Tom Adams graduated from Grossmont High School in 1993, a valedictorian, Academic Decathlon team member and soccer player whom his family called “Max”—which got his attention on the soccer field as a child when “Tommy” didn’t work.
He will not be attending his 20th high school reunion on July 26.
Lt. Thomas Mullen Adams was the first U.S. Navy officer killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom—the Iraq War that began March 20 Baghdad time 10 years ago.
He was the only La Mesa casualty of the war.
Although the war is officially “over,” fighting continues with discouraging persistence.
By one count, the war is directly responsible for 189,000 deaths, not including those who died from hardship caused by the fighting.
CNN has a map of all casualties in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
In all, 4,802 Americans and allies died in the war, according to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count.
In 2011, John and Marilyn Adams of the Mount Helix area recalled their son’s life and tragic death.
Marilyn Adams said that on Sept. 11, 2001, her son was stationed at the U.S. Navy base in Atsugi, Japan, and phoned her at her workplace near Lindbergh Field, warning her to go home because “you’re right by an airport.”
“Tom,” she replied, “in this building the plumbing is more hazardous than the terrorists.”
In late March 2003, while visiting their daughter, Cari, at school in Germany, the Adamses learned from neighbors about a visit from Navy chaplains.
Tom was dead.
Word arrived that Adams had been killed March 22 in a helicopter collision over the Persian Gulf. It was the third day of the Iraq War, early in his three-year tour as a liaison officer with Britain’s Royal Navy.
The Adamses recalled the horrific events with clarity and calm. And while they lost their son, they didn’t lose their sense of humor—making reference to Tom’s favorite comedy troupe.
“It was the ultimate Monty Python [skit]—two air traffic control vehicles running into each other,” said Marilyn Adams, recalling the early morning collision of the Sea King copters after takeoff from the HMS Ark Royal. Six others died that day as well.
“With respect to the whole Iraq thing … we did not have positive responses to it,” John Adams said in 20011 in measured tones. “It was felt that there was arrogance by the administration and woeful ignorance of the culture and what they were getting involved in.”
Marilyn Adams, recalling how the Vietnam War affected her generation and its lack of support at home, saluted Tom’s friends at the Naval Academy and in the military as “an amazing group of people … and we owe them our honor and respect and friendship.”
But she said: “I actually think some sort of national draft would be appropriate. It doesn’t have to be military. I think everyone should put a part of their lives into this country, because it’s an amazing place. But I also think that people who send other peoples’ kids off to war should do it to their own.”
John Adams—a descendant of the early presidents and a 1964 Grossmont High graduate—said: “When you think about the horrific implications that [the Iraq War] has with each military member lost—the sphere of how many lives that directly affects—it’s a travesty.”
In the years since Tom’s death at age 27, the parents said they have been embraced by an “incredibly wonderful” network of friends.
“The Royal Navy particularly not only effectively adopted us as their own—they continue to do so ... until this day,” John Adams said, noting that new British liaison officers at North Island Naval Air Station will “look us up and make a connection.”
“That level of care and interest and humanity—that is a very important tool.”
How do John and Marilyn Adams honor their son’s memory on special days?
“We’ll go out to Fort Rosecrans and put pennies on his headstone—which has got to drive him crazy. But it means an angel’s watching over him,” Marilyn said in 2011. “We just go pat him on his head.”