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The Death That Ended His War: 'I Felt That ... I Failed My Family'

Robert Romo and his uncle, Barry Romo.
Robert Romo and his uncle, Barry Romo.

As the youngest in his family, Barry Romo grew up with nephews his age. In fact, one of them, Robert Romo, was just a month younger than him. Barry says that he and Robert were raised like brothers.

Both of them served in the Army during the Vietnam War. But only one of them made it home.

"I enlisted in the Army, to go to Vietnam, that was my intention. And he didn't want to go in the military but he got drafted anyway," Barry recalls on a recent visit with StoryCorps. "They sent him to Vietnam, and he ended up being in my brigade."

Eventually Barry made the rank of first lieutenant — and Robert, as a private first class, begged his uncle to get him out of the field. Barry says he couldn't help.

One day, on a return from patrol, Barry says, he got the news: "They told me, 'Your nephew Robert has been killed. He was running to save a friend of his who had been wounded in battle, and he was shot in the throat.' "

Because enemy fire was so intense, Barry says, the body couldn't be retrieved for 48 hours — during which time it had to sit out in the sun.

A staff sergeant told Barry, "Why don't we seal it permanently? That way your family, they'd remember him as he looked like when he graduated from high school."

Barry Romo (right) and his friend Bill Branson, on a recent visit with StoryCorps.
/ StoryCorps
Barry Romo (right) and his friend Bill Branson, on a recent visit with StoryCorps.

"Which had been only seven months before," Barry says.

He was then told to escort Robert's body home.

"I had white gloves on, and a uniform with my medals, but I felt dirty," Barry says. "You know, I thought I was gonna die in Vietnam. But I didn't have to go back there. I had my ticket punched by my nephew's blood."

After escorting his nephew's body home, Barry Romo was assigned to a post in the U.S. He couldn't get his nephew out of Vietnam, Barry says, but his nephew got him out of Vietnam.

"And I felt that I failed him, I failed my family," Barry says. "I still feel guilty to this day."

Produced for Morning Edition by Jud Esty-Kendall.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org .

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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