There are 14 Americans who could visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, scan the list of war dead carved in black granite and find their own names.
On his first visit to the wall, 20 years after losing part of both legs in Vietnam, Eugene J. Toni discovered that part of the government thought he was killed in action."It was kind of scary," the 41-year-old former Army sergeant said in an interview. "It's like seeing your name on a gravestone."
Toni's name is there because a government clerk typed a wrong number into a computer. All 14 computer records have been corrected, but the names can never be erased from the polished granite.
"It's a very sobering thing," said former Spec. 4 Andrew J. Hilden, who found his name in 1987. "But I guess we have been able to laugh about it - that we've got a walking dead man around."
There are 58,175 names of dead and missing carved on the V-shaped wall. The evidence that it lists 14 living Army veterans as dead was buried in computerized Defense Department records at the National Archives. Only three of those errors have been publicly acknowledged before - four years ago.
The mistakes apparently did not permeate every government computer - those disabled did receive benefit payments.
Four of the 14 were found by The Associated Press.
Toni's journey to the wall began on an October morning in 1970 when he tripped a land mine on a reconnaissance patrol for the 101st Airborne in mountainous jungle west of Hue.
Twenty years later, "I woke up one day and decided I didn't want to be a double amputee any more," he said. "I was tired of it. Every day I've got to strap these wooden legs on. I felt like a prisoner who wasn't getting any time off for good behavior."
He got treatment for posttraumatic stress. Part of that treatment was to visit the wall - just across the Potomac River from his Virginia home - that he had avoided for eight years.
At the memorial one night last March, he flipped through the paperback directory of names on the wall, looking for friends. He turned to the T's in a longshot search for an uncle he never met.
Instead, he found his own name.
Three years earlier in Cambridge, Minn., Andrew Hilden and his wife, Shirley, visited a half-scale touring replica of the wall.
"I spotted the name," Shirley Hilden said. "I shouted, `Your name's on the wall!' and everybody looked. He just couldn't believe it."
Former Pfc. Willard D. Craig got a call from his aunt in 1985 when her daughter found his name. "It was weird," he said. "You can imagine how I felt when my aunt . . . tells me I'm supposed to be dead."
And former Pfc. Darrall E. Lausch heard in 1987 when a relative told his wife that his name was on a list of Michigan war dead in the Detroit News.
At first, Toni told only his psychiatrist and priest, swearing them to secrecy.
"It was like a secret treasure that I knew and no one else did," he said. "I was afraid they were going to take my name off."
Toni, a Navy purchasing manager, later sought an explanation.
"Somebody made a keypunch error transcribing the Army database," he said. "Instead of `21,' someone hit a `51,' " the code for killed instead of wounded.
The names were compiled by government clerks hired by the private Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which paid for the wall and helps maintain it.