PORTLAND (AP) – Steve Roberts has set out on an emotional journey to a small village in Vietnam near the spot where his older brother was killed in action 40 years ago while serving with the Marines.

“It is basically about closure,” Roberts said Thursday, just prior to his departure. “I was 16 years old. I never really got over it. I think that when I come back, I am going to be a new man. At least I hope so.”

John Roberts was 18 when he was killed Oct. 14, 1967, during Operation Medina, an attempt to drive North Vietnamese forces out of the Hai Lang Forest. He was one of eight service members from the same South Portland High School class to die in the war.

When he got the news, Steve Roberts wanted to avenge his brother’s death. He signed up with the Marines and volunteered to fight in Vietnam, but as a sole surviving son he was assigned elsewhere.

Now, at age 56, Roberts is on a peaceful mission. He will present gifts to Vietnamese children and find the right moment to say a few quiet words to John.

After spending a few days in Thailand, he is scheduled to meet in Vietnam with Carol Lombard Clark of Cape Elizabeth, who was John Roberts’ girlfriend in the summer of 1967. Roberts and Clark will spend the next nine days touring the country.

Clark, who went on to marry and raise three children, could never shake the loss suffered as a teenager and is writing a screenplay based on her experiences. She said she is honored to be making the trip with Steve Roberts, her close friend.

Their tour will include visits to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. They will take river cruises and visit several battle zones and temples. The most important stop for Roberts will be at Hai Son, a village in the Hai Lang Forest.

“I’ve got it pinpointed down, probably within 28 or 30 miles of the site where he was killed,” Roberts said. “I know it’s not realistic to find the foxhole. Being in the village is enough.”

It was only after Roberts and Clark visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., in 2005 and a traveling replica of the memorial made a stop in South Portland a year later that he sought to learn more about John’s death.

“We knew he received a gunshot wound to the head. That is pretty much all we knew for all those years,” Roberts said.

By tracking down Marines from his brother’s unit, Roberts was able to put together some of the details.

“Johnny was digging into a foxhole with another Marine when an NVA soldier crept through the grass and shot him at point blank range,” Roberts said. He is still looking for a Marine who was with John Roberts and, according to a secondhand report, shot the enemy soldier.

“Johnny didn’t suffer. That’s important to me,” Roberts said.

Information from: Portland Press Herald, http://www.pressherald.com

AP-ES-11-30-07 1014EST

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