Special Report: Missing Heroes - KiiiTV.com South Texas, Corpus Christi, Coastal Bend

Special Report: Missing Heroes

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CORPUS CHRISTI (Kiii News) -

One local man has made it his personal mission to put a face to the names of all 212 service men and women from the Coastal Bend who were killed in the Vietnam War.

Ram Chavez leads the Corpus Christi Veteran's Band. He served as a medic in Vietnam and now spends his time gathering evidence of the lives of those servicemen to add to a new Washington memorial.

"It will have the faces, the stories," Chavez said. "You'll be able to go and find someone and see their picture, and their families will submit other pictures and show their lives -- in the band, played football, whatever -- and learn more about the faces and names on the wall."

He's talking about the new Education Center at the Wall in Washington D.C., which is expected to be completed and open next year. The Center will allow visitors to locate an individual veteran by name and introduce you to the photos, letters and memories provided by loved ones.

The new Center is being built under the Wall in Washington D.C. with the entrance located just across the street, and Chavez has been working to collect photos and stories on all those from the Coastal Bend who served and made the ultimate sacrifice.

Through his efforts, Chavez has been able to make contact with the families and friends of 148 of those fallen servicemen, but with a year to go before the Center's opening, Chavez said the response has slowed.

"It's been kind of quiet lately, and we're still short on about 64 for the 12-county area," Chavez said.

Chavez has continued his search for Coastal Bend soldier photos by checking with families of those who have already provided photos to see if they know any of the 64 names whose families have left the area. He said the reaction of those he talks with is one of amazement.

For instance, the sister of Naval Lt. J.G. William Niedecken. "She said, 'I thought that Corpus Christi had forgotten about my brother," Chavez said.

There are many others Chavez speaks with, like the brother of Driscoll MIA Ricardo Garcia, one of our Vietnam vets. At a recent ceremony honoring Garcia, his brother Gilbert talked about what it means to have his brother remembered.

"To know that they're not forgotten," Gilbert Garcia said. "A lot of veterans came back and some did not, but there's people out there that are still missing, and my brother being one of them."

Another at the Driscoll ceremony was helicopter pilot Duane "Tubby" Brudvig, who traveled from Bella Vista, Ark., to speak about his memories of Ricardo.

"Him and I flew missions together, and it was getting toward the end so it was kind of, you know, couldn't wait to get out of there, but it was nice to have a good, reliable guy like Richard with you," Brudvig said. "I wanted to meet the family, and I wanted to get in touch with the area he was from. His family and friends and stuff, and just wanted to get connected."

Photos of Ricardo Garcia have already been sent to the curators of the new Education Center.

There are four Coastal Bend soldiers who remain missing in action, and Chavez wants those in Washington D.C. to continue the search for their remains to bring closure to the families. Besides Ricardo Garcia and William Niedecken, Army Specialist Daniel Jurecko and Army Captain Barry Hilbrich remain unaccounted for as well. Their pictures will also be on the wall of the new Education Center at the Wall.

Chavez said he will continue to look for those families.

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