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During the Vietnam War there was no overriding reason to keep close track of names of the men and women who died as a result of military service in the war zone. When, a decade after the withdrawal of US forces, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was approved for construction, the service branches went back through their records to identify our dead by name. Inevitably some men who should have been on the "Wall" were not, and others who shouldn't have been were.
Over the years additional names have been inscribed on the Wall - some were men who died as a result of wounds, and others were men whose names were overlooked in earlier years.
Peter Otto Holcomb's name does not appear on the Wall - but it should.
When USS MAHAN departed San Diego for duty in the Western Pacific, Holcomb was a member of the "black gang" - the ship's engineers. Holcomb was "striking" for rating as a Boiler Technician, and with the other members of the Engineering Department he spent part of his duty time engaged in engineering plant maintainance. One particularly necessary job - a very dirty one, too - was cleaning the firesides of the boilers and stacks. Stack cleaning was accomplished using live steam and water - equipped with a high-pressure hose, you climbed up within the stack and sprayed the interior to break up and wash off carbon deposits.
On the night of 12/13 March 1966, as the MAHAN steamed through the Gulf of Tonkin on one plant, BTFN Holcomb climbed into the forward stack to clean it. While he was engaged in this task the steam/water line ruptured, filling the stack with scalding water and suffocating steam. Unable to escape, BTFN Holcomb died in the accident.
Almost 40 years later a researcher, Robert Sage, found a file in the LBJ Presidential Library that included the Letter of Condolences sent to Petty Officer Holcomb's family. When Robert realized that Holcomb had died in the Gulf of Tonkin but was absent from the Wall he initiated action. One result of Robert's action was the location of several of Holcomb's shipmates - men who had not forgotten Peter Holcomb and who did not realize his name was not on the Wall.
The casualty database contains the names of eleven men who died on 13 March 1966. Those names appear on Panel 06E, lines 002 to 005. There should be twelve names there.
Peter Otto Holcomb's name isn't on the Wall yet, and may never be - but he is remembered by the men with whom he served.
NOTE: Peter Holcomb was added to the Wall in May 2011.