If he died, then I would not have been born.
I’m talking about my dad – a decorated, Vietnam War hero. He fought battles. He faced the unknown. He cried. He shook. He felt helpless and alone. He carried wounded and lost brothers.
But I will never truly know what he felt.
I did not understand the effects of war until a family camping trip in the early 1980s when I was about nine-years-old. I recall a helicopter hovering low over our campground. My dad suddenly jumped under the picnic table for cover. His screams of terror were like nothing I had seen before.
Like most vets, he is quiet about his service. This Memorial Day, I feel an obligation to understand more, to learn more about this time of my father’s life by taking a look back in time.
I owe him that.
*July 28, 1965
During a noontime press conference, President Lyndon Johnson announces he will send 44 combat battalions to Vietnam increasing the U.S. military presence to 125,000 men. Monthly draft calls are doubled to 35,000.
My dad was one of those who received his draft letter.
Part of President Johnson’s remarks that day, “…I do not find it easy to send the flower of our youth, our finest young men, into battle. I have spoken to you today of the divisions and the forces and the battalions and the units, but I know them all, every one. I have seen them in a thousand streets, of a hundred towns, in every state in this union-working and laughing and building, and filled with hope and life. I think I know, too, how their mothers weep and how their families sorrow.”
My dad was the flower of his youth at age 19.
August 31, 1965
President Johnson signs a law criminalizing draft card burning. Although it may result in a five-year prison sentence and $1,000 fine, the burnings become common during anti-war rallies and often attract the attention of news media.
My father had never considered running.
October 30, 1965
25,000 march in Washington in support of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The marchers are led by five Medal of Honor recipients.
By then, this handsome, gangly boy from a small town in Central California was shipped off to boot camp thousands of miles away. It would be his first time riding in a plane.
The Battle of Ia Drang Valley marks the first major battle between U.S. troops and North Vietnamese Army regulars (NVA) inside South Vietnam. Upon landing, the troops quickly disembark then engage in fierce fire fights, supported by heavy artillery and B-52 air strikes, marking the first use of B-52s to assist combat troops. The two-day battle ends with NVA retreating into the jungle. 79 Americans are killed and 121 wounded. NVA losses are estimated at 2000.
November 17, 1965
The American success at Ia Drang is marred by a deadly ambush against 400 soldiers of the U.S. 7th Cavalry sent on foot to occupy nearby Landing Zone ‘Albany.’ NVA troops that had been held in reserve during Ia Drang, along with troops that had retreated, kill 155 Americans and wound 124.
November 27, 1965
In Washington, 35,000 anti-war protesters circle the White House then march on to the Washington Monument for a rally.
Boot camp was is in full force for my father. His fate not his own.
November 30, 1965
After visiting Vietnam, Defense Secretary McNamara privately warns that American casualty rates of up to 1000 dead per month could be expected.
December, 31, 1965
By year’s end U.S. troop levels in Vietnam reached 184,300. An estimated 90,000 South Vietnamese soldiers deserted in 1965, while an estimated 35,000 soldiers from North Vietnam infiltrated the South via the Ho Chi Minh trail. Up to 50 percent of the countryside in South Vietnam is now under some degree of Viet Cong control.
In early 1966, my dad had arrived in Vietnam for combat. It was then he began to write letters home to his father.
March 21, 1967
The Battle of Suoi Tre occurred during the early morning hours in Operation Junction City, a search and destroy mission by American military forces in Tay Ninh Province of South Vietnam, to the west of the capital Saigon.
He fought this bloody battle heroically. The intense battle was the most action my father had seen since deployment. He feared the worst, though, as his troop and those fighting along side him were being overrun by enemy forces. Fortunately, reinforcements arrived just in time. As my tough-as-nails 69-year-old father described it best: “We kicked their ass.”
He finally returned home after a grueling two years in the jungles of Vietnam.
The rest of our boys came home nearly eight years later.
April 30, 1975
At 8:35 a.m., the last Americans, ten Marines from the embassy, depart Saigon, concluding the United States presence in Vietnam. North Vietnamese troops pour into Saigon and encounter little resistance. By 11:00 a.m., the red and blue Viet Cong flag fly from the presidential palace.
When the war finally ended, my dad had been home for several years. In 1971, he became a father to a beautiful baby girl. He was no longer the flower of his youth, but a wounded hero.
I love you, Dad. Words cannot express my gratitude for your bravery.
“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.” - President Harry S. Truman
*Sourced from The History Place and Wikpedia.Follow
Never underestimate the heart of your children.
This past Friday night, my older daughter had a friend sleepover. Along with the overloading of junk food, music, movies and truth or dare, my daughter asked if they could sell bracelets and lemonade the following morning.
I frowned at the idea. Let me rephrase that – I was a total “Debbie Downer.” Unloading our dishwasher for the umpteenth time I turned to my bright-eyed nine-year old and said coldly: “No one is going to be outside on Saturday. You’ll just be wasting your time.” She pressed: “But mom, that’s OK. I thought we could give the money to charity.”
My heart tugged.
I told her to come up with a plan, decide on what charity, and how they would bring in customers.
The next morning at breakfast, my two daughters and their friend announced they had decided to give all money raised to the homeless shelter in Tustin, California (Orange County Rescue Mission). Our family had supported the mission over the years. The girls explained their sales tools, which included signage and music – clearly designed to “reel in the donations.”
Break that Negative Inner Voice
After breakfast, they finished making a few more bracelets and gracefully spilled half the sugar on the kitchen counters and floors. They set up shop on the sidewalk in front of our house. I went outside a few times to see how the selling stand was “progressing.”
There wasn’t a soul on the block this sleepy morning, as I suspected.
A voice deep inside said: “They are failing, see. I told you nobody would buy anything. You shouldn’t have let them do it.” I began to walk in the house to ask my husband to come buy anything.
Suddenly, as if someone heard my negative inner voice, a teenage neighbor boy walked up. The girls pitched him promptly. “Sure, I’ll buy some lemonade,” he said, opening up his wallet.
About 15 minutes later, I peeked out the garage door, with music pumping, these girls walked the streets, knocked on doors, danced and stood on chairs. I could hear them yelling for the next 45 minutes, “Help the homeless! How would you feel if you had no home to go to?”
They were giving it everything.
After about an hour of guerilla marketing, they ran inside and declared the total donations were finalized at $7.25.
At that moment, in their hearts, and in my heart, I knew it was at least a million dollars. I was proud, but then a tinge of guilt hit my own heart. I needed to make amend and do it quickly. I wanted to reinforce the value of their deed so they could see their dollars at work.
I had to make up for not believing.
I excitedly congratulated them for working so hard. I also knew something even bigger had happened: God saw their hearts. He saw the love. They were doing exactly what He wants them to do…to help, encourage and love others. To do something not for themselves, but for someone else.
It wasn’t about the money at all.
The Widow and Two Copper Coins
A few hours later, we drove directly to the Orange County Rescue Mission. Driving up to the 192-bed transitional shelter, we saw families sitting behind the chain-linked fence. At the counter, the girls handed the sealed bag with dollars and loose change to the woman.
She was touched by their donation, and how they earned every penny. Leaning over the counter, she paraphrased this story from the Bible:
“Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44
After dropping off the donation, we joined hands in a short prayer. My positive inner voice vowed to never again doubt the hearts of my children.
As a mother, my children constantly teach me the true meaning of life, which is to love one another.
As a parent, was there a time when you did not have faith in something your child wanted to do, and they proved you wrong? If so, how did you handle it? As a child, did your parents not support you in something that your heart was pushing you to do? How did you react?
“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.” ― Mother Teresa
Editor’s Note: When I launched this blog on May 21, 2012, my first post was full of gratitude and humility towards the heroic efforts of motherhood. I re-read the post this morning. Nearly two years later, I feel an even deeper sense of gratitude.
My daughters are becoming more independent and the days of hand-holding and hair brushing are numbered. My mother’s time on earth is also slipping away as she grows older and wiser (wink) with each passing day. And then as my daughter told me in the darkness at bedtime a few months ago: “Mom, I realized that you are getting older, which means you are getting closer to going to Heaven.” Startled by her deep thought, I answered with tears in my eyes: “Yes, but I will always be in your heart – wherever you go.”
I feel so blessed.
Going back in time are three generations of mother and daughter snapshots. Time and events never change love. Love is all-powerful, all-conquering. Especially the love of a mother.
So, once again, I offer a repost “Motherhood: Rituals of Love.” Tell your mom wherever she is today how much you love her.
You will always be in my heart. I love you, mom.
“I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.”
– Abraham Lincoln
My two young daughters have a favorite water fountain structure they love to play at, which is adjacent to a local restaurant. The modular, gray cement structure is about four feet high with a maze of various cracks, crevices and uneven platforms surrounded by a few inches of water. There are plenty of places for the girls to slip and fall.
Like most kids, my daughters always beg to play on the urban structure that is near an outdoor dining area. I usually stand nervously swaying and holding my breath as they leap, jump and teeter. In the sunshine, they giggle when landing each maneuver. They continue to test the boundaries and build confidence each time.
The Gift of Exploration
Watching my two girls playing, I began to consider the freedom my parents game me as a child. The joy of exploration. The thrill of adventure. The opportunity to be a risk taker. These are all such wonderful gifts.
On our family farm, I would wander barefoot through fields – often times alone. I would jump our stream, hike up a short hill and gingerly cross through a barbed-wire fence. The destination? I was making a beeline towards an abandoned barn that made the perfect make-believe house for a six-year-old.
After playing in the barn, I would run through the fields, up our driveway and head down the canyon road towards the waterfall. This was the ideal place to catch salamanders, swim, and climb the falls. I loved dangling my feet right under the falls. With the sounds of the crashing water, I was on an island all to myself. This was my paradise.
I savored this moment of happiness and simplicity.
Guiding Through Danger
Now watching my daughters, they occasionally look up when approaching a larger, more challenging jump, or larger crack. I try to fake a nervous “you can do this” smile. Bending their legs, they jump and make it across the cement valley, and prepare for their next challenge.
Looking back, I think of the dangers around me as a child. There were plenty of snake holes, sharp rocks, crack and crevices. I could have drowned, or even been bitten by some poisonous insect or devoured by a wild animal at any moment.
I do remember my parents warning me about certain dangers. My dad showed me how to safely cross the barbed wire fence and pointed out the snake holes. My mom would ask me to check in with her when I wandered off to another place. They guided me without looking over my shoulder and watching my every move.
I did not sense any fear in their voices. Being a blue-collar, working family and often living paycheck to paycheck, the gift of adventure on our farm was something they could afford. There was no price tag attached. No cost to climb the tree, ride a horse, or chase the chickens.
Exploration was a priceless gift.
Evolution of a Risk Taker
I can reflect back now that in life I became a risk taker. I did not think of the risk. I thought of the adventure. As adults we build barriers, and we consider the risk associated with the activity. Throughout a vast majority of my life, I chose the risk over the possibility of failure. Even though I may fail, giving up was not an option because that meant failure. Yes, I had failures along the way. But the point is I never gave up. I always took that next jump with my eyes wide open.
Back at the urban cement climbing structure, I noticed as the cracks grew larger, my older daughter began to hesitate before jumping. She looked scared. I yelled out, “You can do it, just look to the next block. Try not to focus on the crack.”
I want to guide my children in looking for those danger spots and to stay in good communication, while helping build that sense of independence. I want them to be able to take those leaps with confidence. I also want them to know it’s okay to fail.
My youngest daughter, who has always been more of a risk taker is quite agile and fearless. She noticed her older sister hesitating. She yelled, “You can do it!” I smiled. Sometimes we need encouragement from others. I have many family members and good friends who supported me in my life to take risks. I filled out that college application. I applied for job after job. I did the extra credit. I stayed later than the other students. I turned criticism into constructive feedback.
And then, with her eyes wide open, my older daughter made the jump and landed on the next block.
Then came my next deep exhale.
My parents probably did a lot of holding their breath, deep exhaling and praying. As we left the structure, I put my arms around my little adventurers. “How’d you like to climb a waterfall?” I asked. I think they’re ready.Follow