The name of Pat Wiggins won't be among the 364 inscribed on Utah's memorial to its Vietnam War dead. After all, he made it home alive and died in Denver, not the Mekong Delta.
But his family sees him as no less a casualty of the war, mortally wounded by the guilt that drove him to suicide five years to the day after his Army unit's murderous pass through an enemy village."All down through family history we've gone to war," says Wiggins' mother, Charlotte Wilson. "We've always said, `God first and country second.' "
On Monday she will attend groundbreaking ceremonies for the Vietnam memorial on the State Capitol grounds at 2 p.m., much as she honors her ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War. But she feels a nagging pain for her son and others like him.
"They were every bit as much a victim of the war and they ought to be recognized," she said. "It seems like they suffered even more than those who died over there."
Ferrel Blaine Wiggins Jr., nicknamed "Pat," was the only son of a career Army master sergeant. At the relatively advanced age of 27 - too old to be drafted - he volunteered for reasons of patriotism and family tradition for a war he didn't really believe in.
Fresh out of Brigham Young University, a political science graduate, he was an accomplished debater, a reader, a thinker. More pacifist than warrior, he envisioned a political career.
"He was a real gentle person," said his widow, Jeanette Wiggins of Belen, N.M. "He didn't like any hunting or killing of any sort. He didn't even like to go fishing."
With his spit-and-polish background, Wiggins took his military training seriously, winning soldier-of-the-month honors before being assigned in April 1968 to the 9th Infantry Division in the Mekong Delta.
A few months later, his hometown newspaper, The Daily Herald in Provo, published a letter Wiggins wrote in response to a young girl's letter to the troops. His unease was apparent.
"I want you to understand that we are just a bunch of scared young men who want very desperately to come home and in one piece," he wrote. "We don't want to be here and it seems that most people, both Vietnamese and American, don't want us here either, but we were sent here with a job to do, and with or without their help we are going to do it."
When his tour of duty completed in the spring of 1969, Wiggins returned to a family that didn't know him. "My first thought when I saw him was total shock - the weight he had lost and the look in his eyes," said his sister, Nedra Riley.
He couldn't sit still and aimlessly walked the streets of Provo. He didn't talk much about the war, but when he did it was evident he felt guilty to be alive.
She urged him to come to Denver and meet her best friend, Jeanette. They were married a year later in 1971, a few months after he'd shown her an old newspaper clipping about a bloody operation he'd been part of in the Delta on Dec. 18, 1968.
"He and his unit were ordered to go in and shoot anything that moved - man, woman or child," she said.
For awhile things went well. Wiggins was a reserve Denver police officer and sold life insurance, a job he hated because he knew many of his customers couldn't afford the policies he pitched them.
But early in 1973, for no apparent reason, he began to lose sleep and act despondent, drinking more and more and staying in bed.
On the night of Dec. 18, 1973, as Jeanette made Christmas presents, her husband "hugged me and told me that he was going to do something where I wouldn't have to be burdened the rest of my life. But he wouldn't explain what he meant by that."
He went back into their darkened bedroom until she, alarmed at his silence, entered to find him holding a gun. She tried to take it away but he pushed her to the hallway floor and, without a word, shot himself in the head.
A chance occurrence later that night revealed a motive.
"I found the newspaper clipping going through his wallet for identification for the authorities," she said. "And that's when I knew it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with Vietnam."
Within two years Wiggins' grief-stricken father was dead. "He wouldn't be comforted. He just drank himself to death. He just cried and sobbed," said Wiggins' mother, who suffered a nervous breakdown.
Jeanette Wiggins, 40, plans a return to nursing school. She has never remarried and doesn't expect to. "I still love him," she said.
Nedra Riley works at a detoxification center and sees many veterans not unlike her brother.
"That guy had everything in the world to live for and he just wasn't the same person when he got back," she said. "I'd like to see his name some day up on some wall.
"I think he's earned it."