By Jennifer Trippeer
1968 was a difficult year for our nation. First we lost Martin Luther King, Jr., then Bobby Kennedy. My world was shaken by their assassinations. But not as badly as what came that July.
In 1967, we moved from Ft. Leavenworth to Ft. Knox for the second time. Returning to Van Voorhees dependent housing was fun. Our duplex backed onto a wooded area and the yard sloped in all directions. We were first given a push mower to trim the grass, which any Army Brat would know was very important. The care for your yard–and of all other things–played a part in how your Dad was reviewed. Telephone manners or behavior at school could affect your father’s advancement, so we worked hard to do our best.
There were many job opportunities for a fourteen year old, especially in the line of babysitting. When the men weren’t working so very hard, it was time to party. Either at the O’ Club or friends’ homes or even venturing to Louisville, for the ‘grown-ups’, made my pocket quite happy. Watching one child to six at a time made my ‘business’ a great learning experience! Several of the families I sat for were old friends from Munich. As I reflect now, the officers were so young.
My parents gave a cocktail party one evening in late spring or early summer in ’68, and my sister and I were the servers, bringing drink and appetizers to each guest. The men congregated on one side, the women on another. When taking food around, the main the topic was Vietnam. Learning more that evening about Vietnam was a predecessor to further events that summer. I heard these brave men speak of fear of the type of combat to be encountered in the small Asian country. Guerilla warfare, pongee sticks, and wildlife not seen in their habitat before, all portrayed a frightening scene. How could anyone fight in such a place?
I would never see some of the guests again.
Slowly, one by one, friend, by friend, it seemed that everyone received orders to Vietnam. Some families remained on post while others moved near family for the duration of this horrible hardship tour. We said goodbye to what seemed like many. Some families had become very close and watching their children made each family all the more important.
One bright, warm weekday in July my father came home early. Dressed in his fatigues, he greeted us all in the kitchen, which was near the front door. I was standing beside the washer, my mother across near the fridge and my sister in the doorway. Then my father announced his new orders – Vietnam come October.
I can’t tell you if we screamed out loud, but inside we most certainly were. No! You can’t be going over there! It’s terrible, it’s frightening, and men don’t always come home. The latter never being expressed but felt, experienced and dreaded nonetheless. My sister took off running, my mother cried and retreated from the kitchen. I sat on top of the washer and sobbed into my fathers shoulder. Please, God, make this a bad dream we can awake from.
We were packing for Arlington, Virginia by August. My Dad had orders for Ft. Bragg come September and the DC area was home for my mother and grandparents. The Democratic convention in Chicago was underway as we completed our packing and my parents’ best friends came to visit. They were also Army and well understood the moving process and perhaps most importantly the transfer to Vietnam.
My sister and I began the school year in Arlington and my father came home often for visits from Bragg. Each visit was made special with picnics, visits to Civil War locations and special meals designed to please Daddy. The second to last week in October came all too fast. Vividly, I recall my father dressed in his summer uniform and preparing to depart Dulles Airport for a destination I feared.
We arrived at Dulles early that last day, so that he could check in with plenty of time available to talk about unimportant things, which were much easier to say than what was really in our hearts. Undoubtedly my parents had made time to say what was most important to them before arriving at that airport. I emphasize ‘That, ‘as it was where I might see my beloved father for the last time and so I shifted blame for his orders to the location where we had to bid farewell. How can an airport take your father away from you when you love him so much?
The time came, as it always does, for him to board the bus, which would taxi him to the plane. Our farewells were filled with strong hugs, kisses and words of a positive return in one year. The most poignant -a mental picture of my Dad smiling and waving from the back of the open-ended bus. I will remember this always.
Saying “goodbye” or “farewell” or “till later on” was part and parcel to being an Army family. Everyone moved from place to place – and often. Friends were temporary but very close and important for the kids. But this goodbye was harder than any other. A close friend. whose hug I cherish to this day, joined us.
We all survived that tour, most importantly, my Dad came home, but I think we were each a little different when he returned. His plane landed at Dulles, which by the way is not such a bad airport after all!