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Area residents react to Pombo's Wall plan

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Posted: Friday, May 23, 2003 10:00 pm

Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, wants people to remember the stories of the names on the Vietnam Wall Memorial when they visit it in Washington.

That's why he's proposing a visitor's center be built near the Wall.

Those stories are the ones told by San Joaquin County natives Wayne Robert Barth and Jerry Wayne Standridge.

Whenever Larry Barth thinks of how, where and why his older brother Wayne Robert Barth died, he gets angry.

"His death wasn't worth it," Larry Barth said, his voice rising in anger. "He died 10,000 miles away from home for nothing."

It was in 1967, in Quang Tri in South Vietnam that 20-year-old Wayne Robert Barth, who had just recently moved to Lodi to go to school, was killed.

Wayne had moved in with his sister in Lodi to finish school, Larry said. He even got engaged.

Instead of going to school, getting married and raising a family, Wayne Robert Barth was drafted.

He served in the Marines for one year before being killed on April 24, 1967.

Larry Barth lived in South Dakota with his parents when they were told Wayne Robert had been killed. At the time, Larry had gotten his draft notice but got a college deferment.

Today, Larry Barth, 55, and now living in Lodi, still gets down on himself about his older brother dying.

"It was all politics," he said of his brother's death.

Everett Standridge, 51, said he and his family try to visit Tracy's war memorial as often as possible. The memorial, near Lolly Hansen Senior Center, honors Tracy residents killed serving their country.

It was Nov. 23, 1967, that Jerry Wayne Standridge died in Vietnam. He was 21.

Today, some 36 years later, Everett Standridge said he still misses his older brother.

But he's also very proud that his brother served his country and paid the ultimate sacrifice, he said.

In fact, whenever he's in Lodi, Everett Standridge visits his brother at the Cherokee Memorial cemetery.

"I tell him I miss him and that I love him," said the Tracy resident.

The pride for Jerry Standridge runs in the family.

Everett's daughter, 8-year-old Olivia LaVerne Standridge, has 50 pencil etchings of her Uncle Jerry's name, taken from the local memorial.

And Everett's son, John, 15, wrote a tribute to his uncle, calling him a hero.

"My hero is my uncle Jerry, who died in Vietnam," John wrote. "I think he was really brave because he fought in a war for us."

The way Everett tells it, his older brother should not have died that night.

The night that Jerry Standridge died, his platoon had been on alert, Everett said.

Word had come down to expect a Vietcong attack. Everyone's nerves were on edge.

Jerry's best buddy in Vietnam kept what happened next a secret known only to himself, Everett said.

With tensions high because of a possible attack, Jerry's best friend accidentally shot him, thinking he was a Vietcong soldier, Everett said.

After Jerry's friend left the Army, he immediately sought Jerry's mother, who lived in Tracy, and apologized to her for killing her son.

Up until two years before her death in 2000, Jerry's friend would visit her regularly, Everett said.

There were seven Tracy men and 12 Lodi men who died in Vietnam, each with a story. Each of them has relatives who still deal with the grief or are proud of what their sons, husbands, uncles, sons and daughters did in the service of their country.

According to Pombo's spokesman, Doug Heye, half of the number of people visiting the Vietnam Wall don't know anything about the history of the Vietnam War and the more than 58,000 men and women whose names are etched on the Wall.

Pombo wants to change that, Heye said.

On a rainy morning Wednesday, Pombo held hearings in a tent near the Wall, Heye said.

While there is opposition to the proposed visitor's center, mostly from the National Parks Service, Heye said Pombo is willing to listen to everyone and work with all groups.

Heye said opposition from the Parks Service is minor, mostly dealing with the perceived intrusion on the solemnity, serenity and beauty of the Wall.

But he said the proposed center would be underground, almost invisible to Wall visitors.

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