Ron Fuite of West Olive, Mich., died 10 years after a rocket-launched grenade fragment took an instant to pierce his skull, still his limbs and silence him forever. Mike Poliski of Sault Sainte Marie, Mich., died seven years after his torso was strafed with machine-gun fire and he was left to bleed for 12 hours in a rice paddy. Brian Lee Thornton of Munising, Mich., died eight months after a bullet zig-zagged its way through him like a pinball.
But the Vietnam War killed them as surely as if they had bled to death in some field. It just took longer.
So, too, their recognition. Their parents, years after praying for something better, had to ask the government to include their sons' names on the Washington, D.C., monument designed to honor Vietnam veterans.
When relatives or friends who had gone to the black granite wall would ask why their sons' names aren't there, it was as if their sons hadn't been in Vietnam. As if they hadn't died.
Five times since the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial was dedicated in 1982, names have been added to it. Now 58,175 deaths are recorded in letters exactly .53 inches high, blasted .015 inches deep.
But still their sons' names were not there to be rubbed or remembered.
Puzzling, the families say, because the government had the paperwork on their sons' deaths. It had delivered the flags for their coffins. It had duly issued death benefits. It had filled the empty beds where their wounded sons once laid.
On Veteran's Day, Nov. 11, eight families from across the nation -- will finally see their sons get their due.
They are grateful but disturbed -- not that the paperwork somehow fell through the cracks, but that their sons did.