It was the dreaded stateside duty for us serving in the military during the Vietnam War -- the first notice that a family member had been killed in combat.
We were kids freshly graduated from college and not trained therapists. But our junior officers followed a strict procedure that was developed after the Battle of la Drang valley in November, 1965. United States military planners originally thought that the Vietnamese were peasants and could be easily defeated. They were wrong.
During la Drang, the first major battle of the war, over 300 Americans were killed in a 35 day battle after being surrounded and ambused by the People's Army of Vietnam. Most of the Americans came from Ft. Benning, GA, home of the Infantry. Based on the World War II model, the commanders decided to send Western Union telegrams to the families of the deceased -- and the telegrams were delivered in the middle of the night. Families were horrified to wake up and find the notifications on their door.
It was a public relations disaster for the Army. As a result, the Army developed a very careful protocol for the notification of families. During the balance of the war, it was the procedure that our notification teams stationed at the Atlanta Army Depot, Forest Park, GA, followed.
Among other things, the procedure required that families be notified between 8 am and 8 pm and that was to be done in person by a team--usually a commissioned and non commissioned officer. The team was directed to only give a brief information about the death and nothing more. Insurance settlements and all other information would be provided later by the Army personnel office.
The Notification Team would advise the family that a "Family Officer" would be assigned to the family. His job was to stay in the town of the deceased and to be present at all times at the funeral home for viewings. He was to stand at parade rest and snap to attention when family members and friends previewed the body.
There were other rules: Keep a fresh hair cut, no alcohol and buy a flower arrangement from the Secretary of the Army (cost not to exceed $20.00) and there would be would be reimbursement for a hotel and transportation.
To be continued...