SILVER SPRING, Md. -- I won’t be visiting Adam this Memorial Day weekend. COVID-19 is seeing to that.
Since 2010 I have visited section 60, grave 8397 of Arlington National Cemetery nearly every Memorial Day weekend. I was in Africa the one year I didn’t go. This year, a pandemic is stopping me from carrying a Dr Pepper to the grave of Lance Cpl. Kevin Adam Lucas.
As a journalist, there are stories across a career that are etched in memory. Few are so indelibly burned there that you remember the details as if the interview was today. Fewer still are so powerful you make a commitment to someone you never met.
I learned of Adam in 2010 while working on a story about how our war dead are buried. My reporting included trips to Dover Air Force Base to observe the transfers of dead service members being brought home. I spoke with several Gold Star families. Kevin and Sandra Lucas, of Greensboro, North Carolina, was one of them. Kevin, Adam’s father, was gracious, kind and patient with me.
Adam, 20 when he died, was their only son and youngest of their three children. Their son had been bound for the Marines, it seems, almost since birth. He enlisted while still in high school and joined the Corps in 2004.
In 2006 he was stationed in Iraq’s Anbar province. Kevin said the morning of his son’s death, May 26, his unit was getting ready to go on patrol. The Marine who was supposed to be on point told Adam he was afraid. “That’s all right," Adam told him. “You have a child about to be born and you need to be here for him. I feel like something big is going to happen today, and I’m ready for whatever does happen.”
Adam took his place. Thirty minutes into the patrol, a sniper killed the young Marine. The details of that morning, Kevin told me, came from the Marine whose position Adam had taken.
My heart hurts for Adam’s parents. They told me about his funeral in Greensboro and how the airport shut down when his body arrived. They talked about the ache of losing a child. Kevin talked about how he held it together most of the time but lost it at one event where he saw a small boy and a Marine tie a note to a balloon and release it so the boy could get a message to his daddy in heaven.
Then Kevin told me how much his son loved Dr Pepper. That year, they were not going to be able to make it to the cemetery for Memorial Day. I told him I would take the Dr Pepper and pour a little over his grave. When I got there, I wept like he was my son.
I kept going.
I prayed for Adam and all those young people in section 60. It’s impossible not to feel loss amid those stones. As years passed, I wondered if he’d be married, have kids? I also thought about the child growing up with a dad because Adam had taken his place that day. Adam was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart. It should have been more.
I took my three daughters with me at least once. They stood silently as I poured the soda and cried. Most of the time, though, I have gone alone.
I talked to Kevin last week. He feels like kin now. He and Sandra were last at Arlington in 2018. They hope to come in September. I hope they can.
There are things Kevin once planned to hand down to his only son. Now, maybe his young grandsons will get them. He sometimes imagines looking outside his home and seeing his son walking up. The 14th anniversary of his death is Tuesday.
In a normal year, I would head to his grave before Memorial Day with a Dr Pepper. COVID-19 has altered normal. What this pandemic can’t change is what I have always known: Memorial Day isn’t about backyard barbecues. It’s about courage and sacrifice. It’s about Adam and his family and the thousands like them. I will have that Dr Pepper at home. A virus can’t stop that.
Virus Diary, an occasional feature, showcases the coronavirus saga through the eyes of Associated Press journalists around the world.. Follow Gary Fields, AP's news editor for global religion, on Twitter at http://twitter.com/GEDFIELDS