By Josh Davis
U.S. Army Col. Robert Adair, one of first community lot owners, among honorees
(April 8, 2021) This April, the Worcester County Veterans Memorial Foundation will host a three-quarter scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial from Washington, D.C.
The traveling national exhibit, dubbed “The Wall That Heals” and run by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, includes the names of more than 58,000 men and women who lost their lives or remain missing because of the Vietnam War.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund also created the “In Memory” program to honor thousands more Vietnam veterans who suffered from Agent Orange exposure, PTSD, and other related illnesses because of their service.
Among the names soon to be listed through In Memory, is U.S. Army Col. Robert Adair. His wife, Mary Adair, entered his name in the program and is an active member of the Worcester County Veterans Memorial Foundation.
The couple are both originally from Philadelphia, and grew up together.
“I knew Bob when we were 5 years old,” Mary Adair said. “He was adventuresome [as a child] … He lived on the next street over from me, so there was a group of kids that just palled around together when we were younger.”
Bob and Mary dated in high school, and then reconnected again in 1965 after they graduated and Bob went through basic training in the U.S. Army.
“When he came back, I had enrolled in college and he was deferred – he was an enlisted man for the engineers at that time,” Mary said. “He went to La Salle University and I went to Holy Family University [both in Philadelphia], and we started dating again. And in May of that year, we were engaged to be engaged.”
The couple were married after college graduation, in June of 1960, and moved into an apartment in Catonsville, Maryland. However, the stay was short-lived, and they moved often because of Bob’s service obligations.
On their first wedding anniversary, Bob was called overseas, and it was months before Mary and their young daughter, Nancy, were able to join him in Germany. The couple’s second and third children, Robert and Susan, were born in Germany.
By 1964, the family finally headed back to the United States, first at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, and later at Niagara University in New York, where Bob worked as a professor of military science and finished his master’s degree in Soviet and Eastern European history.
In 1967, Bob volunteered for service in Vietnam. Mary, at first, said she was “not too happy.”
“His reasoning was that the orders were going to come anyway, so he just chose the time to go,” she said.
“He had gotten his master’s degree, so he was tasked to go over and write history – only, he wasn’t happy with that. He was an artilleryman at heart, so he volunteered to go with the 1/27 Artillery – which I found out about in a letter. So, he was on a forward firing base,” she added.
Mary and the children, meanwhile, moved home to Philadelphia to be closer to family. Nancy was already in first grade, Robert was in kindergarten, and the youngest, Susan, stayed at home.
“I chose to go back to Philadelphia, so that the children would have their grandparents and their aunts and uncles around them, and I thought that that was the better way to go when they were little,” Mary said.
Ironically, the house they rented, on Marchman Road, was right around the corner from where Chip Bertino grew up. Bertino, currently a Worcester County Commissioner representing Ocean Pines, would later be wed to Mary’s youngest daughter, Susan.
Mary said that year, with Bob serving in the war, was a difficult one. Reports about the conflict and its high death toll were inescapable.
“I never put the news on. Walter Cronkite had the Vietnam War on his newscast every night, so I just wouldn’t put it on,” she said. “I lived for 9 o’clock, because at 9 o’clock I knew no squad car was going to be pulling up and knocking on my door, telling me that something happened to him. So, at that point you were good until the next morning.”
Bob returned home safely, just before the Fourth of July in 1968.
“He was fine,” upon returning home, Mary said. “The only thing that happened, was that we had gone to sleep that night [on July 4] and somebody set off firecrackers, and he was on the floor and pulled me down just as quickly, because he reacted to any kind of noise like that.”
According to Mary, Bob thought “he was going right back to Vietnam” after his brief stop home, but the military had other plans and had informed Mary while her husband was still overseas.
“For the first time in our married life, I got a call from the Air Force and they said he was slated to go to the Air Force Academy [in Colorado], to be a professor of history out there,” she said.
The family lived in Colorado for two years while Bob taught, and the couple’s fourth child, James, was born.
Bob received orders for a second tour of Vietnam in 1971, this time stationed in Saigon (present day Ho Chi Minh City) with the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, and working under a U.S. Marines general.
“The second tour was not as stressful as the first tour,” Mary said. “It would have been, because they were going to send him over as an advisor, which I was not happy about, but then they changed him to headquarters.”
All told, Bob served in the U.S. Armed Forces for 28 years as a career officer.
“I don’t think we ever lived any place for longer than two years,” Mary said. “I used to joke that I didn’t have to spring house clean – I just cleared quarters and moved.”
That was hard on the children, who each time went through an adjustment period, but the family “made it an adventure.”
