Recalling a bloody day in Vietnam on this Memorial Day

FORT WORTH — More than 58,000 names are engraved on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., organized by date of death from 1957 to 1975.

On Panel 38E, about halfway down, are four names within a few inches of one another.

Marine Pfc. Richard W. France, Army Staff Sgt. James Edward George Jr., Marine Lance Cpl. Johnnie Bruce Jackson, Army Spec. 4 Klaus Josef Strauss.

All four young men died Feb. 8, 1968, during the massive Tet Offensive of that year. All four called Fort Worth home.

The oldest was 22. One remains missing in action. One wasn't even a U.S. citizen. Two were in the 13th month of a 13-month tour.

In exactly one 24-hour period, four families in Fort Worth -- then a city of about 350,000 people, fewer than half of today's population -- were upended and forever altered by a war in Southeast Asia. The Tet battles that claimed their sons and brothers would mark the beginning of the end of the war for the U.S. and end the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.

France, George, Jackson and Strauss have been gone 43 years, but that hole in their families has hardly filled even now.

Memorial Day may well be the unofficial beginning of summer, a joyous time to make plans to head to the lake or a baseball park, crack open a cold beer or buy the kids a snow cone, certainly an excuse to stay off the work e-mail for one day.

For some families, though, Memorial Day is about remembering theirs and the nation's losses.

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