B.J. Ash had a sense of doom about her younger brother two weeks before she got the news he had been killed in action during the Vietnam War.
It was still a blow when the Marines pulled up at the school where she worked.
“If it hadn’t been for that (foreboding feeling), (the news) would have been much harder than it was,” the woman said.
Zack Addington’s family is remembering him on Veterans Day, which is being observed today in ceremonies throughout the U.S.
But they’re also celebrating that the post office in Clermont, where Zack and his siblings grew up, could someday be named after him.
“It’s quite an honor,” said another sister, Sandra Montgomery, 78.
“Absolutely,” B.J., 83, replied during an interview with them earlier this week at her house.
The renaming, proposed in Congress by U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, helped bring a flood of memories about Zack, who died on May 16, 1968, at age 19.
B.J., Sandra and Zack’s brother, Addison Addington, now all living in Cleveland, recalled him as a fun-loving guy with a good sense of humor and a love for poetry.
“He was a blessing to us,” B.J. said. “We were older than him, and he was like a toy to us. We played with him all the time. He was a joy every day we had him.
“He was always laughing and joking. He was a happy guy.”
Zack also was patriotic. He didn’t need a draft notice to join the military.
Marine recruiters were in the area, and Zack jumped at the chance to serve.
“But he had already been thinking about it,” Sandra said.
Zack would go on to become a rifleman in the 3rd Marine Division of the Fleet Marine Force and later was deployed to Vietnam.
Before his death on the battlefield, he had been promoted to lance corporal.
He posthumously received the Purple Heart, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Ribbon.
Addison, 81, said he hopes that if the post office is renamed, Zack’s medals and the flag presented to his parents at his burial at Concord Baptist Church in Clermont could be put on display.
He still has some of his brother’s belongings left behind on the battlefield, including his wallet and a booklet, “Prayers for Living.”
B.J. had given Zack a St. Christopher necklace, which was returned to her after he died. She kept the necklace in her billfold, which was later stolen.
Sandra said her brother also kept a New Testament, and though he smoked, he never drank.
“He would trade beer for cigarettes,” she said.
B.J. also recalled helping her parents cope with the loss by breaking the news to her siblings.
I came down for his high school graduation, and one year later, in the same week, I came down for his funeral.Addison Addington
Addison recalled those dark days.
“I came down (from North Carolina) for his high school graduation, and one year later, in the same week, I came down for his funeral,” he said.
Addison said he worried his brother would be wounded but never thought he would be killed.
Retired Clermont Postmaster James Young, now 93, was Addington's scoutmaster.
“You just couldn’t find a better boy than he was,” Young said.
He remembered the day the Marines came to town to deliver the news about Zack. Their car approached the post office on Main Street as “I was out raising the flag.”
“My son was also over in Vietnam,” Young said. “My heart almost stopped right there.”
Still, hearing that Zack had been killed was devastating.
“Ever since then, I have been trying to get the government to name this post office after Zack, and honor him,” said Young, himself a veteran of World War II and the Korean War.
Collins was willing to take on the challenge. He introduced the bill at the end of September, and it has since passed out of a House committee and is “continuing to move through Congress,” according to his office.
If successful, the building would be known as the Zack T. Addington Post Office.
“Veterans Day reminds us of the sacrifice that people like Lance Cpl. Addington have made in service to our country,” Collins said in an email this week.
“We benefit from their selflessness each day, and naming the Clermont post office in honor of Zack Addington helps us to remember our local heroes each and every day.”
Deborah Mauldin, engaged to Zack at the time of his death, remembered him reading the palms of friends at North Hall High School.
“He even told me before he left for Vietnam that he knew he wouldn’t make it back,” she said. “He told me several times that if something happened to him, he wanted me to always keep a place in my heart for him, but to find someone who would love me as much as he did.”
He also loved Clermont and the people there.
“I can’t think of anything that would honor his memory more than to have the Clermont post office renamed for him,” Mauldin said.