Friend traveled from Rome
Published 12:00 am Monday, May 2, 2011
By Joanie Morris
For the Salisbury Post
KANNAPOLIS — Nick Di Benedetto first met Donald Monroe Shue in 1966. He was in the United States, a young man from Rome, Italy, touring. The family that had sponsored him took him to visit a coffee shop.
There, he met a young man named Donnie who was not put off by his broken English. They talked, and met again the next day.
“It happened just like that,” said Di Benedetto. “I really did like that young man.”
The young Italian talked extensively with Shue, and at one point, the subject turned to the war with Vietnam.
“I remember asking him about what he thought about the war in Vietnam,” said Di Benedetto, who recalls parts, but not all, of the conversations with Shue since he only partly understood English. “He looked at me with a strange smile. That I recall very well.”
He bid Shue ciao and went home. He thought of Shue often, a lasting impression of a young man with an infectious smile. He always thought Shue would end up joining the military, and perhaps even fighting in Vietnam.
One day, in the late 1980s, Di Benedetto came across a Web site, www.virtualwall.org.
“I decided to look at it, really hoping I didn’t find (Donnie),” he said. “But I did. I made a promise to myself not to forget those people.”
He commissioned a gold flag pin, and etched onto it, the words “I remember.” That, he says, has become his life’s mission. To never forget people like Shue.
“If when I get older, I lose those memories, I want to die,” he said.
He became close with Staff Sgt. John Meyer (ret.), who served in Vietnam and met Shue shortly.
Meyer later wrote about the secret war he, Shue and other soldiers fought in, called “On the Ground: The Secret War in Vietnam.” Di Benedetto and Meyer have met several times, and became close friends.
In November 2009, Di Benedetto petitioned the government in Laos to allow him to fly over the location where Shue had gone missing. By December, his request had been granted.
It was on Dec. 14 that he flew over the approximate location where Shue’s body may have been located.
The MIA bracelet with Shue’s name, rank and date of disappearance was on his wrist when he flew over. He took the bracelet off and dropped it from the air into the jungle.
He later purchased a new bracelet, which he gave to Shue’s nephew, Mickey Jones, on Sunday at the graveside service.
The helicopter he had hired, along with a translator, landed in near a small village. Greeted by the native villagers there, Di Benedetto asked if this was the village that he had researched on the Internet and learned it was near where Shue had died.
He learned that while that village had been deserted, the villagers were from that village.
He scooped up some dirt from the location, as well as picked up some rocks. He wears them around his neck and at the service Sunday, he gave Shue’s sister Betty Jones one of the rocks from the location in Laos .
In March, while driving down the road in Rome, Di Benedetto received an email from Meyer.
“Unbelievable. I had to drive to the side of the road,” said Di Benedetto.
At that moment, Di Benedetto knew he had to travel to North Carolina again, to complete the circle that began when he met Shue in 1966.
He traveled close to 5000 miles to pay his respects, and to make sure that families like Shue’s know that the sacrifice made is one that is not forgotten.