Use the time-line above to navigate through different periods

 
Video : KOMO 4 NEWS
Seattle native Bob Clements was killed in Vietnam on Nov. 29, 1969 while on patrol with his rifle platoon; 33 years later, his brother meets the sergeant whose felt responsible all these years.
 
Watch Video 

Video requires the use of the free QuickTime Player.
 
 

SEATTLE - On the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Olympia, there are the names of more than 1,000 state residents who didn't come home.

Behind each name is a story. This is the story of Robert Clements.

Seattle native Bob Clements was killed in Vietnam on Nov. 29, 1969 while on patrol with his rifle platoon. He was attached to the Army's 35th Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion, Bravo Company.

On the day he died, Clements' squad was on point. At midday, the platoon took a break to eat.

The squad sergeant ordered Bob and his best friend Jim McCarthy to position themselves about 15 yards ahead of the main body of the squad for security and early warning.

A few minutes later, the platoon was ready to move out. As a precaution, the platoon commanding officer ordered a mortar round to be detonated about 100 yards ahead of Bob's squad to flush out possible unfriendlys.

However, instead of traveling 100 yards, the mortar misfired and only went about 15. It landed between Bob and Jim.

Jim was killed almost instantly. Bob died hours later in surgery.

Two days later, an Army staff car arrived at the Clements' home in Seattle. Bob's Mom Helen was told her son wouldn't be coming home and had died heroically in battle. Bob's little brother Rick couldn't believe the news was true.

A few days later, a telegram arrived confirming Bob's death in Vietnam. The telegram, however, noted Bob had died as a result of "friendly fire." The family was never told anything beyond that.

Little brother Rick grew up bitter, hating the Army. He always wondered which trigger-happy, macho commandos had killed his big brother. Helen had trouble accepting her son's death and rarely talked about it.

Meanwhile, the sergeant served his year in Vietnam and got out. During the year he spent in-country, the sergeant lost just two men---Bob and Jim. He returned home and eventually settled in Florida.

For more than 30 years, he was haunted by that loss and blamed himself. He never stopped thinking "what if…"

In Seattle, Rick endured more than 30 years of anger and bitterness. More than 3,000 miles away in Florida, the former sergeant endured more than 30 years of guilt.

Bitterness and guilt. Two powerful, destructive emotions. Emotions that too often fester and go unresolved…

Fast forward to spring 2002. Rick Clements, now a 45-year-old protection officer for King County Courts accidentally stumbles across the Virtual Wall Web site while surfing on his home computer one day. The Virtual Wall lists information on each of the more than 58,000 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Rick types in the name of his brother Robert Clements and sees the basic information about Bob's death. And he sees one other thing -- a remembrance posted by a man who served in Bob's outfit.

Rick reads the remembrance, a poignant poem dedicated to fallen members of the 35th Regiment. At the bottom of the poem is an address for the Regiment's Web site. Rick goes to this site and sees links to personal Web sites of four men who served with the 35th in Vietnam.

One of the Web sites is titled "Dave's Vietnam Pics." Rick clicks on Dave's Web page and scans some of the photos. The hair on the back of his neck stands at attention when he sees one particular photo.

It's a picture of his brother Bob in Vietnam -- a photo he has never seen before. Bob with a cigarette in his mouth is kind of smirking at the camera. The caption on the photo mentions Bob's name and that he died as a result of friendly fire.

Sensing that he's stumbled onto something extraordinary, Rick searches other parts of Dave's Web site. One section is entitled "Stories." And in the table of contents is one story that takes Rick's breath away: "Bob and Jim's Last Meal."

Fighting through the tears, Rick reads the actual accounting of his brother's death. It's a story he's never heard and it reveals details the family has never known.

While reading the story, Rick realizes it was written by a man who blames himself for the deaths of Bob and his best friend, Jim.

The author is Dave Muxo, the former sergeant who ordered Bob and Jim to station themselves 15 yards ahead of the squad that fateful day.

Though his mom has always had trouble dealing with Bob's death, Rick shares the news with her of what he has found. It's news that opens old wounds and Helen is reluctant to pursue the matter further.

Rick, however, is pumped. Following more than 30 years of bitterness, Rick for the first time is finding answers to questions never answered. And he's discovered that at least one man who served with his brother has suffered just as much in his own way.

A link on Dave's Web site provides an e-mail address. Rick sends Dave a message. A day later brings a heartfelt response that washes away more resentment and bitterness.

It also brings an invitation. Each summer, Dave attends the annual reunion for the 35th. As providence would have it, the 2002 reunion is in Seattle for the first time ever.

Dave invites Rick to be his guest at the banquet on Saturday, July 27. Rick accepts.

KOMO-TV and "Dogtags" producer Doug Tolmie learned of the story about three weeks before the reunion. He first contacted Rick to get his permission to do the story. Permission is granted and Doug sets up an interview at Rick's house three days before the banquet.

