Once thought a deserter, soldier buried with honors Army believes finding of remains shows private was murdered in 1967

February 05, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

HICKORY, N.C. -- For 30 years Pfc. Allen L. Adams was branded a deserter, thought by the Army to be yet another soldier who had fled to avoid being sent to Vietnam.

But six weeks ago, when workers in Washington found human bones in the rubble of a building they were demolishing, that easy assumption was undone: The remains were those of Adams, and the authorities now believe that he disappeared in the summer of 1967 because he had been killed.

This weekend, Adams was buried in Hickory with full military honors. His parents, Darrel and Elizabeth Adams, who retired to Hickory five years ago, wept softly as seven soldiers raised M-16s in a salute and a bugler played taps.

"It was a 30-year nightmare that just never ended," said Elizabeth Adams, 64.

Though the uncertainty is over, friends and family say many questions remain: Why was the body not discovered in all this time? Why did the Army not fully investigate Adams' disappearance? Why did the Army assume that he had deserted, especially since he had just re-enlisted?

The police in Washington, meanwhile, face their own puzzles as they investigate a homicide three decades old. The task is particularly daunting because records have been lost and investigators recovered only Adams' pelvic bone and one femur, encased in a pair of blue jeans. His dog tags and a wallet containing money were found in a pocket.

Adams was stationed at Fort Myer, in the Washington suburb of Arlington, Va., when he disappeared on July 31, 1967. His remains were found Dec. 18, 1996, in the rubble of a long-abandoned pool hall that was being torn down to make way for a new sports arena. Investigators believe that he died shortly after disappearing from the base.

Positive identification was made in January by comparing DNA from the remains with blood taken from his mother.

Investigators surmise that Adams' body was hidden in the attic. They are looking for leads in property tax records and have interviewed the property's owner at the time, but a fire has destroyed Army personnel records that would have helped them find soldiers who served with Adams.

The Adamses learned in August 1967 that their son, then 20 years old, was missing. Over the years, Army officials, still trying to track down a man they thought had deserted, visited the Adamses' West Palm Beach home to see if their son had shown up. Once, a soldier waited in line at the dress shop where his mother worked. When his turn at the register came, he said: "Where's Allen? I know you know where he is."

When word came that Adams was in fact dead, Elizabeth Adams cried for hours. "There was no hope left," she said later.

As the family turned to leave the grave, David Adams, born two years after Allen Adams, stopped and tucked a piece of paper inside his brother's steel-gray coffin.

It was a letter in which he wrote about the times he had shared with his brother, the times he had tagged along. He, too, served in the Army, he told his brother. Now he wished he had tagged along one last time, on that night in the pool hall.

David Adams concluded his letter by saying, "The Army might have given up on you, but your family never did."

Pub Date: 2/05/97

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