12 November 2006


This is Veteran's Day weekend and my father is a Veteran. When Sara and I were little, Dad - a Navy helicopter pilot and systems analyst - was ordered to Viet Nam. We were used to him having to go places because he had been going on several-month cruises since before we were born. At one point Sara asked Dad where he was going and was aghast when he told her and wth the clarity of vision that six-year-olds have in abundance, she told him "you can't go there. There's a war there! You could get killed!" (Or, more likely, "kilt". Smetimes Sara's enunciation was unique to her.)

The day that we drove Dad to the airport (Mom or Dad drove, of course, Sara and I were passengers.), Sara gave Dad a bracelet that she had made and told him that he should wear it every day because then if he were captured, the Viet Namese would know that he had a little girl who loved him and needed him to come home.

Sara's bracelet must have worked because Dad was never captured and came home safe and sound. The only time in my life that I cried because I was happy was when Dad came home. Mom kept saying that he would be home when I got home from school, but I refused to believe her because I didn't want the horrible disappointment if she was wrong. She wasn't wrong and when I saw Dad standing in the kitchen, I burst into tears.

Dad flew Hueys in the war and was part of a Helicopter Squadron (HS). He brought us back cameras, pearl neckslaces, and Ao Dais. The Ao Dai is the traditional Viet Namese women's clothing: loose silk trousers worn with a long tunic. (Yes, I still have them.)

When I was a callow teenager (very callow, if memory serves), I asked him "What did you do in the war, Daddy?" and his answer was something along the lines of how he flirted with B-girls and flew helicopters. He wouldn't say much else about it. Dad has never been the kind of emotional packrat that Mom and I are, so I figured that this was part of that. He doesn't live in the past, doesn't dwell on the past much at all, and has always been a bit leery of folks who do. Whenever I hear Bruce Springsteen's Glory Days, I think of Dad. So it was many years later before it occured to me that possibly he didn't tell me about Viet Nam not because it's all lumped under "the old days," but because it would have involved explaining things to me that at that age I could never really have understood. War looks a lot different from the inside.

Anyway, before they shut down for several months for renovations and such, the National Museum of American History had a exhibition called The Price of Freedom: Americans at War that included a Huey. David and I went down to see the exhibition and while we walked through the whole thing, I stood a long time in front of that Huey. As far as I know, it was the first time that I'd ever seen one.

"What did you just call it?"
"Nam. That's what you call it."
"Don't try to be cool. You can't say Nam. You weren't there. It's Vit Nam to you."

--- James McLure, "Lone Star"

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