URI engineering alumnus establishes nursing scholarship in memory of friend who died in Vietnam War
Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862
KINGSTON, R.I. -- April 7, 2006 -- Kam Esmail was a young engineer working in Providence in 1967 when he read that a friend from his years at the University of Rhode Island had been killed on his fourth day in Vietnam.
Marine 1st Lt. Charles Yaghoobian Jr., a 1965 graduate of URI and teacher at Jenks Junior High School in Pawtucket, died Oct. 14, 1967 during the 52-day siege and artillery bombardment by the North Vietnamese Army of his Marine base in Quang Tri province, South Vietnam.
“Charlie’s death hit me hard because he was the first person I knew who was killed in Vietnam,” said Esmail, who earned his URI civil engineering degree in 1966.
“I promised myself that someday I would do something so that other people would remember Charlie’s sacrifice.”
Nearly 40 years later, Esmail, now a consultant engineer for offshore oil platform construction industry, has established the Lt. Charlie Yaghoobian Memorial Scholarship to benefit Rhode Island high school students enrolling in URI’s College of Nursing.
Esmail, who made a $15,000 donation to establish the scholarship, still remembers reading a 1967 feature story about Yaghoobian in The Providence Journal, which was accompanied by his Phi Mu Delta fraternity picture.
The headline read in part, “Say a Prayer …I’ll be home,” which was in a letter the lieutenant wrote to his parents in Pawtucket when he first arrived in Vietnam, which they received after being notified of his death.
“I’m not afraid at all,” Yaghoobian wrote in the letter. “I just pray and take things as they come. Take care mom and don’t work too hard. Watch out for Dad and yourself and my sisters.”
“Charlie was in the jock fraternity at URI, Phi Mu, you know a dude, but he was quiet and shy too,” Esmail said. “ I was a frat-boy also, and a dude too, but not a jock.”
This is the second scholarship Esmail has established for Rhode Island students. The first one supports civil engineering students.
“I want the people of Rhode Island, including many of my URI buddies’ parents to know that I have tried to give something back for a small portion of their kindness to me. Secondly, the College of Nursing was chosen for this memorial scholarship because many nursing graduates, along with the medics, also served in South Vietnam and surely they must have tried to save Charlie’s life.
“Thirdly, maybe the young people at URI will get some reminder of another time and place at URI and in America, when thousands of college kids like Charlie made the ultimate sacrifice for their country in an unpopular war that split the country.”
Esmail was born and brought up in the British colonies in East Africa, and came to URI at 18 in 1962 on a U.S. government aid scholarship. After earning his bachelor’s degree, he earned his master’s degree from URI in ocean engineering in 1968. He registered for the Army draft in 1969, which was required by law for all young American men including immigrants, but was never called up. He became in his words “a proud U.S. citizen” in 1974.
Since leaving URI, he has lived in California, Texas, Louisiana and overseas while working on various offshore petroleum related projects. Now, he splits his time between Texas and California.
Despite his globetrotting, he feels a special kinship with Rhode Island and its residents. “I guess you could say I am still an honorary Rhode Island citizen.”
“I was not a U.S. citizen nor a Rhode Island resident when I came to URI, and only the enormous kindness and the enormous generosity of the American people made it all possible for me.
Pictured above Charles Yaghoobian, Jr
Photo from 1965 URI yearbook, courtesy of URI Library Special Collections.