second Class Danny Dietz, Petty Officer Second Class Matthew Axelson, and Petty Officer Second Class Marcus Luttrell, was deployed on the mountains in Kunar Province.
The mission was compromised when a larger Taliban force ambushed the four SEALs. After the team requested immediate evacuation and reinforcements, the US commanders dispatched a CH-47 Chinook helicopter with sixteen special forces operatives, including James Suh.
However, the helicopter came under intense fire from the enemy while closing in on the landing ground as a result of which it crashed, leading to the death of all the military personnel onboard. James’ body was recovered from the crash site by a team of US soldiers sent to Kunar Province to conduct a Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) operation. Giving a detail of the crash, Suh’s Navy citation read,
As part of a Quick Reaction Force, Petty Officer Suh was sent to reinforce a Navy SEAL Special Reconnaissance element engaged in a fierce firefight against a numerically superior Anti-Coalition Militia near Asadabad, Konar Province, Afghanistan. The Special Reconnaissance element was under siege from enemy fire in extremely rugged and unforgiving terrain. Demonstrating exceptional resolve and fully comprehending the ramifications of the mission, Petty Officer Suh’s element launched aboard a helicopter for direct insertion onto an active battlefield, ready to engage and destroy the enemy in order to protect the lives of their fellow SEALs. While airborne Petty Officer Suh continued working with members of his team to develop the plan of attack to support both a Quick Reaction Force and an urgent execution of the intended deliberate assault. As the helicopter hovered in preparation for a daring fast-rope insertion of the SEALs, the aircraft was struck by an enemy rocket-propelled grenade fired by Anti-Coalition Militia. The resulting explosion and impact caused the tragic and untimely loss of life of all onboard.”
Following his death, the Government of the United States of America bestowed a Purple Heart medal and a Bronze Star medal for valour and service in Afghanistan on him. At the time of his death, he held the rank of Petty Officer Second Class (QM2).
- Bronze Star with Combat “V” for Valour
- Purple Heart
- Combat Distinguishing Device
- Meritorious Service Medal
- Combat Action Badge
- Good Conduct Medal
- Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal
James Suh died on 28 June 2005 in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan while participating in Operation Red Wings. He died after his helicopter was shot down by enemy forces with a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG). He was laid to rest at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles, California, with full military honours. Pritzker Military Museum & Library
- According to sources, Suh changed his name from Sung Gap to James Erik in high school after his best friend, Erik, was killed in a gun accident at the of fifteen. After Erik’s death, he began referring to Erik’s mother as “mom” and even sent greeting cards to her on Mother’s Day.
- After joining the US Navy SEALs, Suh penned a heartfelt letter to his father on Father’s Day. In the letter, he wrote,
When we were growing up we were poor. But we never felt poor because you took us to the beach every day, taught us how to play tennis and took us to the library.”
- According to James’ sister, he was very shy and reserved as a kid.
- He used to play with G.I. Joe action figures as a kid.
- He liked to do skateboarding.
- In an interview, Suh’s friend said that he once entered into a fight with another student from his school while playing basketball. He further said that James, despite being of comparatively small stature, was able to make the student submit by choking his neck.
- He was a good friend of Navy SEAL Matthew Axelson, Marcus Luttrell, and Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy.
- After James was posted to Hawaii, his father left Deerfield and shifted to Hawaii to live close to him.
- After he passed away, the University of Florida erected a memorial outside the ROTC office on the university campus in his honour.
- The US government installed his statue in Cupertino, California, in his honour.
- In 2013, a Hollywood film titled Lone Survivor, starring Mark Wahlberg, was released. In the film, actor Rich Ting portrayed James Erik Suh’s character.
- In 2014, a memorial was constructed in his honour near the Deerfield Beach High School in Florida, where he studied.
- After James Suh was killed in Afghanistan, a merchandise in the form of challenge coins began being sold on various online shopping platforms such as Amazon, Flipkart, and eBay.