What I think about every February 28 [Opinion: The Arena]

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We should never forget...

But for the fact that 2012 is a leap-year, today would mark the end of the year’s second month, and would otherwise be pretty much unremarkable.  But not for me.  On this day, every year, I stop and remember a soldier from a small town in Texas who was killed in Vietnam in 1969—43 years ago.

Viet Nam, 1968.jpgEvery year, I reprint an examiner.com article, “Namesake,” in which I recall coming across the name of an army captain who was killed in Viet Nam.  While visiting the Vietnam Memorial a few years ago, in Washington, D.C., I found the name “Cpt. Thomas A. McAdams” listed on one of the panels.  He was not a relative of mine (my folks came over from the old country in 1926, and do not spell their name with an “s” on the end), but I found a certain sad irony in the circumstances of my discovery, so I wrote about it. 

I was in the Army when Cpt. McAdams was killed, but I never met him.  By the Grace of God, and due to my particular set of skills (I was a lousy shot with an M-16, but I knew how to type), I was never sent anywhere near Southeast Asia.  Those of us safely stuck behind desks could be heard to mutter:  “They also serve, who only stand and wait.”  Today, we remember, "Some gave all; all gave some."

1958, Junior year, Ft. Knox High School.jpgWe need to stop occasionally to remember the ones who served, and didn’t return home;  even if they were not our friends or relatives.   Regardless of political allegiances or philosophical inclinations, we can all agree that our soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen have greatly contributed to our freedom and security.  George Orwell pretty much summed it up when he wrote:  “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

Anita & Tom on wedding day, July 28, 1962.jpgShortly after that article ran, I received a poignant email from Sheri McAdams Nelson, who related that her daughter was doing research for a family culture project in Sociology and came across the story in The Louisville Examiner.  She wrote:  “The Cpt. Thomas A. McAdams you refer to is my dad. Needless to say your article was very emotional to read. I thank you for the kind words about remembering him every Feb. 28th, and for what it's worth, I'm glad you didn't die either. It’s awful that anyone has to, but such is the way of war. In case you are interested, my father is survived by his widow, two daughters and my daughter, his only grandchild. My sister and I were very young in 1969, in fact my sister doesn't really remember my dad other than stories and pictures. I'm going to pass your article on to my mom.  I could not help but share with my coworkers two things today – the wonders of the internet and how small our global humanity really is.  A person that shared your name that you never met touched you and you, in turn, touched his family without even realizing it or intending to.  Life really is about the ripples created when throwing one small stone in an ocean.  My daughter is 16, and these are the life lessons I hope she learns.  Sometimes God brings people into your life when you least expect it.  I’m so glad to have discovered my dad’s ‘Namesake.’”

Ft. Knox Eagles.jpgMrs. Nelson went on to explain that she was only 5 when her father was killed, and revealed that the Fort Knox High School football stadium (where Tom’s upper front teeth got knocked out playing high school football as a junior) is now named McAdams Field, in honor of his combat heroism. 

Captain McAdams had been "in country" in Viet Nam for about nine months when he was killed, and had briefly visited with his wife during his R&R in Hawaii the month before.  His wife recalled:  “During that time together, in the letters he wrote, and on the audio tapes he sent us, he didn't really discuss the realities of war.  Most of our communication was about the children, other members of our families, our friends, or simply household details.  During his R&R he hinted at having an uneasiness with what was going on, but I don't think he entertained the idea of leaving active service because he had already received orders for his next assignment to return to Texas A & M to complete his Master's.”

Anita, Tom, and Tom's mother, Nathalie, in Germany, 1966.jpgHe was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for pulling soldiers out of a burning APC (Armored Personnel Carrier) bombed by the Viet Cong.

So, today, please remember Captain Thomas A. McAdams; the Armor officer from Liberty, Texas.  Remember all those brave men and women who have served our country in the military.  Remember those who merely stood behind the lines and waited.  Remember those who faced the grim reality of combat, and then returned to their families and friends.  Remember those who were buried on foreign shores.  Remember those who returned covered in the American flag they died to protect.  Remember those who are still missing in action.   Remember the first line of the poem written by the Rev. John Donne, the 17th century Dean of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral:  "No man is an island, entire of itself; everyman is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”  And remember the last line of Rev. Donne’s poem:  “Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."

The McAdams' family, 1966.jpg

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Louisville.com's The Arena section features opinions from active participants in the city's politics. Their viewpoints are not those of Louisville.com (a website is an inanimate object and, as such, has no opinions).  The Arena is read by more people in Louisville than in any other city in America.  Phot credits:  Courtesy of McAdams family.