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Fallen soldier from Glendale honored with gravestone 50 years after his death in Vietnam

For decades after his death in the Vietnam War, Allan Altieri's resting place lay bare with no grave marker.

But on Friday, exactly half a century after he was killed, his family, friends and several fellow soldiers gathered at the San Fernando Mission Cemetery to commemorate the installation of a new bronze headstone.

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An Army private first class, Altieri was a local resident who had graduated from Glendale High School.

His family was so distraught after his death that they moved to the East Coast and intentionally left his grave unmarked, said childhood friend and classmate David Persson.

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It wasn't until last year that Persson found out there was no marker and told Altieri's sister, who lives in North Carolina. She gave him her blessings to order one, courtesy of the Veterans Administration.

Persson said the effort wasn't about closure, but rather survivor's guilt.

"It's the duty of all of us who return to remember our fallen heroes who served their country so valiantly and gave the ultimate sacrifice," he said Friday. He was surrounded by other veterans, including those of the 35th Infantry Regiment, Altieri's outfit.

Altieri was given many honors after his death, including the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for valor, both of which are noted on his marker.

Persson remembered Altieri as a good friend with a sense of humor who wrote him twice during the war.

He's getting what he died for -- his honors.


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Back in Glendale, Altieri's family owned the since-closed Roxy Cinema, where Persson got his first job.

Richard Hunter, a combat veteran who served with Altieri, remembered the day he died.

He said Altieri was part of a battle in Pleiku Province, where his party was greatly outnumbered, but continued to fight.

When his body was found, Altieri's finger was still on the trigger of his machine gun, Hunter said.

Hunter spoke of how young he and many other men were at the time.

"Allan and I were the same age," he said. "I graduated high school in 1964; I was 19 years old when this happened. We were children. I don't wish that upon anybody."

Barbara Neff, Altieri's sister, was presented with an American flag from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) that had been flown over the U.S. Capitol.

For Neff, Friday's ceremony was almost déjà vu because it reminded her of her brother's funeral. But she pointed out a key difference.

"It's as though we buried him 50 years ago, but without the military here to honor him. That wasn't thought of at the time, it was just family friends," Neff said.

Having fellow veterans at Altieri's freshly placed marker and saluting him was a long time coming, she said.

"I never expected all of this, he's getting what he died for — his honors," Neff said.

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Arin Mikailian, arin.mikailian@latimes.com

Twitter: @ArinMikailian

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