I can’t remember the grade, but I was young — probably about 10 years old — when I asked my father to speak to my class about his experience in Vietnam. We must have been studying American history, but I don’t remember for certain. All I remember is how proud I was to see my dad at the front of the classroom.
“My dad was in Vietnam,” I said. “He fought for our country.”
I felt special to say those words. After all, there weren’t many in my class who could say the same thing.
It’s hard as a child to contemplate the sacrifice of war. Yes, I knew my father did something brave, but I wasn’t able to digest the complexity of the situation.
My dad was only 20 years old when he was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. He left behind a young wife (my mom), a month-old daughter (my oldest sister), and a family farm. He served in the field artillery and, by the grace of God, after one year of service he returned home to the family and farm he loved so much.
Thankfully, he was uninjured; but his year away from home no doubt affected him.
I’ve been told he had a very quiet homecoming. Only his wife and daughter, sister, brother-in-law and niece were at the airport to greet him. There were no reporters or cheers from a waiting crowd, just thankful smiles and I’m certain tears of joy from the ones who loved him most.
Growing up I don’t remember my father talking much about his time in the service. But the love and pride of our great nation always were evident throughout our home. I watched my father put on his garrison cap and VFW tie each time a special service day came around. He marched in parades, spoke at Veteran’s Day services and performed the 21-gun salute at numerous Memorial Day services in the area. I often peeked at his uniform and medals tucked inside my parents’ cedar chest. I tried to imagine what it must have been like to wear such an important piece of clothing.
I still imagine what it was like. I long to know more. I am fascinated about his time in Vietnam. Although my father is a very quiet man, I hope he will be able to tell me more about his service to our great nation. I will never be able to experience the sacrifices he made while serving, but now as a mother and wife I can briefly imagine the unbearable heartache of leaving a spouse and small child.
That, in itself, is an enormous sacrifice.
Two weeks ago as I watched Fourth of July fireworks erupt over the city, I couldn’t help but have that same schoolgirl pride come over me again.
“You see those fireworks, Ella?” I ask my 3-year-old daughter. “Aren’t they beautiful? They symbolize freedom and the sacrifices so many men and women have made to make our life so great. Papa, (my dad) made sacrifices for you and me so we could have fun things like swimming pools and candy and … ”
“Papa has a swimming pool?” Ella asked.
I smiled and realized Ella is too young to understand the meaning behind national holidays such as Independence Day. I’m going to do my best to teach her and her sister about all the sacrifices so many men and women have made to keep us free.
I’m hopeful that one day Ella, too, will say, “My Papa was in Vietnam. He fought for our county, and I am so proud of him.”
Thank you to all the men and women who serve our country. Your bravery and dedication do not go unnoticed.