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Monday, January 9, 2012

Soldier's Name Wrong on Vietnam Memorial

Springfield News-Leader (MO)

January 6, 2012

Sgt. Stephen Hiett Phillips was 23 and about to become a father when he died, two days after arriving in Vietnam. Phillips, who listed Springfield as his home of record, was reported killed in action July 18, 1965. He was felled by small-arms fire in an unidentified province in South Vietnam, government records say.
But two soldiers from Phillips’ regiment say part of the record has a fundamental flaw. “They spelled his name wrong,” Larry Thompson said. And the mistake is carved in stone—literally.
On the black granite wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., Phillips’ first name is inscribed as “SHEPHEN.” The error, repeated on various websites and copies of the wall, appears to stem from a list of Vietnam War dead dating to January 1967.
“One doesn’t honor a person by misspelling their name,” said Pete Neumann, who has contacted federal agencies and nonprofits in an effort to correct the error.
So far, the effort has been a “total, absolute frustration,” he said. “I’m just trying to do the right thing for a fellow soldier. Maybe they can’t buff out the ‘H’ and sandblast a ‘T’ in its place—I don’t know enough about masonry—but at least acknowledge it on the (online) tribute card that comes with it.”
Neumann, who lives near Sedona, AZ, said he has been able to track the misspelling to an early source. Phillips’ name is spelled correctly on his grave at Springfield National Cemetery, where he was buried July 29, 1965. A year and a half later, the “Shephen” spelling was included in the Combat Area Casualties Current File, which now is part of the computerized list of war casualties maintained by the National Archives.
After tracking the mistake to the casualty file, Neumann began making phone calls and sending emails to try to have it corrected. A page on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website includes an online form to send proposed corrections to the Department of Defense. Neumann said he filled out the form, but the email “never got answered.”
He tried calling the U.S. Army Human Resources Command in Fort Knox, KY, but gave up after several phone calls with customer service. “I got ticked off because nobody wanted to do anything,” he said.
Calls followed to several veterans’ organizations, including the National Park Service that maintains the memorial, Neumann said, all with no luck. “Most the time, I do not even get the courtesy of a return call or message,” he said. “In other cases, I am being told, ‘Not responsible, not our job.’”
Calls to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund were not returned. Attempts to obtain clarification from federal agencies, including the National Archives and National Park Service, also were unsuccessful.
Thompson said he tried to locate Phillips’ family to include them in the effort but has run out of leads. “He had a son born about two months after he was killed. … His wife was pregnant when we went to Vietnam,” Thompson said, referring to Phillips’ wife Neoma, who died in 2006. “But I haven't seen the family since we left Fort Riley.”
On one website featuring a database of Vietnam War casualties, an online guestbook includes an entry from someone named Steve Phillips, identified as Stephen H. Phillips’ son. Dated May 10, 2005, the entry includes an email address and a physical address, but messages sent to both came back undelivered, Thompson said. The entry, which references the misspelling, includes this message addressed to “Dear Dad”:
“Since I was born 43 days after you were taken, we never got the chance to see each other. Even though ‘they’ misspelled your name wrong on THE WALL (should be Stephen), I know who you are, and I could not be more proud of the fact that I am your son.
“You have 3 beautiful grandchildren and another one on the way. I promise that they too will know who their grandfather is and of the sacrifices that you gave. … Your Loving Son, Steve.”

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