He then fires off an e-mail to Dave Muxo telling him about the story and requesting permission. A week goes by and no response from Dave.

Doug asked Rick if he has a phone number for Dave. He doesn't. Another day passes and no response. Doug contacts one of the organizers of the reunion to see if he can confirm Dave will be coming to Seattle. The organizer confirms that Dave plans to arrive. The organizer further confirms that he and other members of the 35th will support the story and do whatever they can to facilitate it.

On July 24, Doug and photojournalist Bill Strothman interviewed Rick at his home. Additionally, they received several photos including one of Rick looking up at his big brother Bob in uniform. Other poignant photos show Bob and his mom.

The following day, Doug got a call from one of the reunion organizers that Dave is expected to arrive by noon. A meeting with Dave is set for 3 p.m. that afternoon at the Doubletree Inn near Sea-Tac Airport. Doug arrives at 3, but Dave is a no-show. He still hasn't arrived.

The next morning, Doug gets the call that Dave has finally arrived and a meeting is set for 2 p.m.

This time, the long-awaited meeting happens. Dave, who works as a computer programmer at Disney World in Orlando and who looks a little like Roy Disney, is happy to do the story and is anxious to meet Rick.

The most pressing remaining question is where to have the meeting happen. Dave is asked if the TV crew wasn't there and Rick arrives Saturday afternoon, where would Rick find Dave?

Dave says he will be next to the hospitality suite on the Penthouse Floor. As the Webmaster for the regiment's Web site, he'll be scanning photographs of men killed in action in Vietnam while serving with the 35th. It's decided that this is the place where the meeting between Rick and Dave will happen.

Following the meeting with Dave, Doug calls Rick to tell him everything is set for Saturday. The interview with Dave will occur at 2 p.m. and Rick is asked to arrive at 4.

Saturday afternoon, Dave is interviewed in the scanning room. The interview is exceptional and emotional for all involved. Dave breaks down a couple of times. During the interview, Doug realizes that the room is not the best place for the meeting between Rick and Dave. It's too sterile and a meeting there just doesn't feel right.

Following the interview, Dave reveals that all the veterans attending the reunion are assembling in the lobby a little after 4 p.m. to take a group photo outside the hotel. Doug decides to seize this unexpected opportunity and to use the assembly in the lobby as the location for the meeting between Rick and Dave.

The mission is to capture an exceptionally private moment in a public place filled with more than a hundred veterans and their families.

Rick pages Doug to tell him he has arrived and is waiting in the bar. Doug tells Dave to head down for the group photo and Rick will find him.

Doug and Bill Strothman beat Dave to the lobby and find Rick waiting in the bar. They put a wireless mike on Rick and tell him the plan has changed for the meeting. Instead of meeting Dave upstairs near the hospitality room, Rick will have to find Dave in the lobby amongst all the veterans waiting to take the group photo.

Bill and Doug follow Rick as he heads to the lobby where more than a hundred veterans have gathered. Each is a wearing a nametag.

Rick walks around searching. Occasionally he asks if anyone has seen Dave Muxo. A couple of veterans say they most recently saw Dave upstairs in the hospitality room and that he's probably somewhere in the lobby waiting for the group photo.

Rick searches for a couple of minutes. To cut to the chase, Bill positions himself next to Dave and subtly indicates with his camera that Dave is next to him. It's too subtle for Rick. Finally, Doug gently points Rick in the right direction.

Rick sees Dave's nametag and immediately gives a bear hug to the man who has endured more than 30 years of guilt over Bob Clements' death. The poignant moment is captured. Mission accomplished. More than 30 years of bitterness meets more than 30 years of guilt. And a new life-long friendship is formed.

When people see this story on television in November 2002, they will see this incredible moment and they will think the story is over. But it isn't. For something even more extraordinary happened that Saturday.

When Doug and Bill found Rick waiting for them in the bar, they were surprised to discover that Rick had brought an unexpected guest. His mom, Helen.

Though Helen wanted to go with Rick to find Dave in the lobby, Doug, recognizing that there were now two poignant and important moments to capture, asked her to remain behind. Doug asked Rick to bring Dave to her.

As poignant as the meeting was between Rick and Dave, the meeting between Dave and Helen was more important. Why? When military personnel are under fire and the only thoughts are those of surviving to go home, most who are not married think first and foremost of going home to their mom. Girlfriends, fathers, brothers and sisters are important. But none can compare to the need to see mom.

When moms lose sons in combat, everyone feels their pain. For anyone who saw "Saving Private Ryan" who can forget the indelible scene where a mom watched three Army staff cars drive up her dusty farm road to bring the shattering news three of her boys wouldn't be coming home.

Thirty years of bitterness and 30 years of guilt were all resolved instantly when a mom told a former Army sergeant that her son's death wasn't his fault.





Website Development ©2002-2020 T. M. Taricco.
Website owned by .