Why I Observe Memorial Day: A Vietnam Vet’s Experience as a Messenger of Death

By Norman Davis, Jr. Published on May 28, 2017

I still remember those for whom I was the face that destroyed their world. This is why I observe Memorial Day.

I served as an Army Captain in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969. Those were the bloodiest years of the war for Americans. After my tour was complete, I was called on to knock on survivors’ doors and inform them their loved one was dead.

The secretary of the Army has asked me to inform you of the death of your son or husband or brother on (date). Those words still haunt me. I had to repeat them to those I talked to. I then did what I could to help. I informed them that a survivor assistance officer would contact them to assist in funeral arrangements and other items that would have to be addressed.

My Roughest Notification

My roughest notification came one hot mid-summer afternoon. I had to notify a wife in St. Louis, Missouri, of the death of her husband in Vietnam. He was an Army captain and helicopter pilot. When I walked to her door and identified myself, she would not open the door. All wives were told that when an officer in uniform came to their door, it was serious. It was probably a death that brought them.

I could hear her opening doors and closing them, opening drawers and closing them. Then I heard her on the phone — I wondered whether she was looking for a gun. I wondered what I could do if she tried to shoot me when she opened the door.

Finally she opened the door and asked me to talk to the operator to get her friend’s phone number. I got it and she called her. She asked if I would stay with her until her friend could get there. I agreed. Her friend was in East St. Louis, Illinois, and we were in the western part of St. Louis, Missouri. It would take two or three hours for her friend to drive the distance.

I saw an infant sleeping on the couch and, through an open door, a two-year-old sleeping on a bed in the bedroom.

While we waited, she told me her husband had only been gone six days, and she had received her first letter from him two hours before I knocked on her door. He had told her not to worry — he was not flying yet.

We Cried Together

When her friend arrived, we cried together. I still get tears writing this. And the babies slept through it all.

As I left, I thought about my wife Mary and our family. It could have been Mary who heard a knock on her door. But it wasn’t. 

I still suffer from my time in Vietnam. I struggle with health issues because of exposure to Agent Orange, a herbicide used during the war. Like many of my peers, most of my internal organs have problems. But still I’ve been blessed. Unlike many Vietnam vets who died years younger than me, I’m still here.

This is why I observe Memorial Day. I always think of those less fortunate than my family. I think about those who’ve lost their fathers, brothers and sons. I think about those whom I comforted during the worst time in their life. I’ll never forget them. And I’ll never forget just how blessed I am.


Major Norman Davis, Jr., retired from the U.S. Army in 1979. He’s the treasurer of the Longview chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America. He and his wife attend the State Council meetings and attend the National conventions every two years to help him keep current on events concerning Vietnam Vets.

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  • Dean Bruckner

    Thank you for your service, sir!

    It’s a double tragedy that traitorous Progressives are pushing on our own shores the same communist ideology that killed this Captain and 58000 of outlets soldiers, sailors and airmen. We will remember that too on this Memorial Day.

  • Christian Cowboy

    Thank you for your service.

  • Ryan

    Thank you for your service and for the job that had to be hard after serving your time in Nam.
    I have often wondered what kind of guys were selected to do the job you had. My best friend and two of my men families were visited by them. I hope they were people like you, as they were Marines.
    I have always said that those of us who served in Nam would see almost every day as a day to remember those who didn’t come home. I do, it was an experience none of us will ever forget, and those names are forever etched in our minds.
    May God continue to bless you each and every day He grants you.

    • Sunny Christian

      God bless you Ryan

    • Nancy Flory

      Thank you for your service, sir. God bless.

  • Sunny Christian

    oh God bless you brother. I pray you find lasting peace. My former husband was a Marine Viet Nam combat vet. Developed PTSD many years later and changed from being the nicest man I have ever met to someone different every day. Thank you and bless you for your service.

    • Nancy Flory

      Thank you for your service when your husband was in the military. God bless.

  • Karla Johnson

    Thank you so much for sharing this poignant account. I remain proud to be your niece. 🙂

  • Kevin Carr

    Thank you, Sir. I salute you.

  • Betty Wilbur

    Thank you Captain Davis for your service and it is an honor to know you and your family. God bless you and your family!!

  • Marsha Gail Little

    Your article helps me understand better the tragedy of the Vietnam war from the eyes of a soldier. I remember those days, though, when I was a high school student and 1970 graduate. I always looked through the publications showing the photos of young men who had lost their lives. My heart remains broken for them and their families. Thank you for your service, Norman Davis, Jr., and thanks to the many others whose names God knows.

  • Alice Wright

    So proud of my big brother, Buddy!

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