When I got an email that my blogger’s book club, From Left to Write, was going to be reading a book that took place in Vietnam as the war broke out, I found myself scrambling to sign up. I was desperate to read it.
Strange, not only because I barely have enough hours in the day to shower let alone read a long novel, but because I don’t typically find myself drawn to books like this. Then I realized, I was desperate to find a connection to my dad. To learn a bit more about what it must have been like for him as a recent college graduate to go to a foreign land with weapons pointed in his direction.
He didn’t talk much about Vietnam. He’d teach us a funny phrase or two, tell the boys about flying in a helicopter, or talk about how he was a lucky one with his assignment — that he wasn’t one of the true heroes. There was no doubt he was proud of his time, commitment, and service, but he was humble. And war, well, that doesn’t make for great dinner time conversation.
Now that he’s gone, I find myself wishing I’d asked more questions. Maybe I would have just one more thing to hold on to. One more story to tell my kids as they grow up not knowing him the way I did.
Well, it’s funny how when you start to think about something, to wish for something, it shows up. Maybe not in the way you’d expected, but it’s there.
Last night, as I was cleaning my room, I came upon an unopened envelope that got buried in a stack of paperwork on my dresser. I opened it to find a letter my dad had written to his aunts from Vietnam. My mom gave it to me a few weeks ago, and while she told me, I was so distracted by the chaos of my every day that I didn’t really hear her.
It was like opening a little piece of my dad. His handwriting, which I knew so well, but still struggle to read. His honesty, telling them how things were a bit uneasy in Vietnam. His positive outlook, focusing on the time he had for letter writing now that they were on “Yellow Alert” and restricted to their barracks. His nurturing spirit, telling them that even so, he felt rather safe and lucky with his assignment. His inquisitive nature, asking them about their jobs and more details (and chiming in with his opinion) about a local newspaper article his aunt had sent in a letter to him. His humility, waiting until the third page of his letter to mention he’d been promoted already. The southern gentleman in him, signing the letter “Johnny”.
In reading the letter, I realized I may not ever know about a lot of things my dad experienced in life. But every new thing I uncover reinforces the person he was. As a boy. As a member of the U.S. Army. As a friend. As a nephew/son/husband/father. He was a good, loving, loyal man. And that’s really all I need to know.