The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Monday, May 26, 2003  

Adding Names to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

There's a very moving article in today's New York Times ("Black Granite Roll Call Is Now 58,235," by David Stout) about the ultimate sacrifice so many men and women have made for this country and its people -- for us.

Six new names are being added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, the names of men who died long after the conflict ended but who, in many cases, lived painful and challenging lives for years afterward.

Specialist James Rogers [of Waynesville, N.C.] was 20 years old, almost through his one-year tour, on Dec. 14, 1968. That day, while on a patrol near the Cambodian border, his unit came under fire and he was struck in the head by several pieces of shrapnel.

"Death would have been a blessing," his brother Joseph Rogers of Waynesville said this week. But instead of dying, James Rogers lived on in twilight for almost 22 more years.

"He was helpless," his brother said. "There wasn't anything he could do."

James Rogers was hospitalized for a year before their parents, Joseph and Flora Rogers, brought him home. Sometimes, he seemed to recognize his parents and four siblings. He might hold up a finger in response to a question.

But as for how much he really understood and felt, "nobody knows for sure," his brother said.

James's wife divorced him, and the Rogers family did not blame her. James could not eat or drink without help. His food was blended. He had to be propped up on the toilet. "If you could envision a 180-pound infant," his brother said, voice trailing away.

Despite heavy doses of tranquilizers, James had frequent seizures, so violent that his thrashings once broke a wheelchair. "He suffered unbelievably," his brother said. "I can't describe what he went through."

His end, at least, was peaceful. James Rogers died in his sleep on Nov. 14, 1990. He was 42.

The Times profiles four of the names that are to be added to the wall today.

Essential reading for Memorial Day.

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