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Chiefs' Thomas Recalls Father in Ceremony : Memorial Day: The all-pro linebacker gives emotional speech at the wall honoring Vietnam War's dead.

June 01, 1993|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Derrick Thomas, the Kansas City Chiefs' all-pro linebacker, gave a stirring Memorial Day speech Monday in honor of the father he lost in the Vietnam War.

Speaking alongside President Clinton at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, Thomas said: "It's very ironic that my father's last mission (in Vietnam) was named Linebacker 2. It's very ironic that in college I had 52 sacks and my father flew a B-52.

"And I figure that if I play this story out long enough, it will have a happy ending."

While President Clinton spoke of a need for healing the wounds of the Vietnam War, Thomas evoked the pain suffered by those who lost loved ones.

"I was bitter for a long time," said Thomas, who was 5 when his father, Robert James Thomas, was killed while co-piloting a B-52 in combat. "I've spent the better part of my life trying to find out what kind of man my father actually was."

On Monday, Thomas was among thousands of Americans who honored friends and family members whose names are on the sweeping black granite wall of the Vietnam Memorial.

Thomas, 26, learned during his freshman year at Alabama that his father was shot down during a campaign called Operation Linebacker 2.

"I've tried to research all I could," Thomas said. "I talked to members of his unit. Memorial Day serves as a time to remember. It's an opportunity to talk to other people who have similar stories to mine.

"I asked the question (for) a long time: 'Why do I have to go and participate in sports . . . and my father not be there to pat me on the back when the game was over?'

"I didn't have a male figure in my life . . . to come and watch me play in a football name. I didn't have that male figure in my life when things were going bad.

"I was blessed with the ability to perform at a high level in athletics, but I wasn't blessed to be a great person."

Thomas said everyone characterized his father as a good person, and he was happy to stand before the wall to honor him.

" . . . For me, this is probably the crowning moment . . . to stand with people that fought with my father," Thomas said.

"I hope that when you leave here, you take a little bit more than you came with because there are 58,000 names on this wall and they each left somebody behind."

Thomas told the audience to reach out to other children who lost their fathers during war.

"I would like to urge each and every Vietnam vet here to adopt a kid in your neighborhood, because that may be a part of the legacy that was left behind," he said.

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