05/04/07 — 58,249 heroes lost

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58,249 heroes lost

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on May 4, 2007 1:45 PM

WARSAW -- Jo Cameron Jones knew many of the local men who went to fight in Vietnam. She taught several of them at James Kenan High School in the years and months before they deployed.

But she also remembers that Litch Hewey was the first to come home -- in a casket draped with an American flag.

Eighteen-year-old Charles Costin had only been in Vietnam three months when he followed Hewey home.

As the years passed, Allen Boney and Clarence "Boone" McNeill joined that list.

Barbara Miller couldn't find the words Thursday to describe McNeill, who died at age 21 in Laos while serving in the U.S. Air Force. But as her tears were dried by the morning sun, she made her way to his place on "The Wall That Heals" in Warsaw's Veterans Park. The mobile half-sized replica of the Vietnam Veterans National Memorial in Washington, D.C., travels the country in honor of the 58,249 Americans who lost their lives in the war.

The lost servicemen and some women are between the ages of 16 and 62, and represent all ranks, races and religions.

Some who attended Thursday's ceremony have been able to move on from that fateful day when they learned their family would never be the same. But none have gotten over the memories of losing a loved one.

Sisters Pamela Hargrove Oakes and Kathleen Summerlin lost two brothers during the Vietnam War. The sisters first lost Lane Hargrove, who was drafted into the Army and died in South Vietnam in April 1968.

Then, seven years later, Joseph Hargrove, a Marine volunteer, was fighting in Cambodia in what was considered the last official action of the war when he and 200 other Marines stormed the island of Koh Tang.

The day was May 15, 1975. It was the day Lance Cpl. Hargrove turned 24 -- and it was the last birthday he would ever celebrate.

Hargrove and two other Marines were left behind due to a lack of communication. The government declared all three dead 14 months later with little evidence to support the claim.

Mrs. Oakes and Mrs. Summerlin hope they can one day have a burial service for their brother, Joseph, as they did for Lane. But until that day, each said they have moments like they experienced at the wall -- a time and place where they can honor their brothers and their memories.

That is why David Miller traveled from Wilmington this week. Almost 40 years ago, Miller was a platoon leader for the Army transportation corps. The platoon's job was to haul petroleum to every American base camp in the southern half of Vietnam.

In the two years Miller spent in Vietnam, Jerry Langley was the only man under his command that he lost.

"It's still difficult to see his name. He was just 19 years old," Miller said.

That 19-year-old died on May 2, 1969. Almost 38 years later to the day, Miller paid his respects one more time.

"There are way too many names on the wall and the recognition for these people is way past due," Miller said.

Col. Walter Joseph Marm, a Medal of Honor recipient and the ceremony's keynote speaker described himself as "one of the lucky ones."

"I ask, 'Why did God spare me?' I'm still trying to figure that out," he said.

It is an answer he admits he might never know. But he does know that as long as he has the Medal of Honor, he will simply be the medal's "caretaker" for all of America's veterans and soldiers.

"These servicemen and women on the wall are the brothers and sisters of all American people," Marm said.

The memorial wall will be on display for the public in Warsaw's Veterans Park 24 hours a day until the closing ceremony at 6 p.m. Sunday.