Posted: 11:05 p.m.
Shayne Graham, the most accurate kicker of his generation, hit the sweet spot again a few weeks ago when he was trying to think up a birthday present for his dad.
In order to brainstorm, he asked Tom Graham to send him the dog tags he wore in Vietnam. But those shiny, tiny love letters to a country turned, instead, into a gift for the Cincinnati community and America when his son created the commemorative Matt Maupin dog tags to honor the Clermont County soldier whose name, rank and serial number have become lasting legacies of the war after Vietnam.
Shayne Graham unveiled his idea Wednesday on a night when he emotionally kicked off Maupin's final homecoming as the surprise guest at the Let Us Never Forget Scholarship Dinner at The Oasis in Loveland.
Then Graham, author of every major Bengals season kicking record, served up some extra points. After a private dinner with Maupin's parents four years to the day their son was captured near Baghdad when his convoy came under rocket attack, Graham stepped to the microphone to match the $1,600 that was fetched for one of his game jerseys. When two Bengals game balls went for $1,000 each, he personalized them and then told the Maupins he was sending them on a vacation to anywhere they wish.
Graham has always been fascinated by the military and service to country. Tom Graham volunteered for Vietnam at about the time people began burning draft cards, May of 1967, and he came back home to Virginia a year later after serving as a Spec 5 in the 46th Engineers. When Shayne was born a decade later, he ended up always dragging Tom to surplus stores to buy canteens, belts, ropes, anything army.
"I guess he liked looking at some of my memorabilia and he remembers listening to my conservative views," says Tom Graham with a soft, syrupy chuckle rolling off the Blue Ridge Mountains. "You know, he's always been trying to help people. When he was small, he'd ask why the people across the road on a farm were poor."
Ever since Matt Maupin was executed as a prisoner of war on video in an act that trumped anything the nation saw in its first TV war, Tom Graham's war, Shayne wanted to help the Maupins.
It was a natural for a guy that just made his mother cry the other day.
"I went to his MySpace page," says Jamie Fortier, "and he had a whole list of 'Do you remember the husbands, wives, grandmothers, grandfathers, cousins, nephews, nieces?' I don't think he has ever done anything to make me disappointed. I told him to give back when you can. I guess he just continues to believe in giving."
Graham has visited V.A. hospitals in Cincinnati and Virginia. Not only was his father in Vietnam, but so was his stepfather, and his long snapper has served two tours in Iraq. The wallpaper for his cell phone is a picture of a soldier in the field wearing Graham's No. 17.
Graham shakes his head at the stories they tell him. Soldiers driving in Humvees. Suddenly a blast and the person next to them has lost both legs in a bloody, crazy instant.
"If we can make them smile or make them feel good, it's a small thing compared to what they're doing for us," he says.
"They need to be thought of and honored and remembered all the time," Shayne Graham says. "You take for granted the things we go through in a day. They're the epitome of a team when they're over there and when they're over here training. They know everything they do is dependent on each other and that's kind of what we have to do as a team. We should take lessons from that. They know it could be life and death even if they do everything right, not to mention if they don't do it right. It's very selfless duty, but they do it with pride and they do it with heart and they do what they're told whether they think it's right or wrong."
With the help of Hank Reed, Graham's marketing man, they made contact with the Yellow Ribbon Support Center. The man who has the most points in a Bengals season a couple of times over scored again with the dog tags idea.
The guy whose name, rank and serial numbers headline the Bengals record book knows that Maupin's dog tags are the real specialists.
"I'm not sure what they're going to say, or how they're going to look," Graham says. "I just think it's a great way to remember him and his sacrifice and we can sell them and give all the proceeds, 100 percent, to (Yellow Ribbon)."
Tom Graham, whose dog tags started it all, is in awe of the fallen.
"They're the heroes," he says.
But so are the guys like 23-year-old Tom Graham, who fought the Army red tape so he could go to Vietnam and not sit it out behind a desk. Fed up with falling behind paying the bills as an architecture major at Virginia Tech, Graham signed up when his little brother got drafted and he wanted to keep an eye on him.
"Right after they gave us our uniforms, we got in line for the buses and he got on the other one. I could have killed him," he says with a laugh.
"Don't make it sound heroic," Tom Graham says. "I was lucky. I was in a good situation. Say that. I was lucky."
That's what heroes always say.
Graham signed up as a combat engineer and pictured himself dropping down from helicopters and clearing the jungle. But his architect abilities caught the eye of the carpenter's shop, and he was put to work as a translator/designer, quickly learning enough Vietnamese that he could translate numbers and fractions and formulas into bunkers and buildings for everyone from generals to refugees.
Much of the work was done in Long Binh, about 20 miles north of what was then Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam. But there was also a stretch when his battalion went into the heart of the nasty Mekong Delta to bring mortar and brick to build schools.
Tom Graham says he was lucky, but nobody was lucky in January of 1968, when the Viet Cong turned the tide with the Tet Offensive.
"Those were some hairy moments," he says.
Tom Graham did what heroes do. He quietly came back home, became an architect, coached youth soccer, raised a family, and the little toe-head kid who loved playing Army grew up to honor one.
"It makes kicking a field goal seem pretty small, doesn't it?' Shayne Graham asks.