Larry Neu spoke with reverence and determination Saturday before a crowd of about 30 residents gathered on the side of Colorado Highway 13.
“This man is worthy of far greater recognition than mere words or markers,” said Neu, a Vietnam veteran and quartermaster with Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 in Craig. “The sacrifice he made and the deeds he performed shall be written in history and shall remain alive in our memories for generations to come.
“We express sincerely our pride and gratitude for the sacrifice he made.”
Neu was speaking of the late Major William E. Adams, who was raised in Craig. Adams, a U.S. Army helicopter pilot, was killed in action in 1971 while trying to evacuate wounded soldiers from a hostile area in the Kontum Province of Vietnam.
He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
In front of the podium where Neu stood were several members of Adams’ family.
To Neu’s back was a covered blue highway sign.
The sign is the result of efforts by Neu and many others to memorialize Adams’ service to his country. It is also the result of Colorado Senate Resolution 10-009, which named the Moffat County portion of Highway 13 the Major William Adams Medal of Honor Highway.
“We have come here to dedicate a highway to perpetuate the memory of a man from this community who went forth as the living strength of our flag,” Neu said. “He was aware of the dangers before him, yet he responded without hesitancy to the call of duty.
“Fighting under the flag of this nation is the privileged duty of every able-bodied American and (we) ... will always honor those who go forth in defense of our nation. They are the true guardians of freedom, justice and equality among men.”
After Neu spoke, members of the VFW and American Legion Post 62 unveiled the blue sign, one of several placed along the highway, to cheers from the crowd.
After the ceremony, Adams’ wife, Sandra Adams, said she was overwhelmed with the reception and felt honored by the ceremony.
“I am glad to have Bill’s memory forever memorialized here,” she said. “This is a beautiful occasion and it is such a great day to be out. To have him remembered over here where he and I had many good times is really, really special.”
During the ceremony, SR 10-009 was read to the crowd. The resolution outlined Adams’ actions moments before his death.
“Major Adams volunteered, with full knowledge of the dangerous nature of his mission, to fly a lightly armed helicopter to a besieged fire base in … an attempt to evacuate three seriously wounded soldiers,” the resolution reads. “As Major Adams approached the fire base, enemy gunners opened with heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms.”
Adams was “undaunted” by the danger. The wounded soldiers were placed on board the helicopter and as Adams’ helicopter departed the base, it was struck by enemy fire and fell from the sky, killing all aboard, according to the resolution.
Adams was awarded the Medal of Honor for his “conspicuous gallantry, intrepidity, and humanitarian regard for his fellow man,” the resolution reads.
Sandra, a Longmont resident, said hearing a recount of her husband’s bravery fostered numerous feelings and emotions. Chief among them, she said, was the feeling of disbelief she felt upon learning her husband had been killed.
“I was remembering the 29 days that we didn’t know whether Bill was alive or not,” she said fighting back tears.
Adams’ daughter, Jean Wayne, a Boulder resident, shared similar emotions.
“It always hurts,” she said of hearing the details of her father’s bravery in Vietnam. “But, it’s one of those things. You go on. We are very proud of him and what he did.
“He was such a humble man that I think he would have been so surprised by all of this.”
But, as she focused her gaze at the sign reflecting sunlight in the distance, she said such memorials help ease the family’s feelings of loss.
“I hope that it brings healing for other people that served in Vietnam who are still struggling with a lot of what they came back with,” she said.
Neu echoed Jean’s thoughts, adding his several years of working to recognize Adams locally are part of a personal mission to “rectify the wrongs that were done to the Vietnam veterans.”
Moreover, Neu said the sign is also a tribute to all Vietnam veterans.
“Back in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, when we were coming home, you know, we didn’t have a good reception and a lot of Vietnam veterans were shunned,” he said. “I didn’t even admit to being a Vietnam veteran for ... 30 years. I had to come to terms with my own service.”
Now, Neu said he is proud to say he is a Vietnam veteran and happy to work to recognize the service of other veterans.
“It gives me a sense of pride to see that sign up there for the whole world to see,” he said. “The man made the ultimate sacrifice for his country — he should not be forgotten.”
Adams’ son, John, a colonel intelligence officer in the Marine Corps, said the sign and ceremony made him feel “very honored.”
“It is such a great honor and it is so terrific that other people recognize what my dad did,” said John, who is recently back from a deployment in Afghanistan. “That just really means a lot.”
John said his decision to serve in the Marine Corps was heavily influenced by his father’s service and bravery.
“I guess every kid wants to follow in his dad’s footsteps,” he said resting his hand on the head of one of his own sons.
“This is William, and he is named after his grandfather,” John said looking down.
William wants to be a Marine, too, he said.