Also very involved were the women who served here in the US
as they recruited men for combat, helped returning Vets to adjust
to civilian life, and just being there for the many Vets who needed
help as the woman standing might depict as she looks to find those
But there is a group of women who are not shown here. I believe
another memorial would be appropriate and placed on the side of
this area. A mother and a wife with a look of hope, despair and
yearning as they desire to hold their loved one just one last
time as this woman is holding the soldier. These women need to
be honored for their sacrifice, their loneliness, and their love
for the one they lost. I would like to read to you a chapter in
a book I am writing, one dealing with my actions when I would
notify a family. The chapter is entitled
The Knock At The Door
As the Senior Advisor of the Wilmington, Delaware Reserve Center,
one of the most disliked duties, and yet one of the most honoring,
was my assignment as the Survivors Assistance Officer. This is
when I would receive word from the Department of the Army that
one of our men had been killed in Vietnam. It was my job to notify
their next of kin. Each time this would happen, my insides were
thrown into such a turmoil that I just needed a time of quiet
to prepare myself.
When I received my first notification, I remember driving to the
home and stopping several houses away. I read the papers over
and over and stared into space. My mind began practicing what
I was to say and just how I would tell them. Then I said a prayer
and finished the drive to the designated home. I prayed that somehow
I might be able to give a little bit of comfort to this family.
A family who I would soon give information that would change their
lives forever. I remember getting out of the staff car, an Army
sedan, turning slowly to look at my reflection in the window.
Who was this man that bore such terrible news. I slowly placed
my hat on my head and performed a ritual that I still do to this
day. I slowly dropped my hand over my face, locking down all emotions.
My training from combat made this easy. After all, it would not
be professional for me to shed tears at this time. How odd it
felt, being more hesitant and afraid to knock on the door, than
it ever was to go into combat.
I knew that as soon as the door would open, the people would know
why I was there. I slowly walk up to the sidewalk and rang the
doorbell. It opened ever so slowly. An older man answered the
door and I asked if Barbara Adams was there. She was in the living
room and I watched this young woman walk toward the door. Their
eyes looked at my uniform, then the Army car, they knew at once
why I was there and their faces began turning pale. As her Mother
came out from the kitchen I took a deep breath and began to recite
the opening statement that later was to become all too familiar
"On behalf of the President of the United States of America,
I regret to inform you that your husband, LT James Adams, has
been killed in Vietnam."
The reaction was one of disbelief, the cries of anguish grew
heavier and the tears began to flow like a river. I watched as
her father embraced both of them, trying to comfort their pain.
I stood stone cold, wanting to ease the pain and sorrow, but there
was nothing I could do at that time. I slowly removed my hat,
dropping it over my face to further lock down my emotions. I then
asked if I could come in and talk with them. We sat down on the
sofa and I shared the few details give to me with the actions
resulting in his death. When, were, how, but I could not answer
the why. Interesting, my first notification was the same rank
that I was in Vietnam, at 1st LT. this couple had only been married
for several months before he was sent to Vietnam.
The time seemed to last forever as I absorbed their pain and listened
to their sorrow. But as much as I wanted to take away the hurt,
I couldnt. Finally I bid farewell and slowly walked out
the door, listening as it closed behind me. I placed my hat on
my head and moved toward the car with my emotions still in a locked
As I got into the car I removed my hat in an upward motion, unlocking
my emotions. The tears began to flow and I quickly drove a block
away so the family could not see me. My heart was now taken to
new heights of pain as I parked the car and allowed the tears
to flow so freely that it took quite some time before I could
continue. I have no idea how many minutes passed before I could
see well enough to drive away. Once again my heart would cry out,
This ordeal began to take place on a regular schedule, as I was
the one designated to notify all the families in Northern Delaware.
There were times that I was allowed to provide a shoulder to cry
on and there were times when I was blamed for what had happened.
There also were times when we would just sit and wait for the
shock to wear off. When the time was right, I would share as many
details about the action that I could since very little information
was given to me at the time.
Next, arrangements were made for the funeral and burial. When
the day of the funeral came, my insides would again churn. Questions
would haunt me, as some of the people would ask why I made it
when their son or husband didnt. I would many times ask
the same questions, never having any good answer. Next I would
attend the service at either the church or the funeral home and
proceed to the cemetery with the family. After the casket was
in place and the pastor spoke his final words, I would turn to
the Honor guard and nod.
