Duplications, misspellings, and miscounts found in new study of the Vietnam wall

Duplications, misspellings, and miscounts found in new study of the Vietnam wall

Duplications, misspellings, and miscounts found in new study of the Vietnam wall

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One soldier is represented on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial three times.

Thirteen others are etched there twice.

Scores of names have been misspelled and corrected. Others have been misspelled and not corrected.

And the names of at least 25 others who survived the war were mistakenly etched on the hallowed black monument to the Vietnam dead in Washington.

These and other errors made over 37 years turned up in an exhaustive, four-year study of the Wall recently completed by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which oversees the Wall, its officials said Wednesday.

And the review concluded that while the Wall bears 58,390 names, those names represent 58,276 people.

Jim Knotts, president of the fund, said the organization wanted to know exactly how each name was inscribed on the Wall and compare that with the various databases of information on those killed in the war.

The memorial, dedicated in 1982, commemorates the more than 50,000 Americans who perished in Vietnam during the conflict.

Knotts said the fund wanted to develop a state-of-the-art digital database of the Wall’s dead to create a new traveling replica of the Wall. The replica traverses the country to be seen by those who cannot visit the memorial.

The old metal replica has now been replaced by one made of synthetic granite.

“We needed to know exactly what’s on the Wall . . . warts, errors and all,” he said.

Tim Tetz, the fund’s director of outreach who headed the review, said, “We literally had to be down there looking at it nose-to-nose with the Wall.”

Many names have been added over the years. Some names were marked with a small cross to denote people who were missing in action. If their remains are recovered, the crosses are changed to a diamond.

The names of nine missing men whose remains have been recently recovered will be unveiled and read at the Wall on Memorial Day.

After checking and rechecking available databases, fund officials took a master list to the memorial and checked it against the names on the Wall.

They then built an accurate database of what was on the Wall, Tetz said.

They knew the longest name on the Wall was Rodrigo Velazquez-Feliciano Jr., an Army staff sergeant from Penuelas, Puerto Rico, who died March 3, 1968.

They knew the shortest names on the Wall were those of Ben Coy, an Army specialist from Houston who was 19 when he was killed June 20, 1967, and Pfc. Ned Lee, 24, of Flagstaff, Ariz., who was killed Feb. 8, 1968.

They noted the case of Army Cpl. Rodney G. Helsel, who was killed March 11, 1970. His name was carved on the new Wall in 1982, Tetz said.

But nearby, the name Rodney G. Heisel was also etched.

In 1989, the Memorial Fund was directed to add a Rodney G. Helsel, reasoning that the name had been misspelled Heisel. Tetz said no one had noticed that it was already there correctly, a few inches away.

Thus did the 21-year-old soldier from St. Joseph, Mo., become the only person represented on Wall three times, fund officials said.

There are more than 60 names that were misspelled and later reinscribed.

One was that of Chester M. Ovnand, who is believed to be among the first American service members killed in Vietnam. He and fellow Army adviser, Dale Buis, were killed July 8, 1959.

Ovnand’s name was originally misspelled Ovnard on the Wall. The error was noticed and the name was reinscribed later at another spot on the Wall.

But the reinscription was wrong, too. “We messed up his middle initial,” Tetz said. Instead of Chester M. Ovnand, he is listed as Chester A. Ovnand.

So he is on the Wall twice — both times incorrectly.

The name of Elisha R. St. Clair was originally inscribed Elisha R. Saint Clair, and reinscribed correctly at the request of the family later, Tetz said.

The 22-year-old Army staff sergeant from Newport News, Va., who was killed less than a month after reaching Vietnam, is one of those on the Wall twice.

Other misspellings have gone uncorrected, for various reasons, Tetz said. One misspelled name — Alfredo Ostolaza-Maldonado — is so long that there is no space on the Wall where the correction will fit.

A native of Santurce, Puerto Rico, Pfc. Ostolaza-Maldonado was a 27-year-old medic when he was killed Aug. 8, 1966 in a ferocious battle that also claimed the lives of 24 of his comrades.

One soldier whose name is on the Wall, Mateo Sabog, showed up years after the war to claim Social Security benefits and was told he was dead, Tetz said.

Sabog had left the Army at the end of his Vietnam tour, disappeared, and was presumed killed, Tetz said. His name went up on the Wall in 1993, at the urging of his family. He reappeared in 1996 in Chattanooga to claim benefits. He was then 73.

He had last been seen by the Army in Ho Chi Minh City, then Saigon, in February 1970 as he prepared to return to Fort Bragg, N.C. But he never showed up.

Another man, William F. Joyce, of Hyde Park, Mass., had tried to enlist and been rejected for unknown reasons, Tetz said. So he went to an adjacent town and enlisted in the Marines under the name of a neighbor, Richard J. Preskenis.

After he was killed in battle, officials went to the Preskenis home to announce that Richard had been killed, Tetz said.

The family answered that Richard was not in the service. But that information had not caught up with the official military records by the time the Wall was built, Tetz said.

The names William J. Joyce and his nom de guerre, Richard J. Preskenis, are both on the Wall.

“What you see over and over in this is an abundance of care to try to recognize people, even though there were errors,” Knotts said. “It was better to add [names] than leave someone off.”

michael.ruane@washpost.com

 

This article was written by Michael E. Ruane from The Washington Post and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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