david kerr H&S

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It’s just a name on a list.  Alone, it’s not all that powerful.  That is, until you consider what it means.  The name I saw, among the long list of Virginia war dead preserved by the Library of Virginia in Richmond and the Virginia War Memorial was that of Charles Adams Jr. of Stafford.  I have no connection to Charles Adams and I know very little about him. Save, that he was in the Army and was a corporal and that he was killed in the line of duty during World War II.  Why did I choose to write this column about Mr. Adams? I don’t know, just that my eyes, for whatever reason settled on that one name.

For whatever reason I kept looking at that name and I began to realize that, with the passage time, Charles Adams and the thousands like him were starting to lose their individual identity and were becoming just names on a list.  I found this very disturbing. They must be more than just names on a list.

It’s doubtful that there are many people left who even knew Charles Adams.   He was probably, like most American enlisted personnel during the war in his early 20s or younger.  He could have been married and he could even have had a family, but on average, our military in World War II was made up of mostly single men.

He might have brothers or sisters, but, if they are still alive, they would be very old now.  If he has any nephews or nieces, they might know that they had an uncle who died in the war. His parents, if they were living when he went to war, are now long since gone.  And it’s sad to think that they spent their remaining years, knowing the loss of a child. No matter how proud they might have been of him and what he did, like any parent who has sustained that kind of loss, they felt the ache in their heart until their dying breath.  

No one will probably know what Charles Adams’ plans were after the war.  Did he want to go to college? Did he have a girlfriend? Did he want to get married?  Did he want to start his own business? Or, did he just want to go home and carry on with his life as it was.  It would be nice to know, but his aspirations, his dreams, his fears and his hopes, just like those of all the young people on that list, have gradually been lost to time.

It would be even more interesting to know what he liked in this life.  Was he, like most young American men at the time, obsessed with baseball?  Did he like to dance? Dancing was really a big deal in the 1940s. Who were his friends in the service and at home, and what was his favorite movie?  Did he have a particular band he liked, Jimmy Dorsey, Xavier Cugat or Glenn Miller? Did he like to read? All important questions that no one, so many decades later will ever know the answer to.

This is the normal progression following a war.  World War II has been over for 74 years and the world, following the death of Charles Adams, and others like him, has moved on.  These men, their memories, their friends and everything that defined them in this life, is quickly receding. In most cases those recollections are already lost to time.  They are young men, in a sense, frozen in time.

The truly sad part of this recollection would be if Charles Adams and all those brave men like him, in our hearts, remained, just names on a list.  Though we might not be able to find out all the particulars of their young lives, we do know they had something in common. Just like the men and women who fought and died in other wars, they gave their lives in the service of their country and in the interest of protecting others.  

I may not have known Charles Adams, but I know that he and other Americans that died in World War II, and the conflicts before and since, did so to give future generations the security and the freedom that defines the American way of life.  As I look at his name, I know that he deserves to be more than a name on a list. Thank you, Mr. Adams and thank you to all those like you who gave that last full measure of devotion.

David Kerr, a former member of the Stafford County School Board, is an instructor in political science at VCU and can be reached at StaffordNews@insidenova.com.

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