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A Name on the Wall
William Nack
July 23, 2001
Bob Kalsu had just finished a stellar rookie year in the NFL when he chose to serve in Vietnam—and became the only U.S. pro athlete to die there
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July 23, 2001

A Name On The Wall

Bob Kalsu had just finished a stellar rookie year in the NFL when he chose to serve in Vietnam—and became the only U.S. pro athlete to die there

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She did not have a serious relationship with a man until the mid-'80s, when she began seeing Bob McLauchlin, an Oklahoma businessman. In 1986 they visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. They found Kalsu's name on the wall, and McLauchlin shared Jan's bereavement. They married in 1988. Last fall McLauchlin took Jill and Bob Jr. to a reunion of Ripcord survivors in Shreveport, La. Her children persuaded Jan not to go. They didn't want to see her cry as she had for so many years.

Jill and Bob Jr. have suffered a keen ambivalence for years. From all they have heard about their father from Jan and the Darrow clan, they have grown to love and admire him without having known him. They are proud of all he accomplished and the honorable way he conducted his life, but they are angry at him too. They grew up fatherless, after all, having to comfort a lonely, grieving mother whose pain and struggles continually touched them.

The children turned out well. Jill, outgoing and warm, is a housewife in Oklahoma City, the mother of three with a fourth on the way. Bob, soft-spoken and reflective, is an aviation lawyer in Oklahoma City and the father of two. Asked what he would say to his father, Bob says, "I would embrace him and tell him I love him. It would not be derogatory, and it would not be mean, but I would ask him, 'Did you fully contemplate the consequences of your decision? I feel like I lost out, and I wish you had not made the decision to go.' " Bob Jr. considers what he's said for a moment, then goes on: "I'm equally proud he made the decision. That's the kind of man I want to be, to have the integrity that he had." That, of course, is the rub. Bob Kalsu made that decision precisely because he was the kind of man he was.

All who knew him remember him in different ways. The clan, as a family man. The football players, as a tough jock. Then there are those who knew Kalsu on that terrible hill. They have the most painful and poignant memories of him. Fotias has trouble talking about Kalsu, his voice soft and filled with sorrow. So does Renner. He walked over to Kalsu's body lying outside the bunker and peered into his motionless face. He would see that face for years. Now, however, "I can't see the face anymore," Renner says. "I can see his silhouette. I can't see a lot of their faces, only their silhouettes."

Renner is having trouble getting out the words. They come in a whisper. "I've thought of him every Memorial Day," he says. "In my heart, I pay homage to him. And Johnson. They are all very important." He closes his eyes and bows his head and quietly weeps.

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