I became acquainted with John Quincy Adam through a reader who asked me about him.
It was in 1969, says Gloria Ball of Springfield, that she received a shiny, stainless steel POW/MIA bracelet with Adam’s name on it. Ball was in her first year of teaching English at Ozark High School.
As best as she can recall, someone gave many of the teachers and staff at the high school these bracelets, with different names of service people in Vietnam either thought to be a prisoner of war of missing in action.
Ball kept it. She still has it. She showed it to me on Friday.
In large part, she hung on to it all these years because of her husband, William, who served in Vietnam and made it back. He died in 2014.
William, who was drafted, rarely talked about Vietnam.
“We did not go to movies about Vietnam,” she says.
The one story she remembers is one not easily forgotten:
“He had a dear friend who was leaving in a helicopter that was hit and his friend’s body parts rained down on him,” she says.
Millions of these bracelets have been made and are still being made.
At one point, there was an estimated 2,646 U.S. service personnel considered “unaccounted for” in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and China; today that number 1,585.
On Ball’s bracelet is the name, of course, “John Q. Adam.”
As well as “A1C,” which stands for Airman First Class, and the date of “5-22-68,” which is the day he was last known to be alive.
Ball asked me to find out a little about Adam’s life and death, and if his remains were ever found.
It was not difficult. The government documents its great efforts to find and identify the remains of those who fell while fighting an unpopular war in Vietnam and did not return.
Adam was from Bethel, Kansas, which today is part of Kansas City.
According to the following online post, which I’ll explain later, he was shy, at least around girls.
“I went to Washington High School with John. He was a very shy but kind person. I remember his being at a dance we called ‘mixers.’ He asked me to dance and we did dance for a very short time until the music was over. He walked me back to where I was standing with my friends. We have had our 35th class reunion and are looking to our 40th. I am one of the planners for the reunions and I always post John’s picture on our ‘Gone But Not Forgotten’ wall.”— Frann Buckley Marple, Sept. 26, 2002
Adam has two sisters, who are both alive, and at least two cousins, Jimmy and Johnny Tolley, identical twins who also are alive.
The Tolley twins are a few months older than Adam and they grew up on a farm near Bethel.
All three young men joined the Air Force and, as fate would have it, the twins spent about an hour with their cousin at a U.S. air base in Thailand only days before he died.
I spoke to Johnny Tolley, who lives in Dripping Springs, Texas, last Thursday.
The twin cousins are now 74. John Q. Adam died at 20.
Adam was one of nine people on a Lockheed C130 Hercules aircraft that left an air base at Ubon, Thailand, for a mission in Laos.
Laos, which neighbors Vietnam, had a Communist government and was considered a hostile country.
But it’s where the Ho Chi Minh Trail was, which the North Vietnamese (our adversary at the time) used as a supply line. The trail, named after the president of North Vietnam, was a compilation of trails through jungle and mountains.
The Hercules aircraft was shot down and all nine personnel aboard died.
Initially, it was thought the plane crashed in Laos.
Tolley tells me it was later determined it actually was on the other side of the border, in North Vietnam.
Tolley is the keeper of all of Adam’s military records.
A military team discovered human remains at the crash site in 2002. But it wasn’t until March 13, 2009, that positive DNA identification was made for seven (including Adam) of the nine crewmen.
The remains were returned to families.
Funeral services were held for Adam in 2009, in Kansas City — 41 years after his death.
His mother had already died, but his father was present. He has since died.
A group burial for the crew took place on June 10, 2010, at Arlington National Cemetery, where there is a monument for all nine crew members.
At the funeral in Kansas City, Tolley says, people unknown to the family arrived with bracelets just like the one owned by Ball, the woman who contacted me.
In reporting this story I discovered a website called The Wall of Faces.
It features a page dedicated to honoring and remembering every person whose name is on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
You will be pleased to know that John Q. Adam is remembered. He has always been remembered.
Countrymen across the nation for decades have worn the identical stainless steel bracelet to honor the service of this 20-year-old from Kansas City who died in a jungle far away.
The Wall of Faces is where I found the earlier comment about his shyness at that high school mixer so long ago.
Another woman tells us she will wear Adam’s bracelet when she goes to vote.
Thank for your service, they say.
Gone but not forgotten.
“Like many here, I wore an MIA bracelet engraved with your name when I was in Jr High and I will turn 60 this year. Today I dug the bracelet out of a box of teenage memories. A1C John Q. Adam 5.22.68. I’m thankful you came home where you belong. RIP, hero.”— Liz (no last name given) 2018
This is Pokin Around column No. 48.