Why I Read: A father MIA and a family changed forever
November 7 is the first day of the Reading of the Names, part of The Wall’s 35th Anniversary Commemoration. The 58,318 names inscribed on the memorial will be read aloud.
Chief Master Sergeant Thomas Moore is one of them. His name is scheduled to be read at 5:38 p.m. by his daughter Terri Ambrose. Moore was captured as a POW in 1965 and is currently listed as missing in action. Thomas Moore is an American hero, but for Terri, Thomas will always be her father first. He had a smile that could light up a room and a sense of humor that could brighten any situation.
“My dad was like Santa Claus to us kids,” Terri said. “He would always bring us treats and make us laugh. No matter the situation, Daddy always knew how to bring a smile to mine or any of my siblings’ faces.”
“I remember when my sister and I got in trouble for chasing mosquito trucks after my mom told us not to. She told my dad to give us a spanking,” Terri recalls. ‘So my dad brought us into the bathroom and said ‘every time I hit this toilet with my belt, I want you to scream and pretend like I am giving you a spanking so we can fool your mother.’ He was just that type of guy who could find humor and happiness in anything.”
Thomas Moore grew up in Lake Butler, Florida. He was the son of two tobacco farmers.
“Daddy grew up in a family that did not have much and he always wanted to create a better life for himself and for his family,” Terri said. When he turned 17, Moore decided to join the military but he was too young. He falsified his age by a year so his birthday read December 9, 1929, in order to be eligible to enlist in 1947.
“Funny enough, I never realized that my dad was actually born in 1930 until I found his birth certificate just a few years ago,” Terri said.
Moore was stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in 1951 when he met his future wife, Lucy Harper Moore. The two got married in February of 1952 and had four children.
When Moore left for Vietnam in 1965, his kids were still young. The oldest was 11 years old and the youngest was two.
“I remember him kissing me and my siblings goodbye and saying, ‘See you soon,’” Terri said. “We were convinced he was going to come home and could not imagine another scenario.” Moore had previously deployed twice to Vietnam as an advisor.
The family’s optimism was short lived. On October 31, 1965, Moore and three other service members: Charles Dusing, Samuel Adams, and Jasper Page were traveling to Saigon by truck when they were ambushed and captured by the Viet Cong.
Terri vividly remembers the day her family received the news. She remembers a yellow taxi pulling up, her mother crying in the next room, and the siblings and neighbors running over to comfort her.
“The armed forces did not even tell us about Daddy going missing. It was a yellow cab message,” Terri remembers. Military officials “came the day after we found out he was missing.”
Terri remembers feelings of hope and fear, coupled with the unknown.
“We were told absolutely no information about my dad or how he disappeared,” Terri said. “We got a telegram that said MIA and were told not to talk about my dad’s status with any other military family because it could ‘damage his ability to come home.’ It felt like he had disappeared off the face of the earth.”
The family was finally able to learn of information regarding her father’s capture and tenure as a POW through Jasper Page, who was captured with Moore but managed to escape. Page recorded tapes where he described everything from their capture – to his escape. The tapes served as the only source of information Moore’s family had on what happened to him.
“I still have the tapes that Jasper Page sent us and they are a little tough to listen to,” Terri said. “One moment that actually made me smile was when Page is talking about how the four of them were tied together one night and my dad joked that ‘if we install air conditioning in their huts they will let us go.’ It shows me that even in the absolute worst times, my dad was still being himself. That is just who he was.”
As the Vietnam War progressed, the Moore family moved from the military base in Panama City, Florida to Biloxi, Mississippi in order to be closer to Terri’s mother’s family.
“My mom always said that we needed to live near an Air Force base so ‘he can find us if he ever gets back.’ We made sure to live close to a military base when we had to move to Mississippi,” Terri said. “My mother never gave up hope that my dad would return home one day.”
As the Moore family anxiously awaited his return, Terri’s mother’s family and the local high school rallied around them.
“I will always remember how wonderful my Aunt Faye, my cousin Fran and my Uncle Bill were to my mother and us children,” Terri recalled, “and I will never forget how the high school band at Biloxi High came over to paint our house and comfort my mother when the war ended.”
Lucy’s strength in the decades that followed were not lost on her children. In the most difficult of times, Lucy became the same hero to her children as her husband was. She continued to hold out hope and would make notes in her personal bible for him in case he came home.
“My mom was my rock and the strongest person I ever knew,” Terri said. “For her to become a widow with four children and handle it with the courage she did is unbelievable. She will always be the example of the person I want to become.”
Sadly, Lucy passed away on December 3, 1995.
More than 50 years after Thomas went missing, Terri has not given up in her search for him. One of the ways Terri honors her father is through her involvement with Sons and Daughter In Touch (SDIT). SDIT is an organization that unites the Gold Star sons and daughters of American servicemen who were killed, or who remain missing, as a result of the Vietnam War.
“My family was the only one I knew that had lost someone to the Vietnam War so SDIT has been a godsend for me, especially after my mother’s passing. They helped establish a wonderful support system for me and showed me that I was not the only one who had to go through what I did growing up,” she said. “I feel like I can help be a support network for these young families who are going through what my family had to go through.”
The creation of the Wall in 1982 provided another way for Terri to honor her father.
“I know The Wall lists the names of the people who have fallen, but every time I go to The Wall I get overwhelmed because I see life,” Terri said. “I see all the brothers, fathers, and sons that these young men were. I just have to always stop and think about the lives they could have had.”
Terri will proudly say the name of her father and the two men who went missing with him – Sgt. Dusing and Sgt. Adams, in front of this very memorial. As she reads their names, she will also be thinking of the service members who remain missing, and their families.
“I want to show that even though they are missing, our families have never given up on them,” she said. “We will not give up hope.”
This blog was written by Communications Intern Scott Lynch.