Missouri soldier's name misspelled on Vietnam Memorial

Wednesday, January 4, 2012 | 3:47 p.m. CST

SPRINGFIELD — Steve Phillips of Bentonville, Ark., was overcome with emotion Tuesday when he learned that two soldiers were trying to correct a decades-old error on behalf of the father he never met.

Phillips' father, Stephen Hiett Phillips, was 23 when he was reported killed in action on July 18, 1965 — two days after arriving in Vietnam and 43 days before his son was born.

Although his name is correct on the Springfield National Cemetery headstone that marks where he rests, Phillips' first name is inscribed as "SHEPHEN" on the black granite wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

For years, Steve tried to get his father's misspelled name corrected, to no avail. Learning that others have been making a similar effort meant a lot.

It meant even more to learn their efforts might pay off and that a change to the memorial's website has already been made.

"It makes me feel proud that the guys thought that much of my dad," he said when reached at home.

Larry Thompson and Pete Neumann, who served in Phillips' regiment, were appalled to learn of the error, repeated on various websites and copies of the Wall.

It appears to stem from a list of Vietnam war dead dating to January 1967.

"One doesn't honor a person by misspelling their name," Pete Neumann said. He had contacted a variety of federal agencies and nonprofits in an effort to correct the error — an effort that, like Phillips' son Steve, he found frustrating.

In the digital realm, at least, a correction came quickly as a result of the soldiers' efforts and a Springfield News-Leader's story.

Staff from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund called the News-Leader on Tuesday to say the misspelling of Stephen H. Phillips' name has been corrected in the group's online database.

"We have made the change on our website, so 'Shephen' is now 'Stephen,'" said Lee Allen, VVMF's director of communications.

A search at now displays the correct spelling of Phillips' first name.

When reached at his home in West Virginia, Thompson was happy to learn about the online change.

"It makes me feel good," he said. "If they made a change on (the virtual wall), that would be a 90 percent improvement."

Allen said he couldn't comment about whether changes to the physical wall are possible. But he offered the VVMF's help in trying to correct the official record kept by the Department of Defense.

"We don't have any control over the DOD's records, ... but we would be very happy, as the VVMF, to request changes on somebody's behalf," he said.

Allen said such changes typically require a request by a family member and appropriate documentation, possibly explaining the difficulty Neumann experienced trying to correct the misspelling.

"It's not something that Mr. Neumann could do on behalf of someone who he is not next of kin to," he said.

Allen also invited Phillips' friends and family to submit a photo of the soldier for inclusion on the group's website and for future display at the education center planned next to the memorial.

"We want to honor Sgt. Phillips ... and celebrate him any way we can," Allen said.


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