One day last October while reading the Atlanta Journal Constitution, I was very saddened to read the obituary of SGM Thomas Ware, U.S. Army, retired, of Atlanta. That was the week before Veterans Day and so I wrote my annual Veterans Day column in memory of him. I am again honoring his memory this year. I have a delightful update on this story.
SGM Thomas Ware valiantly served two tours of duty in Vietnam. He was a member of the 1st Air Cavalry Division, Airmobile Infantry (Vietnam and Cambodia).
Nov. 14, 1965, led by the 1st Cavalry Division, the Battle of the la Drang Valley involved 35 days of continuous airmobile operations. The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 7th Cavalry, with the 1st Battalion of the 5th Cavalry, battled more than three North Vietnamese Regiments and a Viet Cong Battalion. The 1st Cavalry Division was Ware’s unit. He was one of the few survivors.
After his service in Vietnam, Ware returned to the U.S. and it was there he was promoted to Sergeant Major, one of the few African Americans promoted to that rank. Upon retirement from the Army, SGM Ware became the lead JROTC instructor at North Atlanta High School.
In 1996 my son, Paul, enrolled in JROTC at North Atlanta High School and SGM Ware was his instructor. That is when we met him. We have great memories of SGM Ware’s command of North Atlanta’s ever-competitive, high achieving rifle team, of which Paul was a member. SGM Ware encouraged and inspired Paul to become a successful leader.
When SGM Ware retired from North Atlanta High School, he volunteered with the Veterans Administration hospital in Atlanta. He worked with newly retired veterans to ensure they knew the befits to which they were entitled. Like the warrior he was, he encouraged them to fight and continually appeal if denied declarations of disability.
I mentioned having seen SGM Ware’s obituary in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. I wrote a note of condolence and mailed it to his family, with a copy of the column I wrote in SGM Ware’s memory.
Recently I received a letter from Pamela Ware Ruffin, SGM Ware’s daughter. Ms. Ruffin said she was sorry it took a year to write “this letter of gratitude …” but she was daddy’s girl and losing her father left an incredible void.
I was delighted to hear from Ms. Ruffin. She thoughtfully included a copy of the funeral program from her father’s funeral. It was filled with great pictures of his wonderful family and friends.
My letter, as it turned out, arrived during an incredibly challenging moment after her father’s death. Ms. Ruffin said my letter, and the column I wrote in her father’s memory, was a “special angel” note from heaven, from her father to her, that things were going to be fine.
Winship Cancer Institute
SGM Ware suffered from back problems because he was in a helicopter crash in Viet Nam. Exposure to Agent Orange left him breathing with one lung. He had congestive heart failure because his heart was trying to compensate for his remaining lung.
A research faculty member at Georgia Tech, Ms. Ruffin established a research fund at the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University, named on behalf of SGM Ware. Ms. Ruffin hopes for continued study on the lingering effects of, and correlation between, Agent Orange, Vietnam veterans, and lung cancer.
Everybody has a purpose
Ms. Ruffin was aware that SGM Ware wondered why he was one of the few survivors from his unit. She worked through that issue as well, after her father died. Aware that everybody has a purpose, she said my letter confirmed that. She wrote, “Almost fifty years after my father returned from Vietnam, his life impressed Paul Clark, and Pam Walker.”
SGM Ware answered our country’s call to service with steadfast courage and bravely carried out his orders. I remain exceedingly grateful for his service to our country.
SGM Ware proudly taught Paul JROTC at North Atlanta High School and I am particularly appreciative of his instruction and mentoring of Paul and the other youth.
SGM Ware steadfastly issued an edict to Ms. Ruffin and her brother, throughout their childhood, to “persevere through all challenges.” That pronouncement was frequently made to Paul and his contemporaries in JROTC as well.
I am thankful for SGM Ware’s encouragement of our veterans. His tireless devotion to our veterans, in his volunteer work at the VA hospital, was a real blessing to many people. SGM Thomas Ware was an American hero.
Veteran’s Day is Wednesday, Nov. 11. Please remember our veterans and do not ever miss an opportunity to thank our veterans for their service.
To the late SGM Ware’s family, our sincerest thanks for his service to our country. To veterans, one and all, thank you for your service to our country! Happy Veterans Day!