WASHINGTON -- Mike McCoy, whose father was killed in action in Vietnam in September 1964, said he had never celebrated Father's Day until yesterday, when he joined over 300 other surviving sons and daughters of Vietnam veterans at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
"This is the first Father's Day card I have ever given," said Mr. McCoy, 34, of Riverside, Calif. His expression was as somber as the distant granite wall.
A weekend of Father's' Day activities for children of American servicemen killed in the Vietnam War ended with a ceremony yesterday on the lawn overlooking the memorial. Then many family members walked to the memorial and placed roses beneath panels bearing their fathers' names. Other events included a picnic brunch, a banquet at the Sheraton National Hotel in Arlington, Va., a wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and group discussions.
Many participants expressed relief at finally finding other sons and daughters who understood the often stigmatizing experience of losing a father in the Vietnam War.
"I once brought one of my father's trophies to school to show the class and someone told me my dad was a baby killer," said Kathy Korth, who had come from her home in Germany to join her two sisters, one from Connecticut and the other from Idaho.
The Father's Day weekend was organized by Sons and Daughters in Touch, a group formed in 1989 by Tony Cordero, who wanted to meet other people, like himself, whose fathers were killed in Vietnam. The organization began with his telephone call to the Friends of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial three years ago.
"I asked if there was any organization for the children of vets," said Mr. Cordero, 30, of Portland, Ore. "I was told no, but the woman with whom I spoke put me in touch with her daughter, who had also lost a dad to the war. From there, the network grew by word of mouth."
In the three years, the organization brought together more and more surviving sons and daughters to share common experiences.
"Until this weekend, we did not know anyone else whose father had died in the war," said Ms. Korth, who was 4 when her father, William D. Petersen, an Army officer, was killed in 1967.
"I have a vivid memory of that long black car driving up to the house," Ms. Korth said. "I was sitting on the corner of the couch. We saw the car drive up and my mother stood up and said 'No, it can't be,' but we knew what it meant."
Michael Crudon, who was 3 when his father, Staff Sgt. Donald Crudon of the Marines, was killed in an ambush in December 1967, said he had also been angered by the reaction of some people to his father's military service.
"After my father died, my mother received crank phone calls from people saying he got what he deserved and he shouldn't have been there anyway," Mr. Crudon said.
Yesterday was the fourth Father's Day that Mr. Crudon has visited the Vietnam memorial, but it was the first that he was able to share with other sons and daughters of servicemen.
"It's like I have a bunch of other fathers," Mr. Crudon said. "They taught me to be proud of my dad."
Pride was a common feeling at the memorial yesterday.
"My father was a hero then and he is a hero today," said Nina McCoy, Mike McCoy's 37-year-old sister, who lives in Wrightwood, Calif. "I don't care what other people say. I'm here to show veterans that we are proud of them."