words on his tombstone help define Navy Lt. Thomas Mullen Adams, a La
Mesa native and descendant of two presidents, who was buried yesterday
at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery.
Etched on the white stone is
this: "He's Just Pining."
The sentiment comes from Adams'
favorite Monty Python skit, "The Dead Parrot Sketch," which represents
an exercise in comic absurdity.
It's what Adams would have
wanted. And it's what those who spoke at his funeral came back to
repeatedly – his sense of humour and fun-loving nature.
Adams, the first Navy casualty
of the war in Iraq, was killed with six British squadron members when
two Sea Knight helicopters flying from the carrier Ark Royal crashed
March 22. He had been on special assignment with the Royal Navy.
British Navy Lt. Cmdr. Malcolm
McKenzie and others from the 849 Naval Air Squadron came to honour him,
as did more than 350 people from around the world, including Craig Noel
of The Globe Theatres and U.S. Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego.
McKenzie told this story: Adams
decided while stationed in England that he would buy a "top-of-the-line"
BMW. Most people would think about the decision.
"Not Tom," McKenzie said. "He
just went out and bought the car, and brought it back to the garage and
found the car wouldn't fit." Adams couldn't open the car doors to get
out. It was that tight. Instead, he had to climb in and out of the
McKenzie's words brought
laughter, but there were also sorrow, as Adams' parents, Marilyn and
John, walked in tandem and in silence behind his casket at the start of
Wind rustled through palm trees
and a boat's horn echoed mournfully on San Diego Bay. Rain began to
fall, and it seemed as if the world were weeping for the 27-year-old,
whose lifelong dream was to become a Navy aviator.
In written comments, his father,
a La Mesa architect, he talked about his son's love of flying.
"When Tom was just a little guy,
we could take him down to the airport and he would correctly identify
every kind of plane that flew by," his father wrote. "He couldn't tell
the difference between a sea gull and a pigeon, but he loved planes."
Adams was passionate about
soccer, once sleeping on a park bench in Berlin because he missed the
train after visiting a world-famous soccer venue. He told relatives that
"the bad sleep was worth it, even to see the empty soccer stadium."
"He was slow to anger, but great
to laugh, love and serve," his uncle, Lt. Col. Marc Masquelier of the
Air Force Reserve, said during the service. Masquelier spoke of
Adams' devotion to his younger sister, Cari. As children, he helped her
learn to read and count to 20.
Adams grew up to be selfless and
ready to serve his country. He had come from a family of privilege, and
his grandfather served on the rebuilding boards of the Old Globe and the
Aerospace Museum when both were destroyed by arson. He was a descendant
of presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams.
"He gave it all for service,"
said his uncle, Tim Moran. "There are not many like him."
Adams was a National Merit
Scholar and a valedictorian of his 1993 class at Grossmont High School.
As a teenager, he joined the
Civil Air Patrol. He celebrated his 18th birthday by skydiving.
"It takes a piece of you when
they leave, but what he left makes up for it," said Eran Moscona, a
commercial pilot who had been friends with Adams since their days in the
Civil Air Patrol.
Adams graduated from the Naval
Academy with honours and was a radar operator, whose job it was to
detect low-flying aircraft and skimming missiles, as well as direct
"Tom was loving what he was
doing, and was so impressed with his British crew that he was arranging
inter-ship visits so our guys and their guys could learn from each
other," said his friend and fellow Navy flier Lt. Mike Herbert, who
escorted Adams' body on the trip home from Kuwait. Herbert had just
returned from flying in the first strike against Iraq when he heard the
news that among the British casualties in the crash was one American. "I
knew who it was," Herbert said. "The bottom fell out. I came from one of
the highest highs to one of the lowest lows."
Adams was honored with a rifle
volley and a lone bugler played "Taps." When two S-3 Vikings screamed
overhead, and Navy personnel folded an American flag and a British flag
for his parents, the sound of gentle sobbing came from those who loved
him. Family members and friends slowly rose and walked by the casket,
which they covered in red, white and yellow roses.
He was buried on a hillside that
looks toward Mount Helix, where he grew up.
"It's a personal consolation
that he will be able to hear airplanes," said his aunt, Elizabeth
At a reception following the
service, fellow fliers talked about Adams.
"He was friends with everybody,"
said Navy Lt. Eric Nelson, who came from Washington, D.C., to the
funeral, along with about 10 of the 30 people in Adams' class and
company at the Naval Academy. Some are deployed in Iraq, but "in spirit,
all of them are here," Nelson said.
Adams' mother said she was
grateful for the outpouring of love and support from all of the people
who knew him.
"What you hope for your kids is
that they are happy," she said, "and he truly was."