Finding the face of Milford soldier

Roger McAllister’s fellow soldiers knew he wasn’t well. Ants crawled over his face, and his helmet tipped forward off his head.

It was more than 100 steamy degrees in the Vietnam jungle where Sgt. McAllister had been dropped to help prepare a landing area for U.S. helicopters. The battalion, led by a Viet Cong defector, was out of water, and legendary Associated Press photojournalist Horst Fass was there to record the story.

"I can carry on," the Army paratroooper reportedly said before he collapsed. Minutes later, he stirred and said, "Just imagine, there’s snow now in New Hampshire."

McAllister was airlifted out of the jungle to receive medical care and went back into service after he recovered.

About five weeks later, on Mother’s Day 1965, he was shot and killed during combat.

Part of the 82nd Airborne Division, McAllister was a 24-year-old Army ranger from Milford who specialized in working with radios and was part of the U.S. Army Special Forces, the beginning of the Green Berets. His name is etched on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C, along with the names of the more than 58,000 other men and women who died in Vietnam, including three other men from Milford.

Now, the organization that built the memorial more than three decades ago is planning to build an education center behind it and fill it with photos – at least one picture for each soldier.

There are photos for three of those Milford men: Dennis Lorden, Allen Brackins and William D. Shinn III. But until recently, there was no image for McAllister, who was born in Rochester and lived in Milford most of his life. He left Milford High School before graduating to join the Army and is buried in Milford’s Riverside Cemetery.

Herb Reckinger, of Minnesota, is working with the "Faces Never Forgotten" project, which aims to connect photos, faces and stories with the more than 58,000 names etched on the memorial, which many people simply call The Wall.

The 62-year-old volunteer with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund picture project said he came up empty-handed in his search for McAllister’s family members.

Then he emailed The Cabinet, and we contacted Polly Cote, of the Milford Historical Society, who gave us the name of Kevin Taylor, McAllister’s nephew. Taylor connected us with Gary McAllister, Roger’s son, who is now living in Concord. Another son, Roger James III, died in 2003.

Gary, who was 31/2 when his father died, was happy to share photos and memoribilia with Reckinger and the Vietnam Veterans’ picture project.

Among the news clippings is a photo of Gary as a little boy, with his mother and brother, receiving his father’s posthumous Bronze Start Medal.

His father had intended to make his life in the military, Gary said, and his death came during fighting west of Saigon near the Cambodian border. At 6 feet tall and Caucasian, his father made an easy target.

The point of the Education Center’s picture project is to show "not only the names on The Wall, but also the faces behind the names," said Reckinger, who servied in the Naval Reserve in the 1970s.

"My admiration is deep for the soldiers who served, whether they made it home or not," he said. "I feel that this is the best way to help remember the men and women who served in Vietnam."

At 24, McAllister was older than most of the soldiers who died, Reckinger said.

"From what I have read, he must have been nice young man a and a good soldier," Reckinger said.

McAllister was one of 226 men from New Hampshire who died in the war, and the project still needs photos for 70 of them "to make sure future generations never forget," he said.

He searches for clues that can lead to pictures from family members, friends, librarians, historical societies, newspapers, churches, funeral homes, cemeteries and fellow servicemen. The schools and former schools they attended, their address or neighborhood can all lead to a picture.

All 1,075 Minnesota soldiers now have at least one picture thanks to volunteers’ efforts, but the project is still missing photos for about 13,000 American soldiers.

Anyone who thinks they can help can email Reckinger at nreckinger@msn.com.

"Mailed pictures will be back in the mail the day I receive them," he said. "Spreading the word about this little known project only increases the awareness for the men and women who gave so much."

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.