FENNO: On Veterans Day, remembering an NFL player who sacrificed everything

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The wall pulls you in, each step drawing deeper and deeper in the cavern of polished black granite.

Sunday morning sun reflects off each slab at the Vietnam Memorial and, for a moment, makes the 58,195 chiseled names seem to glow.

Cameras beep. Tour groups chatter in Chinese and Russian. The rumble of a jet arcing into the cloudless sky from Reagan National Airport dulls the conversation on the eve of Veterans Day.

The name is deeper.

Jill Kalsu-Horning, left, and Bob Kalsu Jr., right, pose with their mother, Jan Kalsu McLauchlin, and pictures of Bob Kalsu Sr. and his medals Friday, April 30, 2004 in Edmond, Okla. Kalsu Sr., an All-American lineman at the University of Oklahoma and a Buffalo Bills player, was one of three NFL players to serve in Vietnam, and the only to die in that conflict. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Haderthauer)

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Jill Kalsu-Horning, left, and Bob Kalsu Jr., right, pose with their mother, ... more >

A swirl of wind sends leaves scratching along the path. The sweet smell of late fall mixes with cigarette smoke and wiped-away tears. There is a wreath from West Point’s class of 1956. A map of the Ia Drang Valley. Red, white and blue poppies.

One middle-aged woman stretches upward to make a rubbing of a name.

“He’s from a little town not even on the map,” she says.

A yellow-shirted volunteer reminds the woman to treat the rubbing with hairspray or cooking spray to avoid smears.

Go further, until the wall towers over your head. The trees coated in deep red and yellow and pumpkin orange disappear. The sun is so bright that you can almost see your reflection against the names.

A bunch of wilted red roses rest at the base of panel 8W. So does a white rose wrapped in plastic. Beads of condensation fill the inside. Thirty-eight rows down is James R. Kalsu.

Among the sea of names, among the stories, among the lives cut short is the lone active NFL player to die in Vietnam.

Stand on your toes and you can just run your fingers across the 11 letters of his name.

Men in jean jackets with “Rolling Thunder” emblazoned on the back walk past others wearing hats with the names of long-ago units.

A mortar shell took Bob Kalsu’s life on July 21, 1970, at FSB Ripcord in Thua Thien, Vietnam. The former All-America offensive lineman at the University of Oklahoma played 14 games for the Bills in 1968. A year later, he was in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne.

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