The terrible telegram from the secretary of the Army is yellowed and tattered now, old and cruel words about a fierce mortar attack that would slowly prove deadly.
But 25 years after the shells ripped through Kyle C. Holfeltz's back in an Asian jungle, his name stands out bright, sharp and clean on the polished black wall of Vietnam War heroes. Finally."I don't know anybody who was more deserving than he was," said Melba Holfeltz of Sandy, Utah, the Army specialist's mother, who will join members of five other families for Memorial Day services to honor the latest additions to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. "He suffered so much. But he was so proud of everything he had done."
The stories behind the wall's newest half-inch-high names - inscribed recently with the roar of a sandblasting tool slicing into granite - are those of dutiful service and simple bravery.
They tell also of remarkable perseverance of families who had to prove that their sons, brothers and fathers died directly from wounds suffered in Vietnam and had earned a place beside their comrades on the roll of honor.
"I'll never forget the day we came home and that telegram was in the door and my dad just started screaming, `He's blown all over! Bits of him everywhere!' Daddy was so upset. We all were," recalled Lana Lurie Hickman, Hol-feltz's older sister.
It took 23 years for Vietnam to kill Kyle Holfeltz, who was 19 when he was drafted into the Army. He was shipped off to the Pacific Northwest for basic training and was in Vietnam only a few months before his unit was attacked on Feb. 1, 1971.
"Kyle was hit in the back - the whole thing was blown away. He couldn't move his legs," his mother said. "He crawled on his arms to get to cover before the chopper came to pick him up."
Paralyzed below the waist, Holfeltz spent the next year in a swirl of hospital ships, ambulances, emergency surgeries, kidney dialysis and painful reha-bil-i-ta-tion.
"He had a lot of friends," Hickman said. "He loved to fish. He loved to hunt. He had a dog. But, boy, he really had to live a lonely life. But you know what? He never did complain."
By the time he died on Nov. 11, 1994, Holfeltz had amassed a 2-inch-thick medical report that finally persuaded Army officials that the war - and the loss of his kidneys - had caused his death.
For the family of David A. Barbarino of Willowick, Ohio, who died in 1991 at age 42, it was more complicated. When the Army saw the cause of his death - lung cancer - it determined that a 1970 Viet Cong ambush that left him a paraplegic was not to blame.
"He was an exuberant kid - full of life and full of energy," recalled Barbarino's older brother, Kenneth. "The service was something he knew he had to do and something he didn't shy away from."
Spec. Barbarino's job was to drive a munitions truck, and when a gun post near his base in Phu Bai ran out of shells, he and his best friend volunteered to make an emergency and unprotected supply run.
"They were going up this big hill loaded down with munitions when the VC hit them," Kenneth Barbarino said. "They were almost to the outpost, they jumped out of the truck, ran for a ravine, but didn't make it. They killed his friend and put a hole the size of baseball in my brother's back and severed his spinal cord."
Barbarino spent years fruitlessly trying to identify the helicopter pilot whose quick rescue run pulled him from the ravine and saved his life.
Shortly after he died in Florida five years ago, his family asked the Pentagon to place his name on the wall - a request that was turned down in 1994. The Army changed its mind only after the doctor from the veterans hospital traced Barbarino's lung cancer to an earlier bladder cancer that could have been caused by complications of his paralysis.
"He's finally going to get the recognition that we all felt he deserved," said Kenneth Barbarino, who will attend Monday's cere-monies.
"It'll finally put closure to that war for us. David's name is on the wall, and that will be the last word of the last sentence of the last paragraph of his story."
Since 1982, more than 200 names have been added to the wall. The latest additions bring the total to 58,202 names. The Defense Department studies all claims submitted by family members and adds a name only if it's certain they are official casualties of Vietnam.
For years, Gary W. Cooper's family believed that his name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial told his story of the ultimate sacrifice for his country. After all, they'd seen Cooper's name inscribed on a Vietnam memorial in Texas.
"Then my son's friend was visiting Washington three or four years ago and he came back and said, `Your dad's name is not up there. He's not there anywhere,"' said Barbara Hurley, Cooper's widow.
Cooper, an Army sergeant from Dallas, won the Bronze Star on March 9, 1968, when his tank was hit by enemy shells. Cooper launched an attack on a fortified bunker, killing two attackers. But he was hit in the neck and chest.
Several months and many operations later, Cooper was back home, trying to reassemble his life when he passed out. Surgeons unfamiliar with his medical history injected dye into his bloodstream to test circulation in his brain. He died in January 1969 at the age of 20.
His wife said the dye caused enough pressure to cause internal bleeding that led to his death - a death Veterans Affairs ultimately ruled was 100 percent related to his Vietnam wounds.
"This dredges up a lot of old emotions," Hurley said of the Memorial Day dedication ceremonies. "I'll feel very proud and very touched that his son fought to have this done. I guess for me, it'll be a good closure to the war. Finally."