A billboard-sized painting honoring American soldiers in Vietnam is soon to be displayed at the Veterans Administration Medical Center.

"Oh, I think it's fantastic, one of the neatest things I've ever seen," said Robert Schneiter, the medical center's associate director. "It's extremely impressive."The artist, Ron Escudero, said that although Utah remains one of the last few states lacking a Vietnam War memorial, this is a positive step toward recognition of veterans.

Escudero, a Vietnam veteran who lives in Kearns, worked on the 10-by-20-foot painting for a year and a half. It needs only the completion of a stand to be installed.

"The engineers are working on it right now," he said.

The view - in which a soldier holds a wounded friend while another stands guard - eventually will be installed on top of a one-story building now under construction.

Around Dec. 12, the painting will be put up on scaffolding and illuminated by lights. It will remain near the construction site between six months and a year, until the construction of the small building is complete. Then it will be moved to the top of the building.

Help for the project came from the Vietnam Veterans Outreach Center, 1354 E. 33rd South. People associated with the center collected donations that were used to buy materials for the billboard-sized art. Escudero donated his time and talent.

Also, he said, military units allowed him to study equipment and supplied models. Vietnam veterans were models for the men in the painting.

One of the picture's subjects looks a lot like Escudero himself. "Well,

people say there's a guy that looks like me," he laughed, "but it wasn't intentional."

Not that he couldn't justifiably be in such a painting. In 1968 and '69, he served in Vietnam, Companies H and S, First Marine Division. They were stationed at Red Beach, just north of DaNang, an isolated American outpost.

"We got hit a lot, by mostly 122 rockets and 61mm mortars," he said. "I went on patrols and recon (reconnaissance); that was frequently."

When he wasn't out patrolling, he was on perimeter guard.

"We got hit two or three times a week sometimes," he said. But that would not happen every week. "It was very sporadic."

The painting shows a perimeter view. Escudero conceded, "The jungle's pulled in for aesthetics, because it was usually cleared for about a click (1,000 yards) out."

Escudero has captured a moment that might have happened shortly after a firefight, "just a split second of reflection by the main character."

Meanwhile, a lieutenant walks along with his clipboard to "write down the casualty report."

The med-evac helicopter "kind of symbolizes hope. Then there's a Cobra (helicopter) gunship that's just coming in off the line." A few soldiers are returning from a night patrol, and smoke shows where they fought the enemy.

Among the painting's exacting details are the C-rations, a cockroach in a sugar packet, expended ammunition and clips for the M-60 rifle. "There's a fly inside a spaghetti can, C-rat (ration) can. It's called spaghetti with meat sauce . . . my favorite."

Escudero won the 1983 Utah Arts Festival billboard exhibit. Some of his watercolors of the Vietnam War were purchased last year for the VA Medical Center, 500 Foothill Blvd..

The late actor Richard Burton owned one of his paintings, Clint Eastwood has one and Bob Hope has a veterans' ring he designed.

Escudero is president of the Prisoners of War-Missing in Action Association of Utah. Before he moved here from Southern California, he painted billboards on Sunset Boulevard, enlarging designs from record albums.

He is attending classes at Westminster College, working toward his teaching certificate in art. "Got a couple, three years to go," I think. Last month he won the college's Christmas card competition.