Texas Tech University associate professor Dr. Brian Nutter thought Steve Winch of Morenci might be surprised to know he’s on display in a military museum in Vietnam.
Steve wasn’t surprised at all. He’s heard the story before.
“I just got back from Khe Sahn, Vietnam,” Dr. Nutter wrote in a letter to the Observer. “I saw a U.S. military ID in a museum there of Stephen C. Winch.”
The identification card lists Steve’s Social Security Number, which also served as his Service Number. A little sleuthing by Dr. Nutter led to Steven Winch in Morenci.
Dr. Nutter wasn’t the first American museum visitor to make an inquiry about Steve. Several others have contacted him in the last year or so.
“It was a surprise to me, too,” Steve said about the first time he heard the story. “I lost my military ID card, probably running away from rockets. Somebody probably found it in a rice paddy.”
Steve said his first nine months in Vietnam, starting in 1970, were spent in the infantry. He said in the latter part of a soldier’s tour, an “easier” job was often assigned and Steve drove a truck for his final five months.
“I think I got shot at more in the truck than in the infantry,” he said.
The Marine base at Khe Sahn was the site of a major battle in 1968, when Steve was still in high school, and the base was closed that year.
Three years later it was reopened to serve as a logistics center for the invasion of Laos. Steve drove supplies from Quang Tri, near the coast, along Highway 9 to Khe Sahn.
Three days before his departure from Vietnam, he was encouraged to stay a little longer.
“They wanted me to go back up there and get my sergeant stripes, but I wanted to go home,” he said.
Dr. Nutter said the museum holding Steve’s ID is an interesting place, with plenty of propaganda showing the Vietnamese view of the conflict.
In addition to the museum, there’s a reproduced bunker and a few static displays, along with a pile of U.S. gear.
“The runway is now a coffee plantation and hard to identify from the ground,” Dr. Nutter wrote.
Steve might get the ID card back in his possession some day, or at least have it removed from display. The people Dr. Nutter traveled with in Vietnam are acquainted with the American ambassador and he thinks it would be worth a try to ask for removal of the card.
Eventually, those phone calls and letters to Steve will come to a halt if the face of that 20-year-old soldier disappears from view in Khe Sahn.