A STRUGGLE Sgt. First Class Dwaine McGriff of Cullman, Ala., was wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade in Vietnam in 1970. He had dozens of operations and stomach, liver and kidney problems. For the last six years of his life, he lay in bed. Left, Anna McGriff and her family on Saturday, taking an impression of her husband's name, new to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
FROM WAR TO WALL Master Sgt. Frank Huddleston, right, in Vietnam. He was badly wounded there in 1966, and died last year. Saturday, his widow, Peggy, left, visited the Vietnam memorial, which now has his name.
NEVER RECOVERED James Rogers after he was wounded in Vietnam in 1968; right, his parents, Joseph and Flora Rogers of Waynesville, N.C.
'WE GOT TO KNOW OUR FATHER' Colleen Pontes with photographs of her father, Kevin Joyce, who lived with his wounds from Vietnam for 28 years.
Black Granite Roll Call Is Now 58,235
By David Stout May 26, 2003
WASHINGTON, May 24 Kevin Joyce got around so well in his wheelchair that his son and daughter did not think of him as disabled, even though he had stumps for legs.
He did not complain about his frequent pain, or about the bits of shrapnel that popped up through his skin over the years, souvenirs from the day, July 15, 1968, that Specialist Joyce was nearly killed by a mine after alighting from an Army helicopter in Vietnam.
"I'm sure he saw a lot worse," Brian Joyce of Watertown, Mass., said in explaining his father's stoicism.
To be sure, there were things that annoyed him. "He'd grouse if we went to the mall and someone stole his `handicapped' parking spot," his daughter, Colleen Pontes of the Bronx, recalled the other day.
For many years, Mr. Joyce was well enough to work at an auto plant in Framingham, Mass. But as the years went by, his body began to lose the battle. His kidneys failed. A transplant was unsuccessful. He had seizures. And on Feb. 9, 1996, he died at 49, nearly 28 years after being wounded.
His name has just been added to the black granite wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. So have those of three other Army veterans who lived for many years after being wounded: James Mark Rogers, Dwaine Usry McGriff and Frank Luther Huddleston.
The four men had different fates when they came home. Still, what happened to them and their families is a reminder of the lingering pain of that long-ago war.
Although Kevin Joyce's life was shortened by the war, his daughter, 31, and son, 24, feel they are lucky.
"We got to know our father," Ms. Pontes said.
And he got to know them; even though his body was maimed, his mind remained intact.
It might have been different, as it was for James Rogers of Waynesville, N.C., and his family.
Specialist Rogers 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 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 names Joyce, Rogers, Huddleston and McGriff were etched onto the Vietnam wall on May 12. So were the names of two men who died in Vietnam long ago but got lost in the bureaucracy, Donald Carson of San Francisco, an Air Force staff sergeant, killed on April 15, 1963, and William J. Scannell of Forest Park, Ill., an Army private first class, who died on Sept. 12, 1970.
With the six new inscriptions, to be commemorated at Memorial Day services on Monday, the wall bears the names of 58,235 men and women who were killed in Vietnam or remain missing in action, according to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. The Defense Department reviews medical records to determine if a Vietnam veteran's death was war-related, thus entitling him to a place on the wall. Since 1982, when the memorial was dedicated, 296 names have been added.
Knowing what happened to the Rogers family, Peggy Huddleston of Clarksville, Tenn., wife of Master Sgt. Frank Huddleston, says she thinks she and her husband were blessed. He was 32 on May 17, 1966, when a machine-gun bullet hit his spinal cord. The bullet rendered him numb below the waist, so he did not feel the fragments from the grenade that ripped through his lower body a half-hour later, Mrs. Huddleston said the other day.
Frank Huddleston came home with no bitterness. "He was doing what he was supposed to be doing," his wife said.
He spent a year in a hospital. From 1968 to 1991 he was able to get around on leg braces and crutches. But in 1991, laser surgery failed to repair progressive nerve damage, and from then on he was in a wheelchair. "It's a different life when you can't stand up," Mrs. Huddleston said.
The tough old sergeant went to school and became a draftsman, working at home. He was a deacon in the Baptist church and had a full social life. But the Huddlestons, who had never had children, had to give up the idea of adopting, Mrs. Huddleston said, since the authorities were reluctant back then to consider placing a child in the home of a paraplegic.
And he gave up something he had once loved, hunting. "After Vietnam, he couldn't stand the thought of something suffering," his wife said.
He loved to tend the flowers around their home atop a hill, doing his best to ignore his aches and pains. Eventually, his kidneys began to fail. Month by month, he grew weaker.
On Aug. 15, 2002, he said to his wife, "It's O.K. I'm just not going to make it today." That day, he died. He was 68 years old and had lived with his wounds for 36 years.
On Sept. 7, 1970, Sgt. First Class Dwaine McGriff of Cullman, Ala., was 34. He had just begun his second one-year tour of duty. That day, he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. His left leg was torn so badly that he eventually lost it.
He had to lie flat on his back for two years after coming back to the States, his wife, Anna, said. He had lost so much thigh tissue that he could not have a prosthesis. So he used crutches.
His wife knew when he was in agony. "He would scrunch up his face," she said. "But he would never tell you."
He had dozens of operations, some to take skin from healthy parts of his body and attach it to the wound area. In 1974, he developed problems with his stomach, so serious that a nylon mesh was installed to rebuild much of it.
He was in and out of hospitals, so often that doctors and nurses regarded him as a friend. He contracted hepatitis. He had liver and kidney problems. For the last six years of his life, he lay in bed. He died on Jan. 7, 1999, at the age of 63.
"He lived 28 years and four months after being wounded," his wife said. "He was here for a reason."
The years of pain were not without their joys, she was quick to say. Her husband did some woodworking and lots of reading. Best of all, he got to watch his children grow up. Dwaine and Lynda were grade-schoolers when their father was wounded and are in their 40's now.
"We were blessed, the way the Lord worked it all out," Mrs. McGriff said.
Colleen Pontes and her husband, Jeff, are expecting a baby in four weeks and will name the child after Kevin Joyce Kevin if they have a boy, Kaylyn if they have a girl.
Dozens of members of the Rogers, McGriff, Huddleston and Joyce clans will be at the Vietnam wall on Monday. They will walk away with pride and memories.
"One thinks the war stops when the bullets stop," Mrs. Huddleston said. "It doesn't."
Go to: Vietnam Medal of Honor Citations
© 2003 by Neil Mishalov