Flag of My Father

POSTING BY JB MADDAWG

The country of Viet Nam threw everything they had into killing my father.  They failed miserably.  His friends, his innocence and lots of his ammo, absolutely they claimed.  But they never touched the man.  He did things such as pulling point, or leading his platoon into the unknown jungle to pulling up the rear with his .79, although it’s the “bloop gun” to him.  I used to ask him about the war which he deflected and made it sound like a day camp.  Until I hit 14 years old and we watched Platoon together for the first time. Then, he came clean.

I try to stay away from the personal items here on The ThrowDown, but after I nearly lost my father this summer, I feel it’s his turn to be honored here.  I touched on the subject early this year with my article “Goodnight Jane Fonda, Goodnight Bitch”, which you can read here.  I did not write the article for a traitorous celebrity.  I wrote it for the men and women that were treated as dirt when they came home, and the outpouring of comments from vets and their families…well, I only hope I did right by you.  But that article wasn’t really about my father.  This one is my thank you, to him, on Veteran’s Day.

As I mentioned my father wisely hid me from the horrors he’d seen until I was old enough.  Of course I asked “did you have to kill someone?”

“Absolutely.  Many of them. If I didn’t, they certainly would have killed me.”  He told me with no pride when he was pinned down on Christmas Eve, (under a supposed cease-fire) and most of his friends killed, lying in a cesspool for 14 hours.  And the night a figure charged out of the jungle where he was camped with his platoon.  And the little sniper that shot his friend in the chest.  The list went on and on.  I started to realize, my father wasn’t the bus driver on the base.  My dad was most certainly “in country”, and apparently so close to the Cambodian border, maybe even out of country a few times.  He had weapons.  And he used them.  He made no miscommunication.

Over the next decades, I’d learn my father’s stories which he never offered to tell but I always asked.  Part of the reason was he was never a soldier that suffered from the mental aspect being he had a wife and child waiting at home.  The day he stepped off the freedom bird, he was back among the living.  He worked hard, created a business and made a life, yet he knew I wanted to know.  I felt it was only right he walked through hell, that I hear it firsthand.  I needed to know what he went through in order to respect him and others like him.   It is what has made me champion veterans and support them with all my energy.

He of course says it never bothers him, yet out underneath the B-52 on a stem in front of the Air Force Academy in Colorado on a trip last year, I could see him looking at the underbelly.  He was shaking his head.  When asked what was going on, he slowly answered:

“The last time I saw this…I was almost this close to it.  It was so close to me, I could count the rivets on the belly.”  It was one story that had escaped me.  And it’s one of the few he hasn’t offered to tell and I’m not sure he ever will.  I saw then, certain things brought him back to being a 19-year-old kid again.  His country put a weapon in his hand and dropped him off in some humid jungle where other men in uniform and men in black pajamas wanted to kill him.  He was called.  And he went.

When it was all said and done, my father had done 23 air assaults; pushed out of a Huey helicopter into a hot LZ.  His tour of duty had taught him never to take any possessions from a fallen soldier, light three cigarettes on a match and never ever count down when you get to go home.  Hash marks indicating your days left in the jungle on your helmet meant certain death, and he was even apprehensive when presented with his short timer’s stick, a .50 round front and back with wood in between, given at 60 days to go.  Not an officially given item by the Army, but he snuck it home where it has hung on his wall all these years.  Maybe he sensed how I’ve tried to support veterans recently.  Shortly after his stay in the hospital, he took the stick down and put it in my hands.  He quietly said, “when I go, this should go to you”.  It will hang on my wall, until someday my son is old enough to hear the stories.

The hell he went through, like many, was made far worse as hippies and scumbags spit at him and other Viet Nam Veterans when they returned.  They never seemed to have a problem with the folks that sent him there, though.  Now, those same protestors have grown up and spew propaganda such as “people make veterans uncomfortable by thanking them”.  They just can’t handle they took away someone’s youth and are too small to admit they couldn’t have made it in the nightmare people like my father faced.  They still feel the need to spit.

That’s why I’ve vowed to help veterans in what ways I can, especially the ones from Viet Nam.  They received no ticker tape parade like the World War II generation.  They didn’t get the benefit of more current war veterans being treated with the respect they deserve.  His generation was cut loose.  They were treated as a blemish by many which I’ve seen firsthand.  The veterans of Viet Nam have barely an internet voice, as it is a technology too new to benefit them.  They will always be celebrated here in a place where they can read, remember and know that someone from a younger generation will gladly shake their hand, if it is my luck to come across them.  Welcome home, sons and daughters.  I will gladly walk alongside you for as long as time allows.

Happy Veteran’s Day to all who served.  I thank you for your service, your dedication and your debt that cannot be repaid.  The pen is grateful for the sword.

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