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Four names added to Vietnam memorial

From Paul Courson
CNN Washington Bureau

Armed Conflict

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Visitors crowded around a work crew at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Friday as a new name was inscribed on the black granite wall.

"He had a rich life," said the widow of Army Pfc. Thomas J. Conners, who lived as a paraplegic for 34 years after taking shrapnel to the spine during a 1966 battle in Vietnam.

Onlookers could be heard speculating that perhaps the name was of a U.S. serviceman whose remains had just been recovered.

But Conners and three other soldiers are being recognized because they were among those who survived, came home and much later died from wounds received during fighting in Vietnam.

Army Pfc. John Harold Berg of Rockford, Illinois was severely wounded in the head by shrapnel in 1968 but lived until 2003.

Army Pfc. William Ellis Browning, of Lutz, Florida, survived a bullet to the chest during a 1968 gunbattle in Vietnam and died in 2000.

Army Sgt. Richard Edward Daly Jr. of Worcester, Massachusetts was hit in the head by shrapnel in 1968, but lived until 1973, as the war was coming to an end.

The names of Conners, Berg and Browning have already been added to the wall; Daly's name will be added Saturday morning. Their inscriptions will be listed "as close as possible to the dates of casualty, so that they can remain in the company of those with whom they served," said Jan Scruggs, founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

The additions now bring the names on the Memorial to 58,249 men and women who were killed in Vietnam or remain missing-in-action (MIA).

In addition, the status of 16 military personnel listed on the memorial as MIA will be changed to killed-in-action (KIA) by Sunday, said a spokeswoman for the fund.

A system is in place to determine whether a veteran's death years later qualifies as war-related, allowing the person's name to be added to what's known as The Wall.

Recognizing sacrifice

Elaine Conners said her husband thought only those who died in battle should be so honored.

"He would probably be slightly annoyed that his name is being added here," she said.

The young Army private was wounded in battle and paralyzed the rest of his life, but, in a wheelchair, managed to visit the memorial many times. His widow quoted him as saying, "I've had a rich life, I've had people I love; it's not the same as for those guys who never got to leave."

Conners died five years ago this month.

His widow, who lives in Eastham, Massachusetts, told CNN a war buddy kept trying to convince her that Conners' fight was just as heroic. She eventually applied for his name to be considered for the honor of appearing on the wall.

Friends who were at the inscription ceremony said they find the couple's story compelling. Conners was born two years to the day after Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1943.

Lauren Fosdal, whose mother is a close friend of Elaine Conners, helped her take a "rubbing," or pencil-on-paper tracing, of the name just engraved on the wall as a keepsake.

Having grown up around the couple all her life, Fosdal recalled that the two met as teenagers and "she hadn't married him yet" when he headed off to war at the age of 18.

"He came back in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down," she said, "so she had the decision to go with a guy that is active and can have a great life -- or take care of somebody. And I think it just shows how strong that their love was that she decided to marry him."

Elaine Conners acknowledged, "We were really best friends," and when they would visit the wall together, the two talked about how "a lot of guys died that day. So it was very poignant, it was very important to him to connect with them."

As for her late husband's reluctance to have his name added, she said his brother recently told her, "This is one time when you stood up to him ... I'm glad!"

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