“Bob and I always told them, when he got orders, ‘This is where we’re going to be and this is what we’ll be doing,’” Mary said.
“When we were at the Air Force Academy, Nancy had really settled in there with friends, and she came to her father and she said, ‘I’m so unhappy about moving, because I have to leave all my friends.’ And Bob said, ‘Well, if I didn’t have the job that I have and we didn’t move around the way that we do, you would have never met those friends.’ And that sticks with her, even today,” she added.
Mary said the transition from civilian to military living was also hard on her, at least at first.
“The military life, to me, was a 180 degrees from what I was normally involved in – as a child, I got homesick going to Girl Scout camp overnight!” she said with a laugh.
During much of that time, Mary said she stayed busy as “the epitome of volunteerism.”
“I forget all the things I’ve done,” she said. “I worked as a Red Cross volunteer in the x-ray department, I worked for Army community service as a budget counselor, and you always sit on a lot of committees and boards and make decisions and help out.”
Ocean Pines came into the picture during the early 1970s, when Bob was stationed at the Pentagon.
“We had put away all of his combat pay, and Boise Cascade was making phone calls in those days, and they called us and said, ‘How about a free weekend in Ocean City?’” Mary said. All they had to do was listen to a sales pitch.
The family stayed at the Executive Motel in Ocean City, and they ended up buying property in Ocean Pines, on Ivanhoe Court, but waited to develop it at the advice of local builder Marvin Steen.
“We had a wonderful weekend in Ocean City, met a lot of nice people, bought a lot, and went home,” Mary said.
The couple were among the original lot owners in Ocean Pines, but they didn’t move to the community until the late 1980s. Still, Mary vividly remembers early visits, from camping in the area that later became White Horse Park, to passing the stables near the South Gate.
Around 1987, the couple revisited Ocean Pines as Bob was preparing to retire. They were living in Alexandria, Virginia at the time.
“We talked to Marvin again, and we put our house in Alexandria up for sale and bought [another] lot that we’re on now, and I chose the house and Marvin built it,” Mary said.
She said the difference in the community, from the first time she saw it to the present, is “night and day.”
“It developed, basically, into what we thought it would be when we first moved down here. And I love it,” she said. “This is my 28th residency and I told Bob when I moved in, ‘this is house number last!’”
Bob and Mary joined the Worcester County Veterans Memorial Foundation, as lifetime members, when Bob was still alive. However, she became much more involved after he passed away in 2007.
“Chip was on the [foundation] board at the time and he said to me, ‘I think this would be a good fit for you, Mary – you need to get out of the house!’” she said. “So, I wrote a little thing about being an Army wife and volunteering, and I won a one-year term” on the foundation board.
When that one year was up, Mary finished two more years of another board member’s term, and she never left. She remains a fixture of the foundation to this day.
“I’ve been their assistant treasurer, treasurer, and president,” she said.
Mary said the Veterans Memorial Foundation is important to her, “because it honors veterans, and that was my whole adult life.”
“Anything I can do for the military, I will,” she said.
This year, Mary has been an active part of the volunteer force helping to bring The Wall That Heals to Ocean Pines. She’s working with Jenny Cropper-Rines to develop a history pamphlet and pitching in wherever she’s needed.
“I’m probably on every committee one way or another,” she said. “I’m a worker bee!”
The project, Mary said, is among the most important she has ever worked on. And she recognizes the impact it could have on many others who lost loved ones because of the war.
“We have a lot of friends that passed away in Vietnam, even before it was known to be a combat area,” she said. “When we were stationed in Germany, we lost a friend, and his name was Robert. And I told my son, ‘I [already] have a Robert Adair,’ so I called him Robbie after this young man.
“The fact that a lot of people do not have the ability to go to Washington, D.C. to see the wall there, this three-quarter replica of it just gives people the opportunity to kind of touch history,” she said.
The Wall That Heals does not usually travel through Maryland, but an exception was made to bring it to Ocean Pines. During its stop in April, the exhibit will honor “Hometown Heroes” from every county on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia, as well as Sussex County in Delaware. Those names, which are also on the wall in Washington, D.C., will be read aloud during ceremonies in Ocean Pines.
“I’m very honored to be a part of this,” Mary said.
Mary also decided to honor Bob through the In Memory program. He died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, and the illness is widely linked to military service.
“It’s been very bittersweet for me to deal with this, because I had to go back and pick up a lot of memories,” Mary said. “But I am awed and honored that the wall will be here, and the fact that they can move it around allows it to be meaningful to so many people.”