The Guard would march up to the casket, take hold of the American
Flag draped over the casket and fold it in the ceremonial fashion.
I would watch the eyes of the family as each fold was snapped
in place making a distinct sound. Eyes would squint, jump, fill
with tears, and just watch in disbelief. The final covering for
this soldier was now removed. It would be held and cherished by
the family, now only to be displayed in a frame, keeping the memories
alive. The Sgt of the Guard would bring the folded flag to me
and render a slow salute. I would take the Flag, hold it next
to my heart, and return the salute. I then would nod to the Sgt
of the rifle team and they would fire their salute. Seven rifles,
three rounds each, equaling the 21. When each round fired, it
would drive right through everyone as though it was finalizing
the death. How much more could we endure I thought over and over.
The Sgt of the honor guard would bring me three of the spent cartridges
signifying the three volleys fired, and I slid them into the Flag.
It was only a small token that I could use to honor this brother.
Next, the lone Bugler began to play Taps in the distance. The
sound drifted over the casket in the most eerie manner, touching
everyone within its sound. When the sound finally disappeared,
my duty was to walk over to the family and present them with the
flag. I was supposed to say, "On behalf of a grateful Nation,
please accept this as our gratitude ---I really dont remember
what I would say. I just could not quote some pre-arranged statement
and step back. As the family stood before me, I would present
them with the Flag and render a very slow salute, raising my hand
upward over my face in a manner that allowed me to unlock my emotions.
No longer able to stay locked up; I let the tears flow as I embraced
the family members. Finally, I would gather the flowers, handing
them to the family to be placed on the casket. After the family
would place their last flower, I would step forward and place
my flower on the casket, step back and give a final salute, honoring
this man the best way I knew how. My thoughts would race back
to the men I had seen killed. To the wounded, to the ones whom
I had to send letters home, telling about how they died. Sorrow,
once again, almost more than I could bear.
A new chapter begins in my life as I stood with others, experiencing
new agony and heartache. I watched the families of brave soldiers
mourning for their loved ones. Many questions again came from
all those present. WHY? How many more of these ceremonies must
I endure? How many more young mothers and their children must
I put through this turmoil? How many more Moms and Dads would
I need to tell of the loss of their son?
Now, instead of watching the dead soldiers get flown out on a
Dust Off chopper. I was observing the reactions of the families
on the receiving side. The sorrow and heartaches took on a whole
new dimension within me. Only my faith in God could give me the
needed strength to continue. Because of my tour in Vietnam, I
believe it is easier to sympathize with these families. After
all, I had been there. I could also share some hope with them,
about how they too could find the needed strength and comfort
from our Heavenly Father.
The time would then come for me to call the families back into
my office in order to give them any awards that their soldier
received. There were times when I presented the medals to the
parents, at times to the widow, and at times to a brother or sister.
This would only bring more pain at first. I would have the newspaper
there as much as possible so the deeds could be recorded for the
family. Eventually I could see the pride rise in the eyes of those
present as they were told of the brave deeds that had been done.
This did not bring their loved one back, but would add more memories
for them to cherish.
Twenty-three, what a powerful number that is to me. I was a young
23-year old 1st LT in Nam, 23 of my men were lost while I was
in the northern part of Nam and I knocked on 23 doors. For a short
time I was notifying a different family each week. One of the
hardest was a young mother with a daughter at the age of just
six months. This little girl never got a chance to see her daddy
and had no idea why I was there and of the news I bore. For some
reason this one hit me the hardest and I never really got over
it even to this day. When I first visited the Wall after 30 years,
there were 23 men from the 3 Battalions of Dusters in Nam, 9 of
whom served with me. Twenty-three Psalm 23 says:
The Lord is my Shepard: I shall not be
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul.
He guides me in the paths of righteousness for
His names sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and Love will follow me
all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Yes, we walked through the valley of the shadow of death and we
hurt because of it. Many of our young men and women are walking
that path today. I pray that they know that God is walking with
them. We all wish to sit beside still waters and have our souls
restored to peace. We all wish to have our hearts healed but know
that it may never fully happen.
It is my prayer that we all find peace in our hearts and that
our souls will be restored to quietness. Right now I ask that
each of you turn to a Vet, a loved one, or really anyone, give
them a hug and say welcome home. May we never stop remembering,
may we never stop helping each other to heal.
Thank you for your patience in listening to my story.