WASHINGTON - It's considered an honor to read the names of service members who gave their lives during the Vietnam War. Volunteers gather every year at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, also known as The Wall, to read the names of more than 58,000 veterans who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
On Friday, one of those names, Gumecindo De La Rosa, was read aloud by a man who had never been in D.C. before but shared the exact same name: he was the fallen soldier's nephew.
De La Rosa walked up the steps and onto the stage clutching the names of the fallen in his hands. It was a proud and humbling moment for an Army veteran who had never paid tribute to his uncle at the wall.
“It means a lot to carry his name now that I am older,” De La Rosa said. “It's a unique name. A lot of people don't have it, but now that I am older I say it with pride."
De La Rosa's uncle was killed in a firefight in Quang Tri Province on Nov. 12, 1969. The machine gunner engaged the enemy after jumping off a helicopter and was killed along with the medic who came to help. He was just 19 years old.
"I've been lost for words since I got to D.C. and I put my hand on his name on the wall,” De La Rosa said. “I'm just glad somebody from our family was able to read his name off in front of all these people who were here today.”
De La Rosa said his heart was in his throat when he saw his uncle's name. Per tradition for many families, the De La Rosa family made an etching of the name on Panel 16 West.
"I heard his story my whole life and then to see not only his name but my reflection off that wall it was a feeling like he was present, like something was there. Everyone told me leading up to that wall, ‘you’re going to feel it,’ and it got me,” De La Rosa explained.
Every Memorial Day, De La Rosa, his wife, family and friends honor his uncle by walking the 22 miles in Riviera, Texas from the park named in his uncle's honor to the American Legion Post where De La Rosa gives an American flag to someone deserving. Last year, it was to a gold star family he didn't even know was on the march.