Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran Survivors...thank you, too

When I was a child I never really could understand my father’s propensity for tears during a parade. Yes, I was probably too distracted worrying about when a float would go by that would have people throwing candy than I was about why my father stood silently saluting a flag carried by old men. It did strike me as odd, though that he found parades so sad.

And I never really understood why we spent the first day of summer haunting cemeteries. I’d sit hunched in the backseat of our sedan as the day grew long, fuming at the injustice of missing a day at the pool while Dad’s shoulders heaved over in the corner at a grey memorial.

I started to grasp that Dad might have a story once I entered high school and began writing a research paper on the men who served in Vietnam. When I mentioned that I’d like to speak to uncles who’d served, Dad erupted in anger and then dissolved into a heap of misery the likes of which I never saw before or since. And slowly his story emerged.

As his father before him did when Pearl Harbor was bombed, Dad enlisted when things began to heat up in Vietnam. Dad went to boot camp in Louisiana and, as often happens in the companies that do boot camp together, Dad and his fellow enlistees bonded. When it came time to ship out, however, Dad was sent to patrol in Germany while the rest of his company was sent to the heart of the action in Vietnam.

The day that changed my father forever was the day he opened a military paper listing the latest fatalities in Vietnam. His entire company, minus him, was listed. They were all dead.

In my teen angst I found myself angry at Dad for his despair. If he had been with his company, I wouldn’t exist. But as I’ve matured I’ve come to realize that survivor’s guilt can’t be explained away logically. It just is.

Who really knows why my dad was spared death in Vietnam? Why he was sent to relatively peaceful Germany. Why my sisters and I were allowed to live. The same can be asked on behalf of my father-in-law who spent his military years picking up cigarette butts in Thailand and of my granddad who spent WWII training pilots in the LINK trainer in Florida rather than flying in the Pacific. What I do know is this; they made themselves available to their country just like all the rest.

All too often we are asked “remember our military” and usually that means to remember the dead. At times like these, both my dad and my granddad have been known to say, “I didn’t do a damn thing in the war,” as if fighting and dying is the only price a soldier can pay. And though it is important that we remember the soldiers that paid the ultimate price, I think it is time for us to also remember the brave men and women who enlist, serve, are discharged and go on to live out their lives outside of the military. Their service is just as valuable. Their bravery is no less. And, many times, the grief they carry at the loss of their fallen comrades is more than they can bear alone.

These days I stand proudly at parades beside my father with his hand in mine. I’m no longer confused at his tears, for those old men carrying a flag also bring on my own.


Anonymous said...

Well said and I join in your tears for our military men and women, past and present. Thank your father for his service.

Melinda said...

Bless you for sharing. As you know first hand, war touches more than just those who must fight.

Tell your day I'm sorry for the loss of his friends, and give him my thanks,


Senior Citizen said...

Thanks for caring folks. Hey buds, these tears are for you. I salute you. Sr. Citizen SP-4 US Army. Now where is that darn coffee cup.

Lynette said...

Wonderful. Thanks to your dad, my stepdad, my hubby, and all the rest.

MotherT said...

My brother, Bob, was slated to deploy to Vietnam with his unit, but a few days before they left, Bob was injured in a training exercise and was hospitalized for 6 weeks. He was reassigned to a different unit and walked The Wall in Germany for 4 years. He, also, dealt with survivor's guilt.

Give your dad a hug and a big thanks for serving!