GORHAM (AP) – A Gorham man whose only brother was killed in action in Vietnam nearly 40 years ago will be escorting a replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall as it arrives Tuesday in South Portland.

Steve Roberts has also set out on a mission to learn more about the circumstances surrounding the death of Marine Pfc. John Roberts near Con Thien. He is looking for Marines who can tell him about his brother’s last days and plans a trip to Vietnam to visit the battlefield.

“I need to know what happened,” Roberts said. “I just would feel more complete. You wonder, what tree was he under when he died? Was he in a field or a foxhole?”

Roberts also served in the Marines and begged to be sent to Vietnam to fight the same enemy that killed his brother. But as the family’s sole surviving son, he was assigned to Cuba and the Panama Canal instead.

As he started a family, Roberts tried to put the pain of John’s death behind him. He always displayed photographs of his brother, but it was only when he learned that the memorial wall replica was coming to South Portland that he decided to set out on a quest for answers.

“The family and I are privileged that the wall is coming here,” said Roberts, who will serve as a guide to visitors at the 240-foot wall. On Wednesday he will join his mother at a private service Wednesday to place his brother’s Purple Heart on a special spot on the wall.

The opening ceremony for the wall will be Friday and include a Navy flyover and remarks by Gov. John Baldacci. The closing ceremony will be Sunday.

As he prepared for the wall to arrive, Roberts talked with other veterans and began to take a hard look at his brother’s death and the war itself. He is doing research, contacting people who might have answers, and planning his trip to Vietnam.

Roberts learned only recently that his brother had died while defending a bridge that was a Marine supply line to Con Thien. He is awaiting delivery of a book about the combat operation and is searching the Internet for his brother’s Marine buddies.

Friends, Vietnam veterans and Roberts’ 7-year-old grandson, Steven Johnathan Ambrose, plan to ride in a motorcycle brigade that will escort the truck carrying the replica wall to Maine.

“I believe he is going to be the only child riding,” Roberts said of his grandson, who takes his middle name from his great-uncle who enlisted in the Marines at age 17.

It was only last year that Roberts visited the original Vietnam Memorial Wall, in Washington, D.C. During the midnight visit, Roberts and his wife also looked at the book of names, listing the more than 58,000 Americans killed. The book was already open to the page that includes John Roberts.

“That was amazing,” Steve Roberts said. “It took me a few years to get the courage to go down there.”

Embracing the upcoming visit of the replica wall, Roberts helped build the wooden platform at the Spring Point Light Shoreway, a trail on the campus of Southern Maine Community College. He camped out at the site Saturday night with other volunteers and military engineers to make sure vandals didn’t wreck the platform.

“We want to make sure it will be ready for the wall,” he said.


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