NBC News Correspondent
April 28, 2000
Young Americans were paying the ultimate price in Vietnam right up until the final days; and what added to the tragedy is that some were virtually lost in the chaos and the eagerness of America to put Vietnam behind it. But one young hero is finally getting the recognition he deserves.
DARWIN JUDGE was already a hero. There's a park named after him and a place of honor at his high school.
"He was rock stable," said one of his former schoolteachers. "He was the kind of guy America was built around."
An Eagle Scout, he was one of the last Marines to die in combat in Vietnam, killed in action when he was just 19 as enemy shells slammed into Tan Son Nhut Airbase 25 years ago tomorrow.
"If he'd stayed at the embassy like he was supposed to, be on the lookout, he would have been alright," said his mother Ira.
In the chaos of those final days, his body wasn't found and returned home until a year later.
In the bureaucratic confusion, he never got the purple heart nor burial with honors he deserved.
"I love my country but I'm not so sure we have done what we should do to say thank you" said Ken Locke, Judge's boyhood pal.
For nearly 25 years Locke has wanted to pay proper tribute to Darwin Judge.
"He was my hero; I wanted to be like him," Locke said.
A COMMON HERO
He was a hero for others, too. As Saigon fell and thousands tried to flee, Marine Doug Potratz tried frantically to evacuate his three-year-old daughter Becky, but could not until Judge intervened.
"He picked her up, put her on his back, piggyback style, and quick as a bunny ran, ran out to the plane and put her on the plane," Potratz said.
Almost 25 years later, on a website dedicated to the fall of Saigon, Potrata, now in California, wrote about what Judge had done.
Two thousand miles away in Indiana, Ken Locke read the account and contacted Potratz.
Realizing they had a hero in common, the men, after countless phone calls and letters, persuaded the Marines to give Judge a service, Saturday, with full military honors.
It will bring some measure of comfort to Judge's parents.
"When you see so many young people take drugs and do terrible things, it makes you a little proud to have somebody like Darwin," his father Henry said.
Others are still thanking Darwin Judge 25 years later.
Remember that small child he rescued? She went on to graduate, with honors, from the University of Southern California.
"If it wasn't for him, I'd probably still be there instead of here doing what I'm doing now and being who I am," Becky said.
And for anyone who might argue that it's too late now to offer thanks, Darwin Judge's mother has an answer: "It's not too late to thank them and show your appreciation that they were over there to do what they were supposed to do."
Twenty-five years later, Darwin Judge will get what he deserved and those he touched will get what they need.
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