Ms. C: Hey dad, what ya doin’ next week?
Me: Nothing special, why??
Ms. C: Can you come talk to my class about Vietnam??
So this past Monday found me in front of no less than 7 middle school history classes working their way through the 60s and Vietnam. I brought along 50 or so slides (ok, scans of slides) of places like the base at Pleiku, Mang-Yang Pass between Pleiku and Ahn Khe, the “zoomie” flightline at Ahn Khe, roadside images and a round of shots of our tower after the last earnest sapper attack before I headed home. The favorite photo – “Boozer”, a little pup our barracks adopted . . . . glad that was the favorite photo.
Anyway, we arrived at our son’s wedding city late yesterday afternoon. And late last night met our daughter at the airport, drove to the home we’re staying at and settled in to recover from the day – wine for the ladies, some Wild Turkey for me.
Ms. C: Hey dad – I got something for you . . . .
And she brings out over 100 thank you notes from her class. Nice notes filed with “thank you for your service” to “thanks for sharing your emotional story”. Nice group of kids, some good questions and more than a “emotional” moment or two.
A intense looking 8th grader raises her hand and asks “so why did you volunteer for Vietnam Anyway?????” It was a strange question to bring up an “emotional” response . . . . yet there I was in front of a classroom of kids and I’m all choked up - hard/impossible to talk, watery eyes . . . . heavy sigh – where the hell is this coming from?!?!?!? Deep breaths . . . . . and after a moment or two it passes and I can talk again.
So I answer the “whys” of why I volunteered . . . . what else could I do? 4 months after Tet, I had family who proudly served during WWII, I believed we were doing the right thing, I’m a citizen, I have a responsibility as a citizen, as an American . . . . what else could I possible do??
So we talked about the 60s, the global context of Vietnam, how it affected me from age 13 when Kennedy was assassinated through the 1965 attack on the Ia Drang Valley, Tet, my enlistment 6 months earlier, my stay in Tawain, our May 1970 attack on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Kent State, campus unrest, “road trips” between Pleiku and Ahn Khe, all the different aircraft types at Pleiku . . . . . to coming home and embracing Susie at the airport after a 2-year absence . . . . memories of long ago and far away . . . .
I pray that when these kids reach the fine old age of 63, they’ll have gentler memories . . . .
Me asking a class a question: So, when you think of a “veteran” . . . . what do you think of . . . .
Bouncy kid in the rear-left corner waving his hand: “Old guys!!!”
Heavy sigh . . . .