- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 15, 2016

WOODSTOCK, Ill. (AP) - Ted Biever couldn’t get the seven men who died while fighting in Vietnam off his mind.

So he decided to put them on his SUV.

Biever, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and Lake in the Hills resident, had a decal depicting a section of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall adhered to his vehicle in tribute. The decal highlights the names of the seven men from Biever’s unit who died on Sept. 26, 1968.

“I feel it’s an honor to them - to them and all the men and women that served and got killed in Vietnam,” Biever said. “There are other names on there, different branches of the service - people I didn’t know.”

The men were part of India Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines. Biever, a corporal at the time, said the unit was struck by six short rounds, which wounded him and killed seven from his unit. The deceased, whose names stand out on Biever’s vehicle, were Lance Cpl. Larry Lower, Cpl. Andrew Bukovinsky, Lance Cpl. Jerry Ratliff, Lance Cpl. Randall Olson, Pfc. John Ruscito, Lance Cpl. John Stahl and 1st Lt. Douglas Paige.

More than 5,000 U.S. Marines and 16,500 military personnel in total died in Vietnam in 1968, the most of any year during the war, according to officials with the Vietnam War Memorial Wall.

In all, there were more than 58,000 casualties as a result of the war.

Those who died Sept. 26, 1986, are commemorated on section 42 west of the wall, which is the section that spans the entirety of Biever’s 2014 Dodge Durango SUV.

“How important is it to honor them?” Biever asked from his office at the Illinois Army National Guard armory. “It’s very important. Them guys lost their lives for us. They were my buddies, and I think about them all the time.”

On top of the flow of names across the side panels, the design includes the image of a purple heart, helicopters, symbols from the American flag and the prisoner of war/missing in action flag. The latter honors Biever’s late father, who he said was a prisoner of war for two years in World War II.

This wasn’t Biever’s first venture into making his vehicle a symbol of the pride and respect born out of his military service. His old pickup truck, a fixture at local veterans’ events and parades, had the U.S. Marine Corps insignia on it.

When time came to get a new vehicle, he knew he wanted to continue honoring veterans.

“I wanted to do something different,” Biever said.

He turned to the experts at Road Rage Designs in Spring Grove, a shop that touts its custom vehicle and boat wraps and graphics.

Road Rage co-owner Kris Harris said her business is gaining a reputation for wraps that honor the military. A semi-tractor the company designed and installed commemorating Purple Heart recipients recently won the people’s choice award at the Mid-America Trucking Expo, which bills itself as the largest annual heavy-duty trucking industry event in the world.

It took about a month to finalize the artwork for Biever’s vehicle, and a little longer than a day to finish the customization, Harris said. The wrap cost him about $3,000.

The shop has reason to be supportive of veterans. The co-owner and another employee are veterans, and Harris’ fiancé is on active duty for the U.S. Air Force.

“We really have a lot of feelings for our military,” Harris said.

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