Iain M. Woessner
The most trying time for any military family is when their service member, be it a father, mother, sibling or child , is deployed to war. There’s a strange mixture of fear, pride, and maybe even anger. You don’t know if you’ll ever see your loved one again, if they’ll come back intact or they’ll come home wounded—physically or mentally.
For thousands of Americans today, this fear has been an all-too-real fact of life for the better part of ten years. The stories of our service members coming home to their families suffering from post-traumatic-stress-disorder, bearing wounds and scars– both external and internal, seem reminiscent of another war in another generation.
The Vietnam war also lingered on for well over a decade, and sent a whole generation of young men into danger and death, some of whom came home addicted to drugs, mentally broken and disillusioned. Many did not come home at all. Like our current war, much attention has been paid to the service members and their struggles against adversity, but the media and the public eye tend to gloss over the stresses felt by the families.
We took to Facebook to ask people who grew up during the Vietnam War about their experiences seeing their loved ones go off to war. Even though the deployments happened decades ago, the memories are fresh.
Army brat Jacquelyn Mccormick, remembers,
“I was 8 when Daddy left for his first tour, and 11 the second time. Mama dedicated a spot with a map, stationery and the recorder so she could send him tapes. The first time he left I was wearing a pink dress and hiding in a phone booth so no one would see me crying.”
“I was four when my father left for Vietnam. I remember saluting him as his bus left. I remember hoping he returned safely because my brother was soon to be born. I also recall telling my mother that I was going to take care of her. Four-year-old man of the house. I look back and realize even then I knew what war meant.” –Mark Greer
Carmen Makowski recalls,
“My father got orders to go to Vietnam, but he had four little kids, so his brother who was in the Navy and single, took the deployment instead. My Uncle Bobby said it was hard times and such a sad place for all. He never talked much about it….”
I was too young to remember my father’s deployment to the first Gulf War, but my brother felt his absence profoundly, fretting that he’d never come home again. That same brother is now in the Army himself, and I’ve seen him go and serve in Iraq . It’s an odd feeling to know that you may never see a family member ever again.
Many of the people mentioned the ways their parent tried to stay in touch while deployed; others speak of the isolation they felt.
“My dad went twice. I have lots of memories. But we liked getting pictures of him, and sending pictures of us, making things, and baking cookies to send. Our neighborhood was mostly “single” army wives. It was scary times too! We obviously didn’t have the communication we have now. “ Karen Hock Stasiorowski:
“I still have postcards that he sent me. I was really small but I remember we had to stay with my grandma in Houston, TX. I remember watching the news in the evening as they would put names of the fallen soldiers and praying my dad’s name would not be on it.” – Sonia Brown
Nita Barowsky remembers that,
“While my father was in Vietnam, mom and I returned to France to stay with my maternal grandmother. We would send cassettes of each other’s voice telling the other what was going on in my life and that of the rest of the family. This helped us with the separation”
“My dad also did a tour there. I remember we were in Woodbridge, VA at the time. My mom was German and still learning the [American]language. It was hard on her with 2 little girls and no family support. What I remember most is the day my dad came home. We were at a neighbors while my mom went shopping. When the neighbor opened the door it took a minute to realize who he was! I think the thing that stuck in my mind was that he was missing a front tooth!” Carolyn Trueax Keller
Having grown up in a military family, living on military installations and having loved ones deploy to combat zones, my feelings about war are mixed, Naturally, there’s a lot of talk of honor and duty and service—after all, as a service member, being called to war is the greatest task your country can ask of you. And yet for every service member sent to “fight for freedom” there’s a family left at home, wondering if they’ll ever see that person again—and if their sacrifice would even be worth it.
“We were living at Fort Clayton, the Canal Zone in Panama when my Dad received his orders to go to Vietnam. We packed up our goods & headed back to Rome, Georgia to be near family. Dad headed off to Vietnam, and a few months later went missing in action. He was seriously injured & ultimately received two Purple Hearts. Thank God he survived & made it back home. I will remember how happy we all were when he came through the door!” –Ronn Rhinehart
“I remember the man that left was not the same man that came back. He drank and was angry a lot. He hurt us…badly. He told me a few stories. In 2009 (just before going to India) I wrote a piece to get my head around what it must have been like for him. I [have] forgiven him!” –Tracy Hutchinson
At the end of the day, it isn’t a matter of war and warriors. No matter the era, every service member sent into service leaves somebody behind—a mother, father, brother, son, daughter or lover. And for every service member who returns at the end of their tour, there is another who never will. For every child who can feel their father’s arms around them again, there will be another who may not even remember his face.
We think often of casualties of war. I wonder how many wars we’d continue to fight if the war-makers could see the faces of not just the young men and women who die overseas, but of the families left behind, forced to pick up the pieces. It’s a sobering reality, and one that deserves more attention.