Craig On Memorial Day weekend in 1971, an Army officer knocked on Sandra Adams’ door on Taylor Street in Craig, bearing news of sacrifice, honor and tragedy.
She wasn’t ready to believe the truth.
For 29 days, she held out hope that her husband, Maj. William E. Adams, would be found alive after being shot down in a Huey helicopter in the Kontum Province of Vietnam.
He had volunteered to fly into a hostile area to evacuate three seriously wounded soldiers while on his second tour of duty as an Army pilot.
“He was considered missing, but then as time went on and on, it just seemed like I wanted some answers and there weren’t any,” Sandra said.
A month later, her husband’s remains were flown back to the U.S.
Sandra wasn’t allowed to see them before his military burial at Fort Logan.
“You don’t get to look at him, you’re not sure what is in that casket,” she said.
Three years later, Sandra found some semblance of closure.
She and her children, John and Jean, flew to Washington, D.C., to accept the Medal of Honor, the highest military recognition, for Bill’s actions in Vietnam.
But, it would be more than 30 years before Bill would receive significant recognition in Moffat County, where he spent most of his childhood.
The task of rectifying that oversight fell into the hands of state lawmakers this month.
On May 4, the Colorado Senate approved a resolution to name the portion of Colorado Highway 13 that runs through Moffat County the “Maj. William Adams Medal of Honor Highway.”
“Bill really, really felt devoted to keeping our freedoms,” Sandra said. “This was about keeping communism away from the lives of his children and keeping our freedom strong.”
Sandra, who now lives in Longmont, knows he was not alone in his sacrifice.
“It’s about all of the veterans,” she said of the dedication. “Bill just happened to be one who really, truly did a lot for the military, with many more rescues than just his final one. But, the thing is, it gives recognition to everyone who supported him there in Vietnam.”
Larry Neu, a Vietnam veteran and member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265, began spearheading an effort to recognize the local hero about two years ago.
“We’ve all got to keep in mind, the freedoms we enjoy come to us through sacrifice,” Neu said. “And some, like Bill, made the ultimate sacrifice.”
When the VFW failed last summer in its effort to name the new Sandrock Elementary School after Bill, Neu received a call from state Sen. Al White, R-Hayden.
White wanted to help fight for recognition for all veterans in Moffat County.
“The Medal of Honor is such a huge recognition of dedication, sacrifice and valor under incredibly difficult battle situations,” White said. “For us, particularly now with (wars in) Iraq and Afghanistan…to recognize the valor and courage of William Adams is a display to the general public that we in Moffat County really care about our veterans and their sacrifices.”
Sandra, her sister Sharon Pletcher and family, White and Neu were in the senate chambers for the vote.
After the senate voted unanimously to pass the resolution, the senators called a recess, and, taking Sandra by surprise, introduced themselves to her one-by-one.
“All of the senators came through and shook our hands,” she said. “It was like a receiving line. We really felt honored. They said they appreciated our sacrifice, too, as a family. I did feel they wanted to make us feel like we were honored guests.”
White said it was a somber but important moment for the senators.
“I think there was a lot of sadness for her loss but pride for Maj. Adams for his sacrifice and accomplishment,” White said. “To meet the widow of a Medal of Honor winner was very moving for all of my colleagues.”
The Colorado Department of Transportation will make signs to mark the highway using private funds and donations.
It will cost about $1,000, White said, to make the signs and place them at the Wyoming and Moffat/Rio Blanco county borders, as well as at the junction of the Highway 13 and U.S. Highway. 40.
Neu said there will be a dedication ceremony in the near future to celebrate the accomplishment, and the VFW hopes to erect informational kiosks to share the story of Bill and what he stood for.
“I think people here will get used to it after a while,” Neu said. “But, for tourists, people coming into the community, it will make them think about it. I would like to have his story out there. It’s more than just a name.”
But, the highway will not be the end of Neu’s mission to honor all veterans.
Neu and his fellow post members have been working on a veterans memorial, which could include a decommissioned Huey helicopter, a bronze statue and a memorial to Northwest Colorado’s veterans from each war.
Sandra also shares the sentiment that every man or woman who serves their country deserves honor and respect for protecting America’s freedoms.
She hopes her husband’s recognition will lead to a greater awareness for all of those who made it home from Vietnam, as well as those who didn’t.
“I think the most important thing to me, I guess, is that it’s used as a vehicle for other Vietnam veterans to heal from the pain of coming home after such hideous, horrendous combat, and basically being ignored,” Sandra said.