American Archives Month: Corporal Terrence Adams, W.R. Poage, and Compassion

To kick off American Archives month, we looked into the letters of Congressman W.R. Poage. This post was researched and written by Scott M. Anderson, one of our BCPM @ Poage Library graduate student assistants.


Perhaps one of the most difficult parts of archive work is the perception that archives are boring, devoid of human interaction, or somehow removed from the humanities. What gets buried among the processing, labeling, organizing, and research is the human element – the profound understanding that every document we touch has been created by a person. The act of creation is an act of humanity. Archives reveal the stories of humanity.

We were recently contacted by a friend of the library and a former Poage staffer looking for more information on correspondence between Congressman Poage and Terry Adams, a Marine corporal from Waco. We located the requested documents in our materials. The documents on file provide a sobering glimpse into the challenges faced by soldiers and the limitations of Congressional action due to the complexities of the Vietnam War.

On December 17, 1965, Corporal Terry Adams contacted Fowler West at the Congressman’s office and requested Poage’s help in his application for reassignment. Adams explained that he had applied for reassignment to Waco due to his wife’s failing health but that his request had been denied. Adams felt this was due to a misunderstanding that he was requesting leave to clear up marital problems when in fact these problems had already been resolved. Congressman Poage wrote to the Legislative Liaison for the Navy on December 20, informing them of the situation and providing documentation showing that Mrs. Adams’s illness could last as long as a year, placing difficulty on her and their three-month-old child (particularly in light of the fact that the Adams had no outside family assistance). To ensure that proper attention was placed on the matter, Poage also telegraphed the Navy liaison to request an extension to Adams’s leave, which would otherwise expire on Christmas Day. The Marine Corps reached out to Cpl. Adams, who then received a 15-day temporary additional duty extension while his case was reviewed.

On January 5, 1966, Poage was regretfully notified by Colonel Atkinson of the Marine Corps that, even with the additional information regarding his case, Cpl. Adams did not qualify for reassignment for humanitarian purposes. As a result, Adams was ordered on January 7 to proceed to the Marine Barracks on Treasure Island in San Francisco to report for re-deployment. In a following letter to Mr. West, Adams expressed deep concern for his wife and baby, and worried that issues at home might affect his ability to carry out his duties as a Marine… even to the point of contemplating unauthorized absence. Having been shown the letter by West, Poage immediately wrote to Cpl. Adams on January 10, explaining that he had done what was possible to secure a review and encouraging Adams to continue to serve his country “in a way that makes us all proud of you.”

On January 15, Adams, having rejoined his unit, requested help securing a discharge rather than a transfer. Poage forwarded the request to the Marine Corps and notified Adams in a letter from January 20 that he had been advised that they would consider the request. Poage stressed that the chances the application would be granted were slight and once again advised against “going ‘AWOL’.”  He encouraged Adams to “continue to serve your country to the best of your ability” and to submit additional documentation to help his application succeed.

On January 26, Adams wrote to thank Congressman Poage for his help and notify him that he had applied for a hardship discharge. His postscript reveals that he had taken Poage’s advice and included additional documentation in his latest request.

This was Adams’s last letter to Poage. Only four days later, on January 30, 1966, Corporal Terrance Adams was killed by a hostile grenade in Quang Nam, Vietnam. He was 24 years old and one of 45 Wacoans killed during the Vietnam War. For his service and sacrifice, Cpl. Adams received the National Defense Service Medal, the Purple Heart, and the Vietnam Campaign Medal. He is commemorated on the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Panel 04e, Line 117.

Corporal Adams’s picture and Vietnam information can be found here:

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