- - Monday, June 20, 2005

Susan Mitchell-Mattera’s most vivid memory from her childhood is of a man standing in her home in San Pedro, California, telling her mother that her father had been killed in Vietnam.

“I can remember the height of the man compared to my mother’s short stature, but I can see and remember no face on him, it’s just a blur,” she said. “I can remember the color of my mother’s pajamas — aqua blue — and I was wearing blue footsie pajamas with the feet cut off.”

Mrs. Mitchell-Mattera, 40, and her sister, Pamela Mitchell, 37, both of Carson, Calif., were among hundreds who celebrated Father’s Day yesterday at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where they paid tribute to their fathers who were killed in the Vietnam War or were listed as missing in action. At least a third of the more than 58,000 who were killed or remain missing are thought to be fathers.

Mrs. Mitchell-Mattera was 5 years old and Miss Mitchell was 2, when their father, James C. Mitchell Jr., 24, was killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 8, 1970. He was killed two days after his birthday and two days before he was to be officially discharged.

Frequent visits to the Wall, where she can see her father’s name, is part of Mrs. Mitchell-Mattera’s healing process — a journey that began 35 years ago and is far from complete, she said.

“This is my second trip to the Wall this year,” Mrs. Mitchell-Mattera said as she wiped tears from her eyes. “I feel closer to my father here than I do even at his grave site. But it’s hard. Sometimes you feel so alone. And my mother still won’t talk about it all. After it happened, we were cut off from my father’s side of the family. My grandmother doesn’t want to see us because we look too much like him.”

About 1,000 children whose fathers had been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan also attended the ceremony yesterday.

The children — young and old — came to the memorial with the Sons and Daughters in Touch, an Arlington-based group that connects adult children who lost their parents in war. Yesterday was the group’s 15th Father’s Day ceremony and the culmination of a three-day event that included several trips to the Wall, discussions by Vietnam veterans and support group sessions.

“As sons and daughters, you took control of your pain, and of that, your father would be proud,” James V. Kimsey, a board member with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and founding chief executive officer of America Online Inc., said during the ceremony. “God bless you and God bless those American heroes.”

During the ceremony, Gold Star pins, worn by family members who lost a loved one in war, were given to about 200 children of Vietnam troops. Children whose fathers were killed in Iraq or Afghanistan also received the pins.

Yolanda Acevedo, 42, of Virginia, and her sons Andre, 13, and Stephen, 10, were at the Wall yesterday to remember her husband and the boys’ father, Navy Cmdr. Joseph Acevedo, 46, who died in Bahrain in 2003 during the Iraq war.

Mrs. Acevedo lost her father, Army Cpl. Jose Montes in Vietnam.

Although her sons are dealing with their father’s death as best they can, it’s been a long, hard process, Mrs. Acevedo said.

“It’s a roller coaster — there are good days and there are other days,” she said. “He is buried in Arlington, so we live here so that we can be close to him. I bring the boys to this group so that they can know that they are not alone, that other people have lost their father, too.”

At the end of the ceremony, each family member was given a red or yellow rose to lay at the foot of the Wall. Many also left cards.

“I’m going to leave a card at the Wall, but it is so hard to write it out,” Mrs. Mitchell-Mattera said. “My card says ‘I miss you,’ and ‘I think about you’ and it says ‘I honor you in many different ways.’ “


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