Whitesburg KY

The first Air Force master sergeant Vietnam casualty

In the early days of the Vietnam War, my commander called me to his office. He wanted someone of equal or higher rank to escort the body of an Air Force master sergeant who was killed in Vietnam to Midwest City, Okla.

After church service I would escort the master sergeant and his wife and teenage daughter to Arlington Cemetery for burial. My commander said he picked me because I looked good in my uniform, had a sharp salute, and knew how to talk to high-ranking officials.

My commander also told me that the American people were very upset because our young men were fighting and dying in Vietnam, and many reporters would be at both locations.

Twenty-four hours later I was on my way to Oklahoma. When I arrived at Midwest City, I was met by the funeral director. We loaded the casket into the hearse and drove to the funeral home. I spent the night in a motel.

Early the next morning, I was picked up by a limousine, taken back to the funeral home, given the address of the wife and daughter, and was told to pick them up and escort them to the church service.

I did as I was told. I escorted them to the front row in church, and I stood at attention behind the casket during the service. I then escorted the casket to the airport, and watched them put it on the plane.

Then I boarded the plane and sat with the wife and daughter on our trip to Andrews Air Force Base. I escorted the casket to Arlington Cemetery.

They had a room for me that night. I did not see the wife and daughter until the next day.

The next morning I escorted the casket to the burial site. I never saw so many gravestones in my life.

They had an honor guard for the sergeant. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson came by and shook my hand.

After the sergeant was buried, they gave the American flag to the wife. The wife and daughter thanked me for everything, and we parted.

I went back to Andrews Field and took a plane back to Travis Air Force Base. My commander called me the next day to tell me that the Pentagon said that I did an outstanding job.

I received a very nice thank you card from the wife a few days later.

Contributing writer Everett Vanover lives in Fairfi eld, Calif.

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