Veteran attains 'last dying wish' at Vietnam Memorial Former sergeant fights cancer, memories of war

March 31, 1996|By COX NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Sitting in a wheelchair beside the black wall of names, Robert Plato wept openly yesterday as he prepared to rejoin his comrades who fell so long ago in Vietnam.

"I'm dying of cancer," said the former army sergeant from Cable, Ohio. "My last dying wish" was to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

"When I leave here today, I'll leave with peace in my heart," said Mr. Plato, his face gaunt beneath a cap bearing the yellow-and-black emblem of the 1st Cavalry Division, his unit during two Vietnam tours from 1968 through 1970.

Nearby, Sheila Meyer choked back tears as she watched her brother touch a chiseled name on the wall.

The robust body of the young soldier she remembers has now shrunk to 114 pounds and is bent by pain. Cancer has spread from Mr. Plato's lungs to his back, stomach, liver and pancreas.

"I was 8 when he went to 'Nam," recalled Ms. Meyer. "I thought he was 10 feet tall. He was my hero."

"Bobby is just 50 -- too young to die," said Jackie Dockery, another sister. "I'm the big sister, and he's still my baby brother."

The family had driven all night from Ohio in a van borrowed from a deacon of the Grace Baptist Church in Urbana. Their mission had created a reunion of sorts. The Meyer family also lives in Cable, but Jackie Dockery and her husband had come from Bee Ranch, Ark. Another brother, Eugene Plato, had come from upstate New York.

Mercifully, "Bobby slept most of the way," Ms. Meyer said. "But we talked and talked."

In recent weeks, Robert Plato, a former truck driver at a lumber yard in Springfield, Ohio, has been at a hospice in a Veterans Affairs medical center in Dayton, Ohio.

"Bobby" never really got over his war experiences, said Ms. Meyer. "He still has nightmares from Vietnam. He talks in his sleep about it."

The cancer is terminal, Ms. Meyer said, and the family was afraid that Mr. Plato would die before fulfilling his dream of visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. But once the trip began, her brother rallied.

Mr. Plato talked about his thoughts at seeing this stark remembrance of the Americans who died in the war.

"Half my heart was here and half was still in Vietnam and half was floating somewhere in between," he said. "My heart is really, really in that wall.

"So many people were killed needlessly."

Pub Date: 3/31/96

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