The excellent Sunday Telegram story of Aug. 14 about next-of-kin notification by law enforcement following a loved one’s death recalled the times I was called on to perform that unwelcome duty during the Vietnam War.

I was a young lieutenant stationed at Fort Holabird, Maryland, before heading to Vietnam myself. Each officer was put on the roster to make notifications in the event a service member from the Baltimore area appeared on the latest casualty list.

I and a noncommissioned officer would visit the home, where protocol would have me recite a statement that “the secretary of Defense regrets to inform you … .” Of course, the appearance of two soldiers in uniform at the family’s doorstep told the story, and there was never a need to make that boilerplate recitation.

I found that the best we could do was simply be present during the initial grieving period, and perhaps help by contacting a friend, neighbor or member of the clergy. I recall that the responses to the news from wives, parents or other loved ones ran from screams of grief to shocked silence, and in one case a newly married widow’s persistent questions on how big a benefits check she would receive. (We told her that a survivor assistance officer would provide such details.)

Junior officers at Holabird kept a close eye on the clock when assigned notification duty, which generally meant being on standby for 48 hours or so. The times when we got through that period without a visit felt as though we had dodged a bullet ourselves. I think I had about a half dozen notifications to perform but it never got easier.

I feel for officers like Piscataquis County Chief Deputy Bob Young who take on this thankless task on a regular basis.

Jerry Harkavy

Cape Elizabeth