Forty years ago, Army Spc. Ronald P. Schworer of Rancho High School was crossing a river in South Vietnam's Mekong Delta with his 9th Infantry Division platoon when a gunner aboard a low-flying U.S. helicopter opened fire, mistaking them for Viet Cong.
No one was hit by the spray of bullets but in the confusion, Schworer, who didn't know how to swim, apparently lost his grip on the rope he was holding attached to a rubber raft and drowned.
His body was never found despite repeated dives by the 2nd Platoon's leader, Jack Benedick.
"There were no holes in the raft and no blood. Nothing," said Benedick, his platoon leader from Omaha, Neb., and one of several in the unit who came to Rancho High School in Las Vegas on Tuesday to honor him and 23 others from the school who died during the Vietnam War.
"He must have rolled off," said Benedick, who later stepped on a mine on his second tour in Vietnam and lost both legs below his knees.
"I told the guys if he opens up on us again, shoot him down," he said about the helicopter that didn't come back.
The 24 from Rancho High were the most from any high school in the state to die while serving during the war. They represented one out of every six of the 150 from Nevada who died in Vietnam.
Members of Charlie Company of the 9th Infantry Division's 4th Battalion, 47th Infantry, who were attending a reunion in Las Vegas, joined Robert Chesto, Rancho's principal and a Vietnam War veteran himself, in honoring the school's war dead.
A black granite Wall of Honor in the shape of Nevada bears their names in symbolic fashion of the more than 58,000 on the wall in Washington, D.C., that's dedicated to those who were killed in the war.
After the new Rancho High School opened last year, Chesto wanted to do something special for the fallen Vietnam War vets whose plastic name plates were displayed in the old school's gym.
"I had a thought one night to have the names displayed on black granite," he said.
He said Bill Snyder, another veteran whose company built the new school, donated about $15,000 in time, labor and materials to erect the granite slab etched with the names.
Bill Reynolds of Valencia, Calif., and a member of Charlie Company, who helped organize Tuesday's event, remembered the time at Fort Riley, Kan., when Schworer found out his father had passed away.
Because he was the sole surviving man in his family, Benedick told him he didn't have to go to Vietnam with the other draftees.
"Ron said to Jack, 'I'm going anyway because we've trained together, and we're all family,' " Reynolds recalled.
Schworer's best friend, from Charlie Company, Willie McTear of Las Vegas, said they were drafted on the same day, May 16, 1966.
"All gave some and some gave all," McTear said at the ceremony. "And Ron is one of the guys who gave all."
He said Schworer was a model soldier who was "always first in the formation and the only one to clean his weapon immediately upon return from a mission."
"Ron, you never ceased to amaze me. ... You are the true and brave patriot. You have paid the ultimate price."
Ralph Christopher, a Navy river patrol boat crewman and author from Henderson, gave credit to the Army's soldiers for helping the so-called "brown water Naval forces" keep the shipping channels open.
"You guys were rushed into service to save our butts," Christopher said.
Then, he read a poem that was written in 1985 by Terry Sater of Tango Boat 6 who was trying to explain to his wife why he couldn't forget "the nightmare of the Mekong, of death, despair and fear."
"The day Terry was married, he thought of his friends who died in the Mekong Delta and what they were missing," Christopher said, reading from his book.
"On the days that his children were born, or when he had a taste of good wine, sat by a fall campfire or watched a Caribbean sunset, he again thought back to his friends and what they were missing.
"For some, we will never forget these silent heroes of our past, and we hope that somehow they know that we did not forget them and will never forget until the day we die. In some small way, this means something to us that served in that forgotten place and survived, and it always will," he said.
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at email@example.com or (702) 383-0308.