- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2000

It was not memories of her father that brought Lenice Padgett to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial this Father's Day it was the lack of them.
She was 8 months old when her father, Lance Cpl. Larry L. Riley, took off for a war he never came home from. "My mother never spoke of him she has been in denial ever since he died," said Mrs. Padgett, who said she missed her father every day of her life growing up.
Now, as a member of Sons and Daughters in Touch, an organization that seeks to unite the estimated 20,000 children left fatherless by the Vietnam War, she hopes to find someone who knew her father during the war and may have some memory of him to share with her.
"That is my biggest goal in coming here," she said.
Like Mrs. Padgett, nearly 700 children, spouses and grandchildren of those who died in Vietnam or are missing in action gathered at the Wall on Sunday at the SDIT's fourth reunion, said Karen Frost, a publicist for the group.
The group now has 3,000 members and is searching for more, organizers said. "We have people from every state and every branch of the military represented here," said Tony Cordero, who founded the group 10 years ago. Mr. Cordero lost his father, an Air Force navigator, to the war.
The group's fourth reunion has been its largest, he said, adding, "It is like a family tree that just keeps growing."
Family reunions set the mood for the humid summer morning. Children of the soldiers killed in action brought along their husbands, wives and children to pay tribute to their fathers and take rubbings of their names inscribed on the Wall.
Stacie Pitts McGill came from Oklahoma and her brother, Mark Pitts, from Georgia, with their families. Their father, Capt. Riley L. Pitts, the first black officer to receive the Medal of Honor, died when Stacie was 7 and Mark was 4.
"Growing up I often wished I could have had a dad," Mrs. McGill said. "A lot of my friends would have their dads cheering them on at the games. I missed him at my graduation, my wedding… . "
Kimberley Thomas Bowles and Lisa Thomas Longnecker Florida said they waited "every day of our lives" for the return of their father, Sgt. James Thomas, who is missing in action in Vietnam.
"This is the only place we have to go to," Mrs. Longnecker said about the Wall, pointing to her father's name with a cross instead of a diamond beside it, indicating he is missing in action.
Deisha Rosser from Alabama brought a picture of her wedding two years ago, with a note to her father that said, "I missed you at my wedding but I felt your presence."
She was 5 1/2 months old when her father went to the war. "I had never heard my dad's voice," she said, until someone who had known him at the war and whom she met at the SDIT reunion in 1997 sent her a tape recording.
But the sadness, said some, was only a small aspect of why they were at the Wall on Sunday. "We are proud of our father and what he achieved," Mrs. McGill said. "This is a happy occasion for me."
Lenice Padgett placed a letter to her father at the Wall, along with others from her four children who accompanied her and her husband.
"I want to be a jet pilot when I grow up," Jacob Padgett wrote to his grandfather.
Mrs. Padgett teared up as she spoke of having found new hope after coming to the reunion. "I always thought I was the only one to have suffered through the loss of my father in the war, until now," she said.

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