For as long as I can remember, I have wanted my dad to tell me about his experience in Vietnam. Everything seems to go back to that year — who he was, who he is, what the USMC bulldog on his right forearm really stands for. Whenever I would ask him to tell me about it, he would only reply, “I don’t want you to be ashamed of me. Of what I saw. Of the things I had to do.” If you know me, you know that I love to ask questions and long to know everything about anything. Especially in relation to my mother, whom I barely remember, and my father, who is just really fucking weird and awesome. Obviously.
Yesterday, the ol’ man informed me, “Today is the Marine Corps birthday. Did you get me a present? And Applebee’s lets veterans eat free on Friday, so you need to take me to dinner.” I did not get him a present, but I cooked him dinner last night and baked him a cake with little toy soldiers doing dirty things in the chocolate frosting (because this is my pop we’re talking about). We watched Vietnam in HD on the History Channel, and he finally opened up, if only a little. And I started to truly get what makes the ol’ man tick. I will never fully understand, because I wasn’t there. But it makes sense. The man he was. And the man he is.
Dad: That’s Da Nang Airbase in 1965. That’s where I flew into Vietnam in 1969.
Me: Is that how you remember it?
Dad: No. In 1969, it was the busiest airbase in the world, with more takeoffs and landings than any airport.
Me: Busier than New York?
Dad: The busiest in the WORLD. It’d make New York look like a titty.
Me: That doesn’t make sense to me.
Dad: Like a little titty?
Me: Yea, I don’t get it.
A member of the U.S. Marine Corps at 19 years old, my dad was stationed just south of Da Nang in October 1969 and returned in September 1970 a heroin addict with anger issues. During those 11 months, my dad saw and did things that no human should. It’s the stuff of war movies, only the blood is not fake, and the injured soldiers are your friends. I will not get into the details of what was said, but I will say this — I am not ashamed. I am only proud that my father, my hero, did what he had to do for our country. It isn’t fair that we sent our own teenage boys (boys who couldn’t even legally drink) to battle Viet Cong communists, only to have our soldiers return to be spat upon. “It’s fucked up,” my dad says. And I agree.
Dad: I returned home from Vietnam in September of 1970. I got to the airport at 4am. No one would look at me, no one would sit next to me. I called my parents, ‘I’m home. Can you come pick me up from the airport?’ My mom said, ‘Why didn’t you call us last night?’ ‘I wanted to surprise you.’ ‘Well, we’ll come pick you up after your father has breakfast.’ I had to take a cab home.
Me (tears in my eyes): I hate that. I would have picked you up immediately. And I would have brought you a Starbucks.
My father would do anything for me. ANYTHING. I have never longed for hugs, kisses, praise and love. I may not have a mother, but I am so fortunate to have one amazing, phenomenal father. Despite his incessant farts, affinity for expired foods and obsession with bad Tupperware.
Happy Veterans Day, Dad. Thank you for all you have done and for all you do. I am so blessed to have you in my life, and I don’t regret moving home a single bit. I will see you at Applebee’s tonight. xox -The Girl Child