Ernie, don't know if you remember, but I have mentioned before that I was a Casualty Notification and Assistance Officer for the Air Force during Viet Nam. Our little radar squadron (the 648th) was located near Benton Pa. on top of a mountain and acquired this duty shortly after my arrival. There were five officers (a Lt. Col. and four lieutenants) and some 105 enlisted. As it turned out our unit was the only active military unit within a couple hundred miles and therefore we were responsible for casualty notification and assistance for all services for a radius of some 200-300 miles. It was one of the few sites that were allowed to notify for all branches and assist for NOKs (next of kin) of Air Force personnel. Talk about the "luck of the draw' for a new lieutenant on his first assignment! By the way, this was just one of 26 or so additional duties, not counting my primary responsibilities. It was, by far, the most difficult and challenging.
Lt. Col. Goodson's story brought all those memories back with such force and vividness that I had to write, if for no other reason, to excise those memories or for my own catharsis...likely some of both.
I had no training for this duty and I remember distinctly calling The Air Force Personnel Center casualty office to get some advice and direction. The senior officer on the line put me on hold while he checked to see if what I was telling him was, in fact, true. When he came back on the line, he said something like 'Jesus, Lt. let's see what we can do to help you!' They ended up assigning a Casualty NCO to help with the "assistance" part of the job, but the notification duty was all mine. So, for two years and some change, I led the notification team which consisted of myself and one of the other three Lts.(they rotated the duty, I could not). I did not know the term 'burn out' then, but I understand in depth the extreme stresses that Col. Goodson describes.
I ,like him, saw and experienced the full range of reactions. From fainting at the door with no words spoken, to being locked out listening to cries, sobs and anguished moans on the other side of the door. To knocking on a door in Wilkes Barre, Pa. at 11 PM on a winter Sunday night and watching as a middle aged father and his wife literally stumbled to the door in their night clothes and stood motionless and silent while we made the notification only to ask if we were there or were they dreaming after we finished . (Note: the notification rules required notification within 6 hours of us getting the information...the only exception was that no notifications were to take place from midnight to 6 AM). I do not understand why, but almost without exception, we would get notification at the end or just after the duty day or on a weekend, but seldom early in the day. So most notifications occurred at night or the weekends. Like the Col said, no one who has not had this duty could ever understand.... I do understand. There were of course, some amazingly funny side stories for us 'Notifying' officers...like getting lost for 6-8 hours trying to get home. People asking us if were taxi drivers, bus drivers, recruiters, etc. (not unless you want to go where we have been or are going. Thought but not spoken)
Thanks for allowing the catharsis. Bert