Adding a Name to The Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Family's odyssey ends with name on The Wall --

Copyright 1997
Copyright 1997 Scripps-McClatchy Western

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Mar 12, 1997 07:55 a.m. EST) -- Oct. 5, 1966: Robert Shockey led his squad in a search-and-destroy mission north of Phuoc Vinh. Trudging through the South Vietnamese jungle, the group came upon a Viet Cong command post.

Inside the enemy camp, sniper fire erupted against the Americans. But Shockey, a 21-year-old soldier from Fort Richardson, ignored the danger, determined to scope out the extent of the bunker system. Searching through the complex, he found manuals identifying the post as a main Viet Cong regiment.

Shockey gave his company commander information that would help destroy the camp. His search for more documents, however, was interrupted when a land mine exploded, hurling fragments into his skull, back and hands.

The young soldier, who had a pregnant wife and 2-year-old daughter back in Alaska, slipped into a deep coma for more than a year, never knowing that his heroics earned him the Purple Heart and Bronze Star or that his son was born.

On December 7, 1967, two days after his 23rd birthday, Shockey died in a hospital in Phoenix where he was born.

Nearly three decades later, after a bitter odyssey by his children, Shockey's name finally will be engraved on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the nation's capital. "Seeing his name on The Wall, I'll feel like my brother and I will finally be validated," said Roberta Shockey, 32, of Anchorage. "We grew up hearing, 'Oh, your dad died because of Vietnam? What a senseless war.' Like my dad died for nothing. Well, now we'll have so much closure."

The struggle to put their father's name on the Memorial began in 1984, two years after the wall was dedicated. Robert Shockey Jr., now 30, was a junior at East High and was researching the Memorial for a school project. He eagerly checked a library book, only to find his father's name was missing from the list of 58,000 Vietnam War dead.

Shockey Jr. figured the exclusion from the book was an oversight -- until the next year. He was vacationing in Las Vegas and saw a traveling replica of The Wall, which listed all the names. Again, his father's name was missing.

"I felt hurt," Shockey recalled. "But I was pretty impressed with The Wall and glad for those people who were remembered."

Shockey, who now lives in Oak Harbor, Washington, told his sister. Roberta Shockey was incredulous. Didn't their father die for his country? Didn't the Vietnam War take him from them? But brother and sister had no idea how to change a famous national monument more than 3,000 miles away.

Eventually, Roberta Shockey contacted Fort Richardson. But her calls to the post and to other government offices produced no results.

The Shockeys wouldn't learn the correct procedure for several years. Until then, they simply gave up.

"Maybe I should have been more persistent and known more people," Roberta Shockey said. "But I just got angry. It was always with me."

The big break came in late 1994, when Robert Shockey and his wife, Laura, were living in Florida. Laura Shockey, a Navy petty officer, saw an article in "Navy Times" about four service members added to The Wall because their deaths had been attributed to combat wounds.

She contacted numerous organizations, including the base veterans' association, the Battle Monument Commission, the National Park Service. In early 1995, she reached Tom Ellis, the Army liaison to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Ellis told her he needed Robert Shockey Sr.'s medical records to document that he was an eligible candidate for The Wall. Nine months later, the National Personnel Records Center sent her all the necessary records.

Satisfied that Shockey died of war wounds, Ellis sent the paperwork to the Department of Defense, which declared Shockey eligible in January.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the private, nonprofit keeper of the wall, confirmed that his name would be added.

Fund spokeswoman Libby Hatch said names are added to The Wall every year. Some were omitted when the names were initially gathered. But most of the late additions are service members who died of war wounds long after they left Vietnam, Hatch said. The Wall also contains the names of 35 people who were critically injured in Vietnam and weren't expected to survive but are still alive, according to Hatch.

On February 27, the Shockeys received a letter from Hatch, inviting the family to the Memorial Day service in May and a special dinner the night before. Their mother, Rose Moody, wants no part of the darkest time of her life, said Moody, who lives in Anchorage.

Roberta Shockey cried when she heard her father's name would finally be added. But she worries she'll miss the moment she waited so long for. A single mother of two, she said she can't afford the three-day trip for three people.

"I'll do anything, call anyone who can help me," Roberta Shockey said. "I know I'll find a way to see his name. I have to."

Vet's Name Added to Vietnam Wall --

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Marine Corps Master Sgt. Herbert S. Murff of Missouri survived his 1966 wounding in the Vietnam War, but it took a toll on his body that hastened his death 13 years later. Now, Murff's name is being added to the black granite wall of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial on the National Mall.

Murff's daughter, who was 9 years old when her father died, said Monday that the Defense Department's decision to add his name "filled me with a great sense of joy and relief and pride."

"It let me know that after what he went through, he's finally going to be rewarded for it," said Denyse Murff, now 27, of Memphis, Tennessee.

Herbert Murff, who grew up in Caruthersville, Missouri, and served in the Marine Corps for 22 years, was crew chief on a CH-46 helicopter that came under heavy automatic weapons fire on Aug. 8, 1966, at Quang Tri. He was wounded in the abdomen and later had his spleen removed.

Ms. Murff said her father recovered to lead a normal, active life until 1979, when he contracted bronchial pneumonia and died. Doctors determined because he had no spleen, Murff was unable to overcome the ailment.

Last November, Ms. Murff brought her father's case to the attention of the Pentagon; and in mid April, defense officials decided that Murff's death stemmed directly from his battlefield injury.

For a name to be added to the wall, Marine Capt. Kristi Johnson said death must have occurred in the designated combat zone -- Vietnam and its coastal waters, Laos and Cambodia -- either to or from a combat mission or in support of a mission or in the aftermath wounds suffered in combat.

"It was aftermath of wounds in support of combat. He fit the criteria," she said.

The addition this week of the names of Murff and six other soldiers to the wall on the National Mall brings its total to 58,209, including more than 1,400 Missourians. Although there have now been 270 additions since the wall was dedicated in 1982, Johnson said it is a rare occurrence.

"There's limited and finite space, and it's a tribute to all Americans; but it's a special tribute to those who did not return," Johnson said. "In addition, the Defense Department does not consider victims of the Agent Orange defoliant or post-traumatic stress syndrome suicides for inclusion on the wall."

The names are being added to the wall this week, and a formal ceremony is scheduled for Memorial Day to recognize them. Ms. Murff and her mother, Dorothy Warren, plan to be there.

"I loved my dad a lot. He served 22 years in the Marine Corps--his whole, young, adult life," Ms. Murff said. "I felt like he deserved it."

Revised 01-22-98 by DGS