Sons and Daughters In Touch is an all-volunteer, national support organization committed to uniting the Gold Star sons and daughters of American servicemen who were killed, or who remain missing, as a result of the Vietnam War. In addition, our membership includes family members and many military veterans who served with our fathers -- all dedicated to furthering the mission of SDIT.

SDIT Blog

Stars and Stripes: ‘A wash to honor fathers’ sacrifice…’

WASHINGTON — For years, Patty Lee didn’t speak about her father; her mother never discussed him with her six children.

But Sgt. 1st Class Delbert C. Totty hadn’t done anything wrong. The unspoken truth was that he was killed in action in Vietnam when Lee was 12 years old.

“We all grew up in silence,” Lee said of a generation of children whose fathers died in a war many wanted to forget. “We didn’t talk about Vietnam, we didn’t talk about our fathers.”

It’s difficult to fathom in this age of solemn homages to troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and warm welcomes when they come home safely, but for the children of Vietnam veterans, the fate of their fathers was often a dark secret.

Lee, now 60, didn’t have a chance to grieve for 25 years until 1992, when a new group, Sons and Daughters in Touch, organized a gathering at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., for children of troops lost in the war. For many like Lee it was the first time they met others with similar stories — the first time they didn’t feel alone.

The 1992 gathering sparked what became a regular Father’s Day weekend tradition for survivors, many of whom didn’t find their voice until they had outlived their fathers, long after the war was over.

On Saturday, more than two decades after that initial meeting, in the murky light of a cloudy early morning, the polished granite of the memorial wall reflected the images of more than 100 people — some using walkers, others still with braces on their teeth, many carrying brushes and buckets of soapy water. Pointing to one of the 58,000 names on the wall, they recalled a loved one.

It was the beginning of a weekendlong event organized by Sons and Daughters in Touch and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund for survivors to coincide with Father’s Day. There will be a public ceremony at the memorial on Sunday beginning at 10 a.m.

All these years later, meeting at the wall is still an emotional event even for regular attendees.

“It’s very personal,” Lee said, choking up as she prepared to wash the wall Saturday.

Now, the children of the fallen bring their own children to wash the wall together. It is about much more than lending a hand to the National Park Service. It is a symbolic gesture that for many is the only chance they had to do something for their father.

“This is more about the catharsis,” said Sons and Daughters In Touch co-founder Tony Cordero, whose father, Air Force Maj. William E. Cordero, was killed in Vietnam.

Colleen Shine washed the wall with her son, Matthew Luepke, 10, and her daughter, Chiara Luepke, 12. They were washing the panel that bore the name of Shine’s father, Lt. Col. Anthony C. Shine. Growing up, she experienced the additional pain of missing her father and not knowing his fate. He was considered missing in action for 24 years after his plane went down near the Vietnam-Laos border in 1972.

The uncertainty gnawed at Shine and her family — she said her mother “didn’t know if she was a wife or a widow.” So Shine spent years pursuing the truth about her father’s fate, a journey that led her to Vietnam in 1995, no easy trip in the days before the two countries normalized relations.

After navigating the Communist country’s bureaucracy and a journey deep into the countryside near the Laos border, she found a villager who had a helmet that matched the description of the helmet her father was supposed to have worn on his final flight. When she turned it over, she saw his name handwritten on the inside.

For Shine, 50, the most important part of the wall washing is the lessons for her children, who never got to meet their grandfather.

“What it’s about is teaching them the issues of war so we’ll not have to repeat them,” Shine said. “Seeing my children clean the wall and seeing our reflections is a reminder that we are the living legacies of that wall.”

druzin.heath@stripes.com

Father’s Day 2015: An open invitation to all Gold Star Families and Veterans

In June, Sons and Daughters In Touch (SDIT) will celebrate its 25th Anniversary with a Father’s Day weekend celebration in Washington, DC.  Attendees will gather to see their fathers’ names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and share the experience of living though the 1960s and 70s when the war was a lightning-rod for controversy and protests.

These Gold Star ‘sons and daughters’ were infants and adolescents when the dreaded ‘knock on the door’ occurred notifying them that their fathers had been killed – or were missing – in the war.  They persevered, came of age, went to college, started families and careers, and many are now grandparents!  But they will always be the Gold Star ‘sons and daughters’ whose fathers were lost in the rice paddies and jungles of SE Asia.

When SDIT was established in 1990, America didn’t have an organization for the war orphans of WWII, Korea or Vietnam. Organizations like Gold Star Mothers and Gold Star Wives and the National League of POW/MIA families met the needs of those groups, but the 20,000 children left fatherless by the Vietnam War, were virtually forgotten.

With the help of supportive veterans, SDIT was formed to locate and unite these children – many of whom longed to see their fathers’ names etched into the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and had never met another Gold Star child. Establishing SDIT prompted the formation of similar organizations from WWII and the Korean War – each offering its own brand of support.

Twenty-five years later, SDIT has bonded with Vietnam veterans, and stands strong with thousands of members throughout the country.  In 2003, 50 members traveled to Vietnam to see the places where their fathers fought and died. Together, the common bond they’ve established has transformed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial into a family tree!

As SDIT has grown, America has found itself in the Persian Gulf War, 9/11 and the Global War on Terror. Combat has again left young children fatherless – and now motherless, as well.

Instead of being forgotten, this time America has rallied to support these children with peer-mentoring, grief counseling and guidance, academic scholarships, and get-away excursions, to help ease their loss. This support illustrates the military and social lessons learned from the Vietnam War.

Today, America’s youngest Gold Star children often find themselves befriended by members of Sons and Daughters In Touch.  The lives of America’s oldest Gold Star ‘children’ from WWII, Korea and Vietnam, help the nation visualize what life holds in store for the youngest Gold Star ‘children’.  SDIT members consider it their duty to provide this support, and to educate the nation on the life-long impact of war.

This Father’s Day 2015 – as SDIT marks its 25th anniversary – we invite Gold Star families and Veterans from all conflicts to join us as we honor our fathers in a weekend of remembrance, healing and hope.

Join SDIT for this milestone celebration!  Register today for your spot (http://sdit.org/25th-anniversary-invitation), and share the link with others you know.

If you would like to make a commemorative $25 contribution to support SDIT’s Father’s Day celebration, please click on this link: www.gofundme.com/sdit25

Your generosity is greatly appreciated!

D-Day 70 Years Later: Lessons from our ‘siblings’ of WWII

The 70th Anniversary of D-Day is an opportunity for SDIT to look to its “older” siblings for similarities in the emotional search all Gold Star “sons and daughters” encounter. Written in the year 2000, here is the very personal account of Ed Peters” search … for his father who was lost after parachuting into Normandy on June 6, 1944. 

Following My Father’s Footsteps

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My mother and I began our journey in Washington D.C. by attending the Memorial Day service sponsored by the 101st Airborne Division Association. We visited the wreath laying ceremonies at the Vietnam Memorial and the 101st Airborne Division Memorial atArlington National Cemetery. Continue Reading →