Worst phone call I shouldn't have answered:
It was July 4th, 1984, and I was a bachelor living alone in a civilian community, teaching the US Army ROTC program at a university, far from any Army post. I was planning a lazy day, perhaps watching fireworks that night.
The phone rang about 9 AM, no caller ID back then, and I instantly had a premonition about not answering it. I had few local friends in that community, and I couldn't think why my ROTC colleagues, just a handful and all married, would be phoning me at home, which they never did. Against my better judgment I picked it up.
"Hello, is this Major Robert XXXX?" said an official-sounding voice.
"Oh, hell, I KNEW not to answer it!" I thought to myself. I confirmed my identify.
"This is Fort Carson, Colorado, Death Notification Office."
"FUCK!" I wanted to scream. Turns out they had a list of all us Active Duty officers in their region, and I was the only one who had so far answered his home phone on a holiday. With no Army posts nearby, ROTC instructors were about it.
"You are being appointed the Death Notification Officer for a soldier in your area..." The rest of the details you do not need to know in this thread, except the young soldier had been killed in a training accident in Georgia the day before. My job was to tell his family, some 150 miles away, to drive there in my own private car ASAP.
They gave me no instructions how to do this, nor did they have any details how the death had occurred! What the HELL was I supposed to say to them, except that your son is dead, more to follow? Fucking insensitive idiots!
I quickly phoned the Army installation where the death had occurred, and managed to learn some useful details from their Public Affairs Office (like PR in the civilian world). Next I phoned the town's police dept, since the only address I had was a rural route mailing one, deep in farm country. They confirmed the family's name, and were able to tell me they were Catholics and the name of their parish. Next I phoned & contacted their priest, and after several calls back & forth, was able to coordinate meeting with a police officer and the priest at a rendezvous point I could find in that remote area.
Putting on my dress green uniform I drove the 150 miles, and succeeded in finding them. A police cruiser led me down dirt roads that I could never have known, the priest riding with me, until we reached a farmstead. As we drove up the mother was outside in a garden.
And when she saw a police officer, a priest and an Army officer all coming towards her, she already knew her son was dead. I had tried to rehearse something to say, but it wasn't necessary.
"John's dead, isn't he?" she asked us before we could say a word to her. I confirmed it. The priest then took the job of comforting her. Her husband wasn't home, just her. The rest of this sad story I'll keep to myself.
But every time I hear something about a phone call that shouldn't have been answered, I recall that incident. I suppose I did my duty, and better than some others might have, what I signed on to do when I took an Army career. But honestly, there are some jobs you'd rather not have, ya know?