Veterans Day ‚ 11 Nov 2005
Vietnam Women's Memorial Washington DC
L. Steven Moore

In 1967-68, I was a young 1st Lt with the Dusters in Vietnam. We were in support of the Marines and constantly running the road to Khe Sahn. It was a crazy way to grow up. After being slightly wounded near my DEROS date, I was sent home where I was promoted to Captain and became the Senior Advisor to the Army Reserve Center in Wilmington, Delaware. Part of my duties was to notify families of the death of a soldier.

I truly love this monument honoring all the women who served during the Vietnam conflict. The nurses helped the men, giving them aid to survive and even holding them during their last moments alive as the woman holding this soldier. Then there are the Red Cross women who entertained, brought laughter and comfort as they traveled from place to place as the woman kneeling might show as she takes care of the soldiers’ need.

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 needing help.

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 to me.

"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 couldn’t. 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 down mode.

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, Why!

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 didn’t. 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 don’t 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 in want.
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 name’s 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.

©2005 L. Steven